M. N. Roy Jawaharlal Nehru



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GREAT POLITICAL THINKERS

  1. theoretician's concern for a coherence between his different shades of thought. More important, in this regard, was Green's humanitarian outlook. His genuine distress at the sight of the poor, indeed, con­tributed largely to the development of his collectivism and so it was scarcely a dogma. He was a collectivist not because he was a dog­matic theoretician but because he was humanitarian and true Christian who discovered moral responsibility of the state in arresting the danger of social calamity. "He had the warmest interest in, and the strongest sympathy for, the humbler classes. No man had a truer love for social equality, or a higer sense of the dignity of simple human nature."5 It is because of this Christian love for the oppres­sed humanity that he felt no contradiction in being both a collecti­vist and a liberal. He emphasized state-intervention but was not impervious to the basic need of individual's right of free development. It is these things that should impel one to feel at home with his poli­tical ideas.

  2. Green entered Oxford in 18SS and was intimately associated with it until the last day of his life. His writing profusely contribut­ed to the prestige of Oxford because with him, in fact, began its philosophical tradition. Long ago, Bentham, with his hackles up, spoke ill of the life at Oxford. He harshly said that going to the foolish lectures of his tutors to be taught something of logical jargon he there had learnt nothing. How far these remarks were influenced by his personal feelings might be a matter of opinion ; but one cannot deny that even in the mid-Victorian era life at Oxford was not at all enviable. "Living in small, semi-monastic communities with a con­tinuous tradition of four or five hundred years behind them, the Fellows of colleges were isolated from the busy, changing world and often, from their heavy drinking and unalterable opinions, were nick­named the 'two-bottle orthodox'. At a time when railways were changing the face of Britain, the only railroad permitted in Oxford was the ingenious contrivance in New College for circulating the port round the fireplace in the Senior Common Room."* If anybody, keeping aside these considerations, wishes to probe deeper, he is likely to be struck by the fact of quiescence in philosophical specula­tion at that time. In 18S8, Green lamented : "I am almost ashamed to belong to a University which is in such a state of darkness."7 This remark may serve as a pointer to the fact how the field of philo­sophical thought at Oxford remained absolutely barren. In fact, when persons like Mill, Spencer, Bain, Lewes, Jevons and Sidgwick produced tomes of philosophy to stir English mind the speculative spirit at Oxford was in a painful process of atrophy.


    1. Bryce, James : Contemporary Review, May 1882.

    2. Lindsay, D. & Washington, E. S. : A Portrait of Britain, Chap. 9.

    3. Nettleship, R. L. : Memoir, p. 23.

    Oxford was ruffled by the Oxford Movement which actually

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  2. placed an insurmountable hurdle against the growth of philosophic thought. Drowned, as it was, in theological dogmas the Tractarian Movement cared little to comprehend the mind of the age. The apti­tude for contemplation which is the real source of philosophy was cowed down amid the excitement of ecclesiastical controversy. So naturally philosophy could not have its nourishment. The Oxford Movement ultimately died down but it left back its leaven in the quadrangles of Oxford. The mood of theological discussion of the previous period was transformed into an ecclesiastical party spirit : theological debate was substituted by a crude form of platform in­trigue and manoeuvre. The university came under the terrorism of an ecclesiastical Ring. So there was little of mental freedom necessary for contemp'ation. Memory-work being the most reliable means for winning these distinctions, they naturally felt no urge for a philosophi­cal training. The young tutors, too, upon whom mainly rested the responsibility of teaching philosophy, were more interested in seeing their students come off with flying colours and so took pains to teach them methodical tactics out of their own experience. The burdensome syllabus of Litterae Humaniores, of which philosophical study was an appendage, put so heavy premium upon students' industry that they could really find no adequate time for a proper grasp of philosophi­cal knowledge.

  3. When all these factors welded to cramp the philosophical initia­tive in Oxford a man appeared to usher in a new wave : he was Benjamin Jowett. Jowett translated three volumes of Plato in which his introduction and appendices contained more of philosophy than of mere commentary. So with him set in a true climate of philo­sophy in Oxford. But Jowett might never claim to have constructed an independent and positive philosophy. It was T. H. Green who came forward to complete the half-done task of his master. In his lectures he was more than a routine teacher. Every class-lecture was carefully weaved in philosophical niceties. Moreover, by his Pro­legomena to Ethics and Principles of Political Obligation, he built up a positive philosophy which marked the beginning of a forceful philosophical movement ever remembered by posterity as tbe Oxford Idealism.

  4. Green's political philosophy cannot be correctly comprehended unless we go up the rungs of his metaphysics and ethics and it is herein that one may watch the important characteristics of Green approach. The empiricist philosophers, no doubt, took pains to write on political principles. But while grappling with problems of politics they acted more as politicians than as philosophers. Generally in their writings we do not find any attempt to treat politics as an integ­ral part of a complete philosophical system. Locke exerted no effort to erect a bridge between his theory of knowledge and theory of government. Hume was too busy with his metaphysical heresy to give any primary attention to political questions. It will be wrong,

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  1. however, to argue that in Mill too we find no desire to set a connect­ing thread between politics and philosophy. His psychical atomism, by implication at least, has got a clear correspondence with his doctrine of individualism. But in his political treatises Mill was more interested in combatting the practical questions of politics. It is difficult to discover in his writings any attempt to develop a compre­hensive philosophy of state.

  2. Philosophy of State

  3. Judged in this perspective, Green was the first man in the nine­teenth century to construct a comprehensive philosophy of state. There is a direct affinity between his metaphysics and politics between which his ethics serves as a necessary interlude. It is this perfect harmony between a speculative thought and the practical problems that has conferred on Green a unique position in the history of English political thought. "He went straight," as David Ritchie relates, "from the declaration of the polls, when he was elected a town coun­cillor, to lecture on The Critique of Pure Reason."* This indicates the man who used his metaphysics as a necessary contrivance to come up to the field of political theory : the man who was both a philosopher and a practical reformer, both an idealist in philosophy and a liberal in politics.

  4. (i) The State a Means to an End. Green's philosophy of the state, the subject of our main concern in this chapter, was thus built up on a very sound and reasonable footing. For all his belief, like Hegel's, that the state was the embodiment of the Divine Spirit, he never considered the state an end in itself. It was a means to an end, and that end was the full moral development of the individuals who compose it. His ethics made him to believe passionately with Kant that every man has a worth and dignity which forbids his exploitation for any purpose whatever. "The life of the nation," he insisted, "has no real existence except as the life of the individual composing it." "To speak of any progress or improvement or development of a nation or society or mankind except as relative to some greater worth of persons," he wrote, "is to use words without meaning." It is in this context that he regarded the functions of the state as being nega­tive. According to him, the state cannot teach morality to men, nor can it make men moral, since morality consists in "the disinterested performance of self-imposed duties." It is to remove obstacles which prevent men from becoming moral.

  5. It is true, of course, that in order to remove obstacles the state must interfere to such an extent that what appears negative in form soon seems most positive in content. "To any Athenian slave, who might be used to gratify a master's lust," he wrote, "it would have been a mockery to speak of the state as a realization of freedom; and

  6. 8 Ritchie, D. O. : The Principles of State Interference, Chap. Ill, Section 1.



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  1. perhaps it would net be much less to speak of it as such to an un­taught and under-fed denizen of a London yard with gin-shops, on the right hand and on the left." It was for the state to see that the mental and physical malnutrition, together with the gin-shops, were removed. "To uphold the sanctity of contract," he said, "is doubtless a prime business of government, but it is no less its business to provide against contracts being made which from the helplessness of one of the parties to them, instead of being a security for freedom, become an instrument of disguised oppression." In acknowledging that as its business, the state was assuming no inconsiderable powers of inter­vention. Green's indignation at the moral degradation which for so long society had so easily accepted shines through his words : "We content ourselves with enacting that no man shall be used by other men as a means against his will, but we leave it to be pretty much a matter of chance whether or not he shall be qualified to fulfil any social function, to contribute anything to the common good, and to do so freely." Indeed, he would gladly have echoed Carlyle's statement "that no one should die ignorant who has the capacity of knowledge, that I call a tragedy, though it should happen, as by some computations it does, a thousand times a minute " If the state was to intervene to prevent that tragedy, to ensure that everyone should be qualified to contribute something to the common good, its intervention was likely to be steady, constant, and far-reaching, and its purpose would clearly be positive.

  2. (ii) The Negative Role of State. The negative role which Green assigns to the state as the remover of obstacles is nevertheless signifi­cant. What is most important in life is a subject which, according to Green, falls within the province of the individual. And such a theory defines and limits state actions more than they could ever be defined and limited by the utilitarians. The State can do everything which will help, but it must do nothing which will hinder the free development of moral personality. The real function of government being to main­tain conditions of life in which morality shall be possible, and moral­ity consisting in the disinterested performance of self-imposed duties, paternal government "does its best to make it impossible by narrow­ing the room for the self-imposition of duties and for the play of disinterested motives." Green, in fact, was never tired of insisting that institutions exist for men, and not men for institutions. They are important for the effect they have on their members.

  3. Green did not idealize the state as Plato, Hegel and the subse­quent English Idealists, Bradley and Bosanquet, did, but, on the con­trary, he tried to establish t .e importance of individual men and women, and it is hardly surprising to find that in spite of the aura of mysticism which surrounds his conception of society, the state, accord­ing to him, is not something more than the sum of the wills of its citi­zens. He did not find in it, as Rousseau did, "Un moi commune", a common me.

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  1. The Will—tiie Real Basis of State

  2. Green believed in the existence of the General Will. It was his belief that General Will is the real basis of the state. Legal sove­reignty , he fully agreed with John Austin, must reside in the supreme authority within the state, in that body which recognizes no power above itself. But behind this legal sovereign is the General Will, and this General Will is what really determines the habitual obedience of a people. Men habitually obey only those institutions which, perhaps unconsciously, they feel represent the General Will. It is quite clear that for him General Will meant the will for the state, not the will of the state. His General Will, it is almost obvious, is certainly not that in whose name so many crimes have been committed, which has proved such an excellent stick, not only with which to beat minori­ties, as Dean Inge saw, but with which to bludgeon whole communi­ties into obedience, that it has become almost accredited villain of modern political thought.

  3. Against Monistic State

  4. Although Green held that will, not force, was the true basis of the state, he was fully conscious that there were states in which force was predominant. For such states he had no liking as they could not fulfil their ideal function. Hence while Green rejected Rousseau's view that the General Will was entirely in abeyance in all existing states, he also rejected Hegel's view that the laws in all existing states were synonymous with the General Will. The state, therefore, as it exists, is not necessarily a complete embodiment of the Divine Spirit than the individual. Thus Green, unlike Hegel, tried to safeguard the individual against the monistic state. He also differed from Hegel in his conception of freedom. For Hegel, Freedom is the voluntary identification of self with the laws of the state. But according to Green, Freedom is the right of a man to make the best of himself. This may mean voluntary identification of self with the laws of the state. If the state is a good state, if it is adequately fulfilling its func­tion, it will mean this. But it might not mean this. It might even mean that the individual, albeit in fear and trembling, will be com­pelled to go up against the state—a possibility which Hegel could never but which Green readily admitted.

  5. Dream of an International Society

  6. Green, thus, not only tried to limit the authority of the state by the demands of the individual, but he was also willing to admit the possibility of the state's supersession by other and perhaps higher forms of society. "It is easy", he wrote "to conceive a better system than that of the great States of modern Europe with their national jealousies, rival armies, and hostile Tariffs." And while acknowledg­ing how far mankind is from realizing "the dream of an international court with authority resting on the consent of individual states," he

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  1. believed, "that there is nothing in the intrinsic nature of a system of independent States incompatible with it, but that on the contrary every advance in the organization of mankind in states in the sense explained is a step towards it."

  2. This as well as his admittance that good government must not always be popular government, and the dictatorship also might act according to the General Will, creates some doubts about his indivi­dualism. Though his preference for popular control and participa­tion in government is admitted, it has nevertheless been claimed that the seeds of authoritarianism are to be detected in Green's writings. But in the light of his loud proclamation that the best government can only be self-government the doubts about his individualism are removed. Un-Hegelian in his refusal to consider the state an end in itself, as something other and greater than the sum of the indivi­duals who are its citizens, as necessarily a complete embodiment of the Spirit than the individual, un-Hegelian in his insistence that the individual may have the duty to act against the state, that the state must preserve the rights of the lesser communities within it and res­pect the rights of the greater community of which it is itself a part, Green is no iess un-Hegelian in this, that for the passive voluntary identification of self with an authoritarian state which Hegel de­mands, he substitutes an active participation in a democratic state which his individualism requires. Green, to quote Wayper, "the indi­vidualist, who judges State, Society, General Will by their worth for the development of individual morality and individual character, who so notably and so nobly dedicated himself to soci?1 and political service in the city of Oxford, would not have been true to himself hai he done less—and would certainly have made much less of an appt than he did to Englishmen."*

  3. Qualified Organic Theory of State


    1. 9 Wayper, C. L. ! Political Thought, Chap. HI. 10 MacCunn, J. : Six Radical Thinkers.

    "If it be individualism to see in every political movement the fate of human beings and in every controversy over institutions the weal or woe of fellow citizens, then there are few more declared indivi­dualists in political philosophy than T. H. Green," writes Mac-Cunn.10 Green refuses to accept the Mechanistic theory of the state, because he is convinced that will, not force, is the true basis of the state. He accepts the organic theory of the state only with many qualifications. He regards the state as natural since man is neces­sarily a social animal. He regards freedom not as the absence of restraint but as a process of self-development by freely obeying laws and customs which are seen to embody a rational scheme of justice within the community. He believes the state to be essentially good, because it is indispensable to guide and enable men to understand



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  1. their own moral obligations and to call upon the best in them. He teaches men to see that faith in their own moral development and faith in their fellow-men matters far more to them than any particular interest, they may have. And in his distinction between outward acts and inward will, between what is better done even from the wrong motive and what is only-valuable because of its motive, he gives men a far sounder criterion whereby to judge state-action than did Mill with his doctrine of self-and-other-regarding actions. In doing so, he gives the individual a far more effective protection against the undue exercise of the state's power than anything with which utilitarianism could provide him. Correcting and supplement­ing both utilitarianism and idealism, Green gives men a common-sense criterion which they can apply to states. Every state, he shows them, can be judged by its practical and ideal contents here and now. It will be a good state if it contains the largest possible number of happy, moral human beings.

  2. His Individualism Tempered with Idealism


    1. Hume's Works, i, 202.

    2. Prolegomena, 361.

    3. Ibid., 363.

    4. Ibid., 390

    Mill's philosophy was dominant in England when the Oxford philosopher began his work ; and though Green consistently avoided polemics, an undercurrent of opposition to Mill runs through his writings. He respected and admired the man ; but in the Introduction to Hume and in the Prolegomena to Ethics, as well as in the lectures on Mill's logic, his dissent from the philosophy is made manifest. He points out the inadequacy of Mill's conception of cause ; in the Intro­duction to Hume he makes a somewhat contemptuous reference to the "juggle, which the modern popular logic performs with the word •phenomenon';"" and from the ethical theory of utilitarianism his dissent is absolute and unqualified. It is true, he generously recognizes the practical value of utilitarianism. This is the theory, he says, which Ms given the conscientious citizen in modern Europe "a vantage-ground for judging of the competing claims on his obedience, and enabled him to substitute a critical and intelligent for a blind and unquestioning conformity and he pronounces that "there is no doubt that the theory of an ideal good, consisting in the greatest happiness and of the greatest number, as the end by reference to which the claim of all laws and powers and rules of action on our obedience is to be tested, has tended to improve human conduct and character."" But nevertheless he utterly rejects the idea of pleasure being the one true and moral action, and instead places the summum bonum for man in "some perfection of human life, some realization of human capacities."14 The improvement in conduct and character

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  1. is sufficient in itself, whether it be accompanied with pleasure or not. Both in his metaphysics and in his politics, Green was irreconcilably at variance with the utilitarians. His function was to substitute for their empiricism an idealistic interpretation both of the universe and of human life.

  2. To conclude, Green, with his practical knowledge of the problems of the state and his faith in political liberalism, tried to make individualism moral and social and idealism civilized and safe. If he paved the way for speculative thinking in the field of metaphysics, he attempted to liberalize the politics and safeguard the dignity of the self-conscious individual against the restraining character of the state. In fact, his unshakable faith in man as a self-conscious and self-moralizing entity has a sound metaphysical basis.
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