The Immorality of the State by Mikhail Bakunin

The Immorality of the State by Mikhail Bakunin

The Immorality of the State by Mikhail Bakunin

The Theory of Social Contract.

Man is not only the most individual being on earth-he is also the  most social being. It was a great fallacy on the part of Jean Jacques  Rousseau to have assumed that primitive society was established by a  free contract entered into by savages. But Rousseau was not the only one  to uphold such views. The majority of jurists and modern writers,  whether of the Kantian school or of other individualist and liberal  schools, who do not accept the theological idea of society being founded  upon divine right, nor that of the Hegelian school-of society as the  more or less mystic realization of objective morality- nor the primitive  animal society of the naturalist school-take nolens volens, for lack of  any other foundation, the tacit contract, as their point of departure.

A tacit contract! That is to say, a wordless, and consequently a  thoughtless and will-less contract: a revolting nonsense! An absurd  fiction, and what is more, a wicked fiction! An unworthy hoax! For it  assumes that while I was in a state of not being able to will, to think,  to speak, I bound myself and all my descendants-only by virtue of  having let myself be victimized without raising any protest - into  perpetual slavery.

Lack of Moral Discernment in the State Preceding the Original Social Contract.

From the point of view of the system which we are now examining the  distinction between good and bad did not exist prior to the conclusion  of the social contract. At that time every individual remained isolated  in his liberty or in his absolute right, paying no attention to the  freedom of others except in those cases wherein such attention was  dictated by his weakness or his relative strength - in other words, by  his own prudence and interest. At that time egoism, according to the  same theory, was the supreme law, the only extant right. The good was  determined by success, the bad only by failure, and justice was simply  the consecration of the accomplished fact, however horrible, cruel, or  infamous it might be - as is the rule in the political morality which  now prevails in Europe.

The Social Contract as the Criterion of Good and Bad.

The distinction between good and bad, according to this system,  began only with the conclusion of the social contract. All that which  had been recognized as constituting the general interest was declared to  be the good, and everything contrary to it, the bad. Members of society  who entered into this compact having become citizens, having bound  themselves by solemn obligations, assumed thereby the duty of  subordinating their private interests to the common weal, to the  inseparable interest of all. They also divorced their individual rights  from public rights, the only representative of which - the State - was  thereby invested with the power to suppress all the revolts of  individual egoism, having, however, the duty of protecting every one of  its members in the exercise of his rights in so far as they did not run  counter to the general rights of the community.

The State Formed by the Social Contract Is the Modern Atheistic State.

Now we are going to examine the nature of the relations which the  State, thus constituted, is bound to enter into with other similar  States, and also its relations to the population which it governs. Such  an analysis appears to us to be the more interesting and useful inasmuch  as the State, as defined here, is precisely the modern State in so far  as it is divorced from the religious idea: it is the lay State or the  atheist State proclaimed by modern writers.

Let us then see wherein this morality consists. The modern State, as  we have said, has freed itself from the yoke of the Church and  consequently has shaken off the yoke of universal or cosmopolitan  morality of the Christian religion, but it has not yet become permeated  with the humanitarian idea or ethics - which it cannot do without  destroying itself, for in its detached existence and isolated  concentration the State is much too narrow to embrace, to contain the  interests and consequently the morality of, humanity as a whole.

Ethics Identified with State Interests.

Modern States have arrived precisely at that point. Christianity  serves them only as a pretext and a phrase, only as a means to fool the  simpletons, for the aims pursued by them have nothing in common with  religious goals. And the eminent statesmen of our times - the  Palmerstons, the Muravievs, the Cavours, the Bismarcks, the Napoleons,  would laugh a great deal if their openly professed religious convictions  were taken seriously. They would laugh even more if anyone attributed  to them humanitarian sentiments, considerations, and intentions, which  they have always treated publicly as mere silliness. Then what  constitutes their morality? Only State interests. From this point of  view, which, with very few exceptions, has been the point of view of  statesmen, of strong men of all times and all countries, all that is  instrumental in conserving, exalting, and consolidating the power of the  State is good-sacrilegious though it might be from a religious point of  view and revolting as it might appear from the point of view of human  morality - and vice versa, whatever militates against the interests of  the State is bad, even if it be in other respects the most holy and  humanely just thing. Such is the true morality and secular practice of  all States.

The Collective Egoism of Particular Associations Raised into Ethical Categories.

Such also is the morality of the State founded upon the theory of a  social contract. According to this system, the good and the just, since  they begin only with the social contract, are in fact nothing but the  content and the end purpose of the contract - that is to say, the common  interest and the public right of all individuals who formed this  contract, with the exception of those who remained outside of it.  Consequently, by good in this system is meant only the greatest  satisfaction given to the collective egoism of a particular and limited  association, which, being founded upon the partial sacrifice of the  individual egoism of every one of its members, excludes from its midst,  as strangers and natural enemies, the vast majority of the human species  whether or not it is formed into similar associations.

Morality Is Co-Extensive Only With the Boundaries of Particular States.

The existence of a single limited State necessarily presupposed the  existence, and if necessary provokes the formation of several States, it  being quite natural that the individuals who find themselves outside of  this State and who are menaced by it in their existence and liberty,  should in turn league themselves against it.  Here we have humanity  broken up into an indefinite number of States which are foreign,  hostile, and menacing toward one another.

There is no common right, and no social contract among them, for if  such a contract and right existed, the various States would cease to be  absolutely independent of one another, becoming federated members of one  great State. Unless this great State embraces humanity as a whole, it  will necessarily have against it the hostility of other great States,  federated internally.  Thus war would always be supreme law and the  inherent necessity of the very existence of humanity.

Jungle Law Governs Interrelations of States.

Every State, whether it is of a federative or a non-federative  character, must seek, under the penalty of utter ruin, to become the  most powerful of States. It has to devour others in order not to be  devoured in turn, to conquer in order not to be conquered, to enslave in  order not to be enslaved - for two similar and at the same time alien  powers, cannot co-exist without destroying each other.

The Universal Solidarity of Humanity Disrupted by the State.

The state then is the most flagrant negation, the most cynical and  complete negation of humanity.  It rends apart the universal solidarity  of all men upon earth, and it unites some of them only in order to  destroy, conquer, and enslave all the rest.  It takes under its  protection only its own citizens, and it recognizes human right,  humanity, and civilization only within the confines of its own  boundaries.  And since it does not recognize any right outside of its  own confines, it quite logically arrogated to itself the right to treat  with the most ferocious inhumanity all the foreign populations whom it  can pillage, exterminate, or subordinate to its will. If it displays  generosity or humanity toward them, it does it in no case out of any  sense of duty:  and that is because it has no duty but to itself, and  toward those of its members who formed it by an act of free agreement,  who continue constituting it on the same free bases, or, as it happens  in the long run, have become its subjects.

Since international law does not exist, and since it never can exist  in a serious and real manner without undermining the very foundations  of the principle of absolute State sovereignty, the State cannot have  any duties toward foreign populations.  If then it treats humanely a  conquered people, if it does not go to the full length in pillaging and  exterminating it, and does not reduce it to the last degree of slavery,  it does so perhaps because of considerations of political expediency and  prudence, or even because of pure magnanimity, but never because of  duty - for it has an absolute right to dispose of them in any way it  deems fit.

Patriotism Runs Counter to Ordinary Human Morality.

This flagrant negation of humanity, which constitutes the very  essence of the State, is from the point of view of the latter the  supreme duty and the greatest virtue: it is called patriotism and it  constitutes the transcendent morality of the State.  We call it the  transcendent morality because ordinarily it transcends the level of  human morality and justice, whether private or common, and thereby it  often sets itself in sharp contradiction to them.  Thus, for instance,  to offend, oppress, rob, plunder, assassinate, or enslave one's fellow  man is, to the ordinary morality of man, to commit a serious crime.

In public life, on the contrary, from the point of view of  patriotism, when it is done for the greater glory of the State in order  to conserve or to enlarge its power, all that becomes a duty and a  virtue.  And this duty, this virtue, are obligatory upon every patriotic  citizen.  Everyone is expected to discharge those duties not only in  respect to strangers but in respect to his fellow citizens, members and  subjects of the same State, whenever the welfare of the State demands it  from him.

The Supreme Law of the State.

The supreme law of the State is self-preservation at any cost.  And  since all States, ever since they came to exist upon the earth, have  been condemned to perpetual struggle - a struggle against their own  populations, whom they oppress and ruin, a struggle against all foreign  States, every one of which can be strong only if the others are weak -  and since the States cannot hold their own in this struggle unless they  constantly keep on augmenting their power against their own subjects as  well as against the neighborhood States - it follows that the supreme  law of the State is the augmentation of its power to the detriment of  internal liberty and external justice.

The State Aims to Take the Place of Humanity.

Such is in its stark reality the sole morality, the sole aim of the  State.  It worships God himself only because he is its own exclusive  God, the sanction of its power and of that which it calls its right,  that is, the right to exist at any cost and always to expand at the cost  of other States. Whatever serves to promote this end is worthwhile,  legitimate, and virtuous. Whatever harms it is criminal.  The morality  of the State then is the reversal of human justice and human morality.

This transcendent, super-human, and therefore anti-human morality of  States is not only the result of the corruption of men who are charged  with carrying on State functions.  One might say with greater right that  corruption of men is the natural and necessary sequel of the State  institution.  This morality is only the development of the fundamental  principle of the State, the inevitable expression of its inherent  necessity.  The State is nothing else but the negation of humanity; it  is a limited collectivity which aims to take the place of humanity and  which wants to impose itself upon the latter as a supreme goal, while  everything else is to submit and minister to it.

The Idea of Humanity, Absent in Ancient Times, Has Become a Power in Our Present Life.

That was natural and easily understood in ancient times when the  very idea of humanity was unknown, and when every people worshiped its  exclusively national gods, who gave it the right of life and death over  all other nations. Human right existed only in relation to the citizens  of the State.  Whatever remained outside of the State was doomed to  pillage, massacre, and slavery.

Now things have changed.  The idea of humanity becomes more and more  of a power in the civilized world, and, owing to the expansion and  increasing speed of means of communication, and also owing to the  influence, still more material than moral, of civilization upon  barbarous peoples, this idea of humanity begins to take hold even of the  minds of uncivilized nations. This idea is the invisible power of our  century, with which the present powers - the States - must reckon.  They  cannot submit to it of their own free will because such submission on  their part would be equivalent to suicide, since the triumph of humanity  can be realized only through the destruction of the States.  But the  States can no longer deny this idea nor openly rebel against it, for  having now grown too strong, it may finally destroy them.

The State Has to Recognize In Its Own Hypocritical Manner the Powerful Sentiment of Humanity.

In the face of this painful alternative there remains only one way  out: and that it hypocrisy.  The States pay their outward respects to  this idea of humanity; they speak and apparently act only in the name of  it, but they violate it every day.  This, however, should not be held  against the States. They cannot act otherwise, their position having  become such that they can hold their own only by lying.  Diplomacy has  no other mission.

Therefore what do we see?  Every time a State wants to declare war  upon another State, it starts off by launching a manifesto addressed not  only to its own subjects but to the whole world.  In this manifesto it  declares that right and justice are on its side, and it endeavors to  prove that it is actuated only by love of peace and humanity and that,  imbued with generous and peaceful sentiments, it suffered for a long  time in silence until the mounting iniquity of its enemy forced it to  bare its sword.  At the same time it vows that, disdainful of all  material conquest and not seeking any increase in territory, it will put  and end to this war as soon as justice is reestablished.  And its  antagonist answers with a similar manifesto, in which naturally right,  justice, humanity, and all the generous sentiments are to be found  respectively on its side.

Those mutually opposed manifestos are written with the same  eloquence, they breathe the same virtuous indignation, and one is just  as sincere as the other; that is to say both of them are equally brazen  in their lies, and it is only fools who are deceived by them.  Sensible  persons, all those who have had some political experience, do not even  take the trouble of reading such manifestos.  On the contrary, they seek  ways to uncover the interests driving both adversaries into this war,  and to weigh the respective power of each of them in order to guess the  outcome of the struggle.  Which only goes to prove that moral issues are  not at stake in such wars.

Perpetual War Is the Price of the State's Existence.

The rights of peoples, as well as the treaties regulating the  relations of the States, lack any moral sanction.  In every definite  historic epoch they are the material expression of the equilibrium  resulting from the mutual antagonism of States.  So long as States  exist, there will be no peace.  There will be only more or less  prolonged respites, armistes concluded by the perpetually belligerent  States; but as soon as the State feels sufficiently strong to destroy  this equilibrium to its advantage, it will never fail to do so.  The  history of humanity fully bears out this point.

Crimes Are the Moral Climate of States.

This explains to us why ever since history began, that is, ever  since States came into existence, the political world has always been  and still continues to be the stage for high knavery and unsurpassed  brigandage - brigandage and knavery which are held in high honor, since  they are ordained by patriotism, transcendent morality, and by the  supreme interest of the State.  This explains to us why all the history  of ancient and modern States is nothing more than a series of revolting  crimes; why present and past kings and ministers of all times and of all  countries - statesmen, diplomats, bureaucrats, and warriors - if judged  from the point of view of simple morality and human justice, deserve a  thousand times the gallows of penal servitude.

For there is no terror, cruelty, sacrilege, perjury, imposture,  infamous transaction, cynical theft, brazen robbery or foul treason  which has not been committed and all are still being committed daily by  representatives of the State, with no other excuse than this elastic, at  times so convenient and terrible phrase Reason of State.  A terrible  phrase indeed!  For it has corrupted and dishonored more people in  official circles and in the governing classes of society than  Christianity itself.  As soon as it is uttered everything becomes silent  and drops out of sight:  honesty, honor, justice, right, pity itself  vanishes and with it logic and sound sense; black becomes white and  white becomes black, the horrible becomes humane, and the most dastardly  felonies and most atrocious crimes become meritorious acts.

Crime - the Privilege of the State.

What is permitted to the State is forbidden to the individual.  Such  is the maxim of all governments.  Machiavelli said it, and history as  well as the practice of all contemporary governments bear him out on  that point.  Crime is the necessary condition of the very existence of  the State, and it therefore constitutes its exclusive monopoly, from  which it follows that the individual who dares commit a crime is guilty  in a two-fold sense:  first, he is guilty against human conscience, and,  above all, he is guilty against the State in arrogating to himself one  of its most precious privileges.

State Morality According to Machiavelli.

The great Italian political philosopher, Machiavelli, was the first  who gave currency to this phrase (reason of State), or at least he gave  it its true meaning and the immense popularity which it has enjoyed ever  since in governmental circles.  Realistic and positive thinker that he  was, he came to understand - and he was the first one in this respect -  that the great and powerful States could be founded and maintained only  by crime - by many great crimes - and by a thorough contempt for  anything called honesty.

He wrote, explained, and argued his case with terrible frankness.   And since the idea of humanity was wholly ignored in his time; since the  idea of fraternity - not human, but religious - preached by the  Catholic Church had been, as it always is, nothing but a ghastly irony  belied at every instant by the acts of the Church itself; since in his  time no one believed that there, was such a thing as popular rights -  the people having been considered an inert and inept mass, a sort of  cannon-fodder for the State, to be taxed impressed into forced labor and  kept in a state of eternal obedience; in view of all this Machiavelli  arrived quite logically at the idea that the State was the supreme goal  of human existence, that it had to be served at any cost, and that since  the interest of the State stood above everything else, a good patriot  should not recoil from any crime in order to serve the State.

Machiavelli counsels recourse to crime, urges it, and makes it the  sine qua non of political intelligence as well as of true patriotism.  Whether the State is called monarchy or republic, crime will always be  necessary to maintain and assure its triumph. This crime will no doubt  change its direction and object, but its nature will remain the same. It  will always be the forced and abiding violation of justice and of  honesty - for the good of the State.

Wherein Machiavelli Was Wrong.

Yes, Machiavelli was right: we cannot doubt it now that we have the  experience of three and a half centuries added to his own experience.  Yes, History tells us that while small States are virtuous because of  their feebleness, powerful States sustain themselves only through crime.  But our conclusion will differ radically from that of Machiavelli, and  the reason thereof is quite simple: we are the sons of the Revolution  and we have inherited from it the Religion of Humanity which we have to  found upon the ruins of the Religion of Divinity. We believe in the  rights of man, in the dignity and necessary emancipation of the human  species. We believe in human liberty and human fraternity based upon  human justice.

Patriotism Deciphered.

We have already seen that by excluding the vast majority of humanity  from its midst, by placing it outside of the obligations and reciprocal  duties of morality, of justice, and of right, the State denies humanity  with this high-sounding word, Patriotism, and imposes injustice and  cruelty upon all of its subjects as their supreme duty.

Man's Original Wickedness - the Theoretical Premise of the State.

Every State, like every theology, assumes that man is essentially  wicked and bad. In the State which we are going to examine now, the  good, as we have already seen, begins with the conclusion of the social  contract, and therefore is only the product of this contract - its very  content. It is not the product of liberty. On the contrary, so long as  men remain isolated in their absolute individuality, enjoying all their  natural liberty, recognizing no limits to this liberty but those imposed  by fact and not by right, they follow only one law - the law of natural  egoism.

They insult, maltreat, rob, murder, and devour one another, everyone  according to the measure of his intelligence, of his cunning, and of  his material forces, as is now being done by the States. Hence human  liberty produces not good but evil, man being bad by nature. How did he  become bad? That is for theology to explain. The fact is that the State,  when it came into existence, found man already in that state and it set  for itself the task of making him good; that is to say, of transforming  the natural man into a citizen.

One might say to this that inasmuch as the State is the product of a  contract freely concluded by men and since good is the product of the  State, it follows that it is the product of liberty. This, however,  would be an utterly wrong conclusion. The State, even according to this  theory, is not the product of liberty, but, on the contrary, the product  of the voluntary negation and sacrifice of liberty. Natural men,  absolutely free from the point of view of right, but in fact exposed to  all the dangers which at every instant of their lives menace their  security, in order to assure and safeguard the latter sacrifice,  abdicate a greater or lesser portion of their liberty, and inasmuch as  they sacrifice it for the sake of their security, insofar as they become  citizens, they also become the slaves o f the State.  Therefore we have  the right to affirm that from the point of view of the State the good  arises not from liberty, but, on the contrary, from the negation of  liberty.

Theology and Politics.

Is it not remarkable, this similitude between theology (the science  of the Church) and politics (the theory of the State), this convergence  of two apparently contrary orders of thoughts and facts upon one and the  same conviction: that of the necessity of sacrificing human liberty in  order to make men into moral beings and transform them into saints,  according to some, and virtuous citizens, according to others?  As for  us, we are hardly surprised at it, for we are convinced that politics  and theology are both closely related, stemming from the same origin and  pursuing the same aim under two different names; we are convinced that  every State is a terrestrial Church, just as every Church with its  Heaven the abode of the blessed and the immortal gods - is nothing but a  celestial State.

The Similarity of the Ethical Premises of Theology and Politics.

The State then, like the Church, starts with this fundamental  assumption that all men are essentially bad and that when left to their  natural liberty they will tear one another apart and will offer the  spectacle of the most frightful anarchy wherein the strongest will kill  or exploit the weaker ones. And is not this just the contrary of what is  now taking place in our exemplary States?

Likewise the State posits as a principle the following tenet: In  order to establish public order it is necessary to have a superior  authority; in order to guide men and repress their wicked passions, it  is necessary to have a leader, and also to impose a curb upon the  people, but this authority must be vested in a man of virtuous genius, a  legislator for his people, like Moses, Lycurgus, or Solon - and that  leader and that curb will embody the wisdom and the repressive power of  the State.

Society not a Product of a Contract.

The State is a transitory historic form, a passing form of society -  like the Church, of which it is a younger brother - but it lacks the  necessary and immutable character of society which is anterior to all  development of humanity and which, partaking fully of the almighty power  of natural laws, acts, and manifestations, constitutes the very basis  of human existence. Man is born into society just as an ant is born into  its ant-hill or a bee into its hive; man is born into society from the  very moment that he takes his first step toward humanity, from the  moment that he becomes a human being that is, a being possessing to a  greater or lesser extent the power of thought and speech. Man does not  choose society; on the contrary, he is the product of the latter, and he  is just as inevitably subject to the natural laws governing his  essential development as to all the other natural laws which he must  obey.

Revolt Against Society Inconceivable.

Society antedates and at the same time survives every human  individual, being in this respect like Nature itself. It is eternal like  Nature, or rather, having been born upon our earth it will last as long  as the earth. A radical revolt against society would therefore be just  as impossible for man as a revolt against Nature, human society being  nothing else but the last great manifestation or creation of Nature upon  this earth. And an individual who would want to rebel a gainst s city  that is, against Nature in general and his own nature in particular -  would place himself beyond the pale of real existence, would plunge into  nothingness, into an absolute void, into lifeless abstraction, into  God.

So it follows that it is just as impossible to ask whether society  is good or evil as it is to ask whether Nature - the universal,  material, real, absolute, soul and supreme being - is good or evil. It  is much more than that: it is an immense, positive, and primitive fact,  having had existence prior to all consciousness, to all ideas, to all  intellectual and moral discernment; it is the very basis, it is the  world in which, inevitably and at a much later stage, there began to  develop that which we call good and evil.

The State a Historically Necessary Evil.

It is not so with the State.  And I do not hesitate to say that the  State is an evil but a historically necessary evil, as necessary in the  past as its complete extinction will be necessary sooner or later, just  as necessary as primitive bestiality and theological divigations were  necessary in the past. The State is not society; it is only one of its  its historical forms, as brutal as it is abstract in character.  Historically, it arose in all countries out of the marriage of violence,  rapine, and pillage - in a word, of war and conquest - with the Gods  created in succession by the theological fancies of the nations. From  its very beginning it has been - and still remains - the divine sanction  of brutal force and triumphant iniquity. Even in the most democratic  countries, like the United States of America and Switzerland, it is  simply the consecration of the privileges of some minority and the  actual enslavement of the vast majority.

Revolt Against the State.

Revolt against the State is much easier because there is something  in the nature of the State which provokes rebellion. The State is  authority, it is force, it is the ostentatious display of and  infatuation with Power. It does not seek to ingratiate itself, to win  over, to convert.  Every time it intervenes, it does so with  particularly bad grace. For by its very nature it cannot persuade but  must impose and exert force. However hard it may try to disguise this  nature, it will still remain the legal violator of man's will and the  permanent denial of his liberty.

Morality Presupposes Freedom.

And even when the State enjoins something good, it undoes and spoils  it precisely because the latter comes in the form of a command, and  because every command provokes and arouses the legitimate revolt of  freedom; and also because, from the point of view of true morality, of  human and not divine morality, the good which is done by command from  above ceases to be good and thereby becomes evil, Liberty, morality, and  the humane dignity of man consist precisely in that man does good not  because he is ordered to do so, but because he conceives it, wants it,  and loves it.

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