Page 3, 24th January 1941

24th January 1941
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Page 3, 24th January 1941 — People Get the Government They Deserve
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People Get the Government They Deserve

IT is not the custom in this country for the ordinary citizen to speak about the Stale unless he is indulging in a discussion on social or political matters. If he is, he will probably have something to say about Stateownership or State-intervention or the functions and duties of the State. At other times, he is much more likely to speak about " the Government " or " the Town Council " than about " the State."

Probably the reason is that the Government and the Town Council represent to him real people some at least of whom he knows personally or at any rate by name, whereas the State is something rather more shadowy and abstract. If he meets the State, it is in the person of the policeman, the tax-collector, the relieving officer or some other official of a Government Department (he does not usually call it a State Department). He knows, of coin se, that these people have power behind them, and, if asked, he might say it is the power of the State, but it is just as likely that he

would say it is the power of the law.

It is not, then, that the State has no meaning for him, but just that the term is not in his ordinary line of conversation or thought. What that meaning is, however, he would probably find it hard to say; and, it may be asked, what is the harm in that? No one expects the ordinary citizen to be ready to pass an examination in social philosophy.

Intellectual Vagueness

That is true. Neveitheless them is a certwin danger in this intellectual vagueness. When the State is thought of as some mysterious power behind the lives of the citizens, vast and anonymous, a sort of earthly providence, it may be credited with virtues which it does not possess, it may be accorded an influence which is highly dangerous, it may be blamed for evils which it could not possibly avert. Many people are prepared to accept State socialism who would shrink from giving to any group of individuals the powers they arc ready to give to " the State," though in practice the State can only exercise those powers through individuals (primarily the Government of the day).

The lesson of recent years is that plenty of people, and young vigorous people at that, are to be found who are ready to hand themselves over hand and foot to some man or political party claiming to represent the State. Less energetic folk arc more likely to seek to cover their own personal laziness by putting on the shoulders of " the State " the blame for all kinds of social, economic and moral evils, due in reality to the inertness of citizens and their lack of personal initiative.

The fact is that the State is neither god nor devil. It is human; as human as man himself. It is composed of human beings, and it is ruled by human beings. Consequently it is liable to all the defects to which mankind is subject. Jr ran be tyrannical, inert, stupid, crafty, cruel, and history teaches us that Stales have been all these things.

There have been States which used their Citizens as mere tools, States which have permitted the exploitation of the weak and defenceless, States which have been a danger to the community of mankind. It is on such facts as these that the anarchists have built up their case in favour of the abolition of that organisation which we call the State; but the general opinion of mankind (as of the Catholic Church) has always been against them.

Government or Chaos

Most people see clearly that in this matter it is a choice between organisation and disorganisation, and that social disorganisation spells the ruin of all hopes of human welfare and genuine progress. If, for instance, in this country there were no State organisedon, no central or local government, no administration of justice, no ministries entrusted with the care of public defence and order, no authority empowered to supervise the workings of economic life, we should find ourselves in that dreadful chaos which so often follows upon the military collapse of a nation and which accompanies civil war.

It is experience of that chaos which in the past has made some nations cry out for 'a government, even a had government, in preference to continuing anarchy. Man is sr, constituted by nature that he needs the State, and, just as God created man's nature, so God wills that the State should exist.

So it is that men have organised themselves in States for their own protection.

State Not a Mere Policeman Some have maintained that this is the only purpose of the State; that its only function is to be that of a policeman, protecting the rights of its members against

attack from malefactors at home and from foreign enemies. But logic requires that we • go considerably further than this. Even a police-force finds that the practical needs of everyday life force upon it functions wider than those involved in the mere protection of rights. Man's need of art earthly power stronger than a mere individual is not limited to protection against evil-doers.

A community of people (and mankind has always lived a community life) requires laws to regulate and co-ordinate its activities and tribunals to interpret and apply those laws. As the community develops, its parts become more and more interdependent.

For example, mediaeval England consisted of towns and villages, trades and crafts, peasants, lords and merchants, forming local communities far less in contact with each other than the communities which make up modern England. Trade was mainly local, means of communication were few and had.

To-day all parts of the country are interknit by mutual trade, railways, roads, 'buses, the press and the radio, letters, the telegraph and telephone. All-this forms a huge social structure which, if it is not to function intolerably badly, requires some supersising arid directing power ; and, if it is to function for the good of the community as a whole, it must be subject in the last resort to the supervising and directing power of the community acting through its representatives; in other words, to the State.

Where Its Power Must Stop

The function of the State, then, is n doubt primarily the protection of the rights of its members; but it is also the furtherance in other ways of human welfare in this life, a task which becomes more and more complicated as the social structure becomes more complex.

It is one thing to find an accurate formula by which to express the functions of the State, it is quite another to decide exactly how that formula is to be applied at various stages of social development and under various circumstances of social stresses and strains. The important thing, of course, is that the State should undertake neither too much nor too little.

But how are we to decide just how much the State should do in a given situation ? We arc all agreed that, under Modern conditions. the State should charge itself with the collection and delivery of letters; and we acquiesce in the much more recent acquisitionby the State of the telephone system. In England, the broadcasting system is a State monopoly; in the United States of America it is not.

In some countries the railways are owned and administered by the State; in others they are in the hands of joint-stock companies, though subject to State-regulation on some points.

In the matter of education the problem of State intervention has proved particularly acute, and it is common knowledge that the State's intervention in other fields (e.g. matrimony, religious orders) has called forth protests by the Catholic Church.

A great deal of the bitterness which so often accompanies controversies about State interference in various departments of life would be eliminated if the disputants would only accept and keep in mind the principle already established above: that the State exists to protect human rights and in other ways to further the welfare of the community. In other words, that the State exists for man, not man for the State.

No doubt there woeld still be room for differences of opinion about the best method

of applying this principle to particular circumstances, but at any rate the problem would be seen in its proper setting, and there would be less danger of wellintentioned people falling into one of the two opposino errors of laissez-faire individualism and totalitarianism. The controversy would be reduced to one about social technique, cleared of dangerous ambiguity about the proper ends of State action.

Red Tape Inevitable

This question of the technique of State action is, of course, extremely important. Given a situation in which the State ought to intervene in the interests of the general welfare, what is the best method of intervention? Each case must be decided according to special conditions and in the light of experience. But it must not he forgotten that when a Government department takes action, a certain amount of " red tape " is inevitable, unless we are prepared to concede to officials an almost arbitrary freedom of action in the discharge of their duties, with consequent danger of waste, favouritism, laziness, inefficiency and even tyranny. " Red tape " is the symbol of delay and of passing responsibility on to others; but it is, at least in moderation, inevitable.

As was said above. the State is not a superhuman being. gifted with °Innis. cience, omnipotence and universal benevolence. It is the community organised for its own welfare, or (in a narrower sense) the people charged with the government and administration of the community.

The moral quality of the State depends on the moral qualities of the citieens and of those who help to govern it. That is why every State, and every form of State, has its defects, and why the influence of Christianity on rulers and ruled cannot be rejected by the State without grave injury to its own welfare.

" Red tape," or departmental control of officials, necessary as it may be, is no sufficient substitute for a sense of personal moral responsibility.

These remarks about " red tape " have been inserted here, however, chiefly with the object of reminding the reader both that it is unfair to blame State officials merely because they cannot exceed the powers which have been entrusted to them, and that State intervention, however necessary in certain circumstances, is inevitably accompanied, in free countries, by the disadvantages associated with the epithet " red tape." The wise citizen will always take these into account before striking a balance between the gains and losses of State intervention, when proposed as a solution of some particular problem.




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