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THE RIGHT OF COERCION
In the preface to his Philosophy of Right Hegel says: “Man cannot be limited to what is presented to him, but maintains that he has the standard of right within himself. He may be subject to the necessity and force of external authority, but not in the same way as he is to the necessity of nature, for always his inner being says to him how a thing ought to be, and within himself he finds the confirmation or lack of confirmation of what is generally accepted. In nature the highest truth is that a law is.
In right a thing is not valid because it is, since every one demands that it shall conform to his standard. Hence arises a possible conflict between what is and what ought to be; between absolute unchanging right and the arbitrary decision of what ought to be right.”
Thus, as Hegel goes on to show, this unique privilege which belongs to man, his rationality, seems inevitably to lead to strife and discontent. Yet, if we are true to ourselves, we must “openly meet and face our reason and consider the rationality of right."
Never more, perhaps, than at the present time, has there been need for the firm fixing in men's minds of logical principles of justice, in accordance with which they may test the rightfulness of existing social and political institutions and standards. For never before has the critical spirit been more widespread. Now, as in the sophistic period of Greece, the binding power of tradition and the necessarily sacrosanct character of the demands both of State and Church are questioned. All things are tested, and only those pronounced good which are found rational, consonant with the critic's own canons of truth and reason, Hence the danger lest this decentralization or individualization of moral authority result in a decentralization of moral obligation which, if not regulated by well-established principles of conduct, will give free play to individual prejudices or passions, with a resulting loosening of social and political bonds.
This danger assumes a very grave form when it is united, as it sometimes is, to that other doctrine which declares that present social and economic conditions are inherently bad, as providing for a régime in which the many are pitilessly sacrificed for the good of the few. In the entertaining but sophistical work of Mr. Kidd entitled Social Evolution, the attempt is made to give to this declaration a pseudo-scientific form, and one apparently founded on the prevalent evolutionary doctrines of struggle for existence and survival of the fittest. As declared by Mr. Kidd, self-interest would urge the majority to put an end, if possible, to such a condition of
affairs, even though to do so would possibly be to sacrifice the welfare of future generations. Why men have not done so, he says, has been due to the teachings of the Church, which has promised greater joys in a world hereafter, and enjoined subordination of self to society as the divinely appointed means of attaining them. In other words, it is argued that a supernatural sanction to social good has been made to overrule the purely rational demand for self-good. The necessary implication from this is that, with the waning power of the Church to govern men's temporal action by simple dicta, and the corresponding increase in the tendency to elevate right reason as the touchstone of all obligation, the present régime will be subjected to greater and greater criticisms and attacks."
The assumptions made in the above, both as to the essential irrationality of social subordination and as to the peculiar characteristics of religion are unwarranted; but the fact that they are made and widely accepted serves to show one of the tendencies of the thought of the age. The only way in which such appeals to the reason of man can be met is by the counter demonstration of the rationality of the doctrines and the institutions which they decry.
Coercion means restraint, the hindrance of one's freedom of action. Before, then, we can consider coercion, we must determine what we mean by freedom. Professor Hyslop points out in his Elements of Ethics that the idea of “freedom ” is susceptible of
1 We shall return to Kidd's theories in our next chapter.
three distinct meanings. To these he applies the terms “Velleity,” “Spontaneity,” and “Liberty.” Velleity refers to that capacity of alternative choice which in ethical philosophy has received the name “free dom of will.” Spontaneity refers to subjective causation; that is to say, to the initiation of one's own act whether consciously or unconsciously originated. Liberty is defined as exemption from external restraint - a restraint which “may be either physical or social, the latter being meant to include all political restriction upon human action.”
human action.” Professor Hyslop continues : “We call a person free, or assert that he has liberty, when external forces either do not determine his action or do not determine the circumstances limiting the alternatives between which he has to choose. A man who can do as he pleases without suffering a penalty for it is said to have his liberty, or to be free. ... Climate, gravitation, seasons, geographical conditions, political institutions, economic conditions, and a thousand other influences are at work to limit the satisfaction of desire. To that extent we can say that we are not free, whereby we mean merely that we cannot do as we please without incurring disagreeable consequences. Hence freedom or liberty, used to describe exemption from these restraints, means only a condition in which we act according to our natural desires. The term is used most frequently to describe a political condition, — political liberty, whereby we mean exemption from the laws, customs, and restraints which put one man in subjection to the will of
others. But in this sense no man is absolutely free. Any one is under some restrictions, and perhaps ought to be. They do not compel him to act in a given way, but make the alternative so unpleasant that none except the permitted course will probably be chosen. In this sense freedom or liberty is a privilege rather than a power, a privilege to act with impunity rather than the faculty of alternative action. Thus a man is not at liberty to commit murder and escape the risks of punishment, but he has the power to commit murder and to accept the penalty, or not to commit it, and thus to be free from risk.” 1
Now, it will not be questioned that the essence of morality consists in the use of one's faculty of alternative choice. But if this be so, neither the State nor any other external power is able to limit one's moral freedom, — to restrain the power of conceiving ends, and directing one's conduct to the realization of the chosen end. Certain pleasant or unpleasant results may be made consequent upon the performance of particular acts, but the choice itself, the exercise of the faculty of velleity, cannot be determined or controlled. Thus the citizen is ever at liberty to choose whether or not he will obey the commands of his government, or conform to the requirements of social conventions; though, to be sure, in arriving at his decision he has to take into account the penalties which the State or public opinion attaches to disobedience to its orders. But the
1 The Elements of Ethics, p. 153.