Philosophy

Research Article

Ethics And Politics

A. C. Ewing M.A., D. Litt.

The most important question under this heading is the question whether states are subject to the moral law. That they are has sometimes been denied even in theory, and there are no doubt still countries in which it would be highly desirable to publish an article combating this denial. But, thank goodness, England is not one of these countries, and it will suffice to say briefly that I can find no even plausible argument for the contrary view. This view has often been associated with the doctrine that the State is a sort of super-person over and above the individual citizens, to whom the latter can appropriately be sacrificed as beings of little worth, as we sacrifice to our own welfare, if we can, without any compunction the myriad germs inhabiting our bodies. I cannot see any reason whatever for holding this view either, but I should have thought that, if it were adopted, the analogy of the individual thus applied to the State would suggest the contrary conclusion that the State should find its true good not in its own unscrupulous aggrandizement but in co-operation with other States. We have been taught the analogous doctrine in regard to the individual from the beginning of the Christian era or earlier, and we can look on it as generally accepted in regard to the individual by reflective people in theory, although not, of course, by any means always in practice. If we regard the State as just a group of individuals, there is still less excuse for making it out to be subject to no moral law. In that case actions of the State will always be actions by individual persons, differing only from other such actions because they are performed on behalf of certain groups of persons.