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exclusively in the freedom of contracts. Presuming that all men are by nature equal, it demanded only freedom for these equal men, in the hope that this would result in agreements about equal values with equal profits for both parties. It knew neither the social classes nor the social institutions in their significance for economic life; for it the social mechanism was composed exclusively of the activity of individuals and their single agreements. And therefore it could not demand any other kind of justice. This was not wrong, but it was only a part of the "just" which it demanded.
We demand to-day above all, besides a just system of barter, just economic institutions, i. e., we demand that the complexes of rules of morals and right which govern groups of men who live and work together should harmonize in their results with those ideal conceptions of justice which on the basis of our moral and religious conceptions are prevalent to-day, or which are gaining recognition. We do not acknowledge any one of these institutions to be above history, as having always existed or as necessarily everlasting. We test the result of every one of them, and ask of each: How did it originate, what conceptions of justice have generated it, what necessity exists for it to-day?
To be sure we also know how to appreciate the value of the institutions transmitted to us, we know that the sacred traditions of the past fill our mind with awe, that even the form of traditional law has a restraining effect on rough characters, that a lasting condition of social peace is based on the greatest possible restriction of formal breach of law. We admit that institutions must never disappear in form and substance, that nations can never create anything wholly new, but must always build on what exists. In this lasting continuity of the whole we have a guarantee that the struggle for that which is good and just will not expire fruitlessly; though this would always happen, if each generation had to begin this struggle anew, and was not furnished with the inheritance of tried wisdom and justice,
contained in traditional institutions. We admit that every momentary condition of peace in society, as it is preserved by an existing law of property, inheritance and some other institutions, is more valuable than a dangerously unsettling war for a juster law of property and inheritance, when the traditional law still corresponds to the equilibrium of the forces existing in society and to the prevalent ideal conceptions. In this case every struggle for more just laws is for the time being hopeless and vain. It can only harm and destroy. Even the most violent revolution can not replace the mental transformation of men which is the precondition of a juster law. The essential point is always that the forces themselves and the conceptions of justice have changed. Then only can a struggle succeed.
Because this will always be, we do not fear, like the alarmists and the pusillanimous of all times, every struggle for juster laws. And on this account we do not see in every manifestation of the self-esteem of the lower classes a simply outrageous revolt against the doctrine of the natural aristocratic organization of society. Much less should we fall into the mistake of all aged reformers who, because they have achieved something, believe that the world's history should close with them and what they have accomplished. We know to-day that history never stands still, that all progress of history is gained only in the struggle of peoples and of social classes, and that they cannot always be as peaceful as in a nursery. And those who are always ready to dream of a jolly war and its favorable moral consequences should not forget that the social struggles within society differ from wars between nations only in degree, not in kind. Social struggles can likewise favorably affect peoples. I only call attention to the struggles between the plebeians and the patricians. There can be no progress in institutions without certain social struggles. All struggles within society are struggles for institutions, and that for the progress of cultivation the individual will grow enthusiastic, will even sacrifice
his life for that for which classes and parties fight, is so inevitable, so salutary that now and then we do not find fault with breaking the formal law in such contests.
There is no worse delusion than that of the older English economists that there are a number of simple and natural legal and economic institutions which have always been as they are and will always remain so; that all progress of civilization and wealth is simply an individual or technical one; that this is simply a question of increased production or consumption which will and can be accomplished on the basis of the same legal institutions. This faith in the stability of economic institutions was the result of the naive overweening confidence of the older economists in the omnipotence of the individual and of the individual life. Socialism then has perhaps over-estimated the significance of social institutions. Historical economics and the modern philosophy of law have given them their due position by showing us that the great epochs of economic progress are primarily connected with the reform of social institutions. The great messages of salvation to humanity were all aimed at the injustice of outworn institutions; by higher justice and better institutions humanity is educated up to higher forms of life.
As little as the social institutions of antiquity have governed modern history, as certainly as slavery and serfdom have vanished, as certainly as all past progress of institutions was connected with apparent success in distributing wealth and incomes in a more just way and in adapting it more and more to personal virtues and accomplishments, as certainly as this increased more and more the activity of all individuals, as certain as all this is it, that the future will also see new improvements in this direction, that the institutions of coming centuries will be more just than those of to-day. The decisive ideal conceptions will be influenced not exclusively but essentially by distributive justice. Institutions which govern whole groups of human beings and
the entire distribution of wealth and incomes necessarily call forth a judgment upon their total effects. Inasmuch, indeed, as single institutions concern only single men and single phases of life, the justice required will only be a partial one. Naturally this is always easy to attain. A just assessment of taxes, a just distribution of the burdens for the improvement of highways, of the duty of military service, a just gradation of wages are much easier to attain than a just distribution of the total incomes and wealth. But an endeavor towards these ends will never cease; all partially just regulations have significance only in a system of the just distribution of the total. And with this we finally come to the question what can be and what should the State do in this matter?
In our view it will obviously not be a body confined to the extension of justice in criminal law, in the jurisdiction upon contracts and further, perhaps, in the assessment of taxes, but ignoring the just distribution of goods. What sense is there in warming up in the legislatures over the hundredth part of a cent, which a quart of beer or a yard of cloth is raised in price for the poor man, when one takes the standpoint on principle, that his wages are to be regarded as something indifferent and remote from all human intervention. Our modern civilized commonwealth indeed cannot remove every injustice, because primarily it operates and has to operate by means of law. But it should not therefore be indifferent to the moral sentiments of men who ask for justice in distributing wealth and incomes for the grand total of human society. The State is the centre and the heart in which all institutions empty and unite. It also has a strong direct influence on the distribution of incomes and wealth as the greatest employer of labor, the greatest property holder, or the administrator of the greatest undertakings. Above all it exercises as legislator and administrator the greatest indirect influence on law and custom, on all social institutions; and this is the decisive point.
The right man in the right place, the great statesman and reformer, the far-seeing party chief and legislator can here accomplish extraordinary things, not directly, not immediately, but through a wise and just transformation of the economic institutions they can greatly influence the administration of incomes and property. Of course, the theory which sees only natural processes in all economic life admits this as little as those who from the standpoint of certain class interests, from conviction of principle, or even from mere shortsightedness constantly recur to the impotency of the State. Statesmen of a lower order also talk with eunuchs' voices of the inability of the State to interfere anywhere; they mistake their own impotency for that of the State. All these adverse opinions forget that the State is and must be the leading intelligence, the responsible centre of public sentiment, the acme of existing moral and intellectual powers, and therefore can attain great results in this direction.
We do not demand that any leading personalities, like a human omnipotence, should control, compare, examine and estimate the qualities and achievements of millions, and accordingly distribute incomes justly. This is a conception of folly which reasonable socialists now abandon. The State can at all times chiefly influence a juster distribution of income by means of improved social institutions. Only in this way is it guaranteed against having its best intentions destroyed by a thousandfold formal injustice. The total of economic institutions will always be more important than the insight and intention of those who for the time being govern in the central administration, be they the greatest of men. Their wisdom and justice can promote and reform the institutions, but cannot take their place. They will prove themselves true benefactors of humanity only by fixing the net result of their labors in lasting institutions, in increasing for posterity the great capital of traditional justice by reforms; and this will secure immortality to their genius and their will.