Moritz Schlick

The State





This extract is from a booklet (Natur und Kultur) by Moritz Schlick, written probably during the 1920s and published in 1952 after Schlick’s tragic assassination on the steps of Vienna University.

In this text Schlick puts forward the proposal of non-territorial states to which people decide to belong on a voluntary basis. In other words, the re-proposition of the idea of Panarchy by one of the most brilliant minds of the 20th century.

Source: Moritz Schlick, Natur und Kultur, Part Two, Chapter 3: Der Staat, 1952



Why is the territorial expansion of a nation something valuable to a people? Not in itself, but because the resources of the dominated lands contribute to raise the standard of life, as was the case with the Romans, and as is today with the British Empire.

But it is clear that the political domination of a territory could be, at best, a sufficient condition for the exchange of goods or resources which one people is able to give to another; however it cannot be a necessary condition for the exchange of values ​​among peoples, or of a country with another. But the same end can be attained through a process of mutual agreement. And, after all, this path goes much further, leading to the understanding of all individuals in all regions and can allow contacts without dominance. The less “artificial” are the borders and the government of the countries, the more exchanges and communications take place, and above all, they are most effective when they occur between individuals and small groups.

The erection of borders between countries makes our present life so hard, it prevents this exchange and each state, on its own, must seek to compensate by artificial commercial agreements for the damage done. The situation is so bad that invisible barriers are often even drawn against intellectual exchange by growing internal opposition against the admission of “foreigners” or even “racially alien” ideas. Things like that are unique to our time. At the time when Schiller wrote, "It is a very poor ideal to write only for one nation," few imagined that the state would one day attempt to limit in space the diffusion of thought. We must be grateful to those countries that do with other so-called "cultural agreements" and establish institutions for the cultivation of intellectual relations between neighbouring peoples. But the fact that such measures are necessary at all, that the stream of ideas does not flow freely and easily across political boundaries, is not a good sign of the times.


When the simple fact of living on the same territory is made the principle of unity, it is likely that this causes all the evils that lead to conflicts that beset the world, fragmented into many states. For it is primarily territorial questions from which the discord arises. Mineral resources, raw materials, the fertility of the land, the advantages of its geographical position: these are the factors that determine, in a strong way, the relations between peoples, and on which war and peace depend.

Which principles of togetherness exist in addition to the physical space? The most effective in history seem to be the following: common origin, common activities, and common convictions, especially in the political and religious fields.

It is the racial origin that gives rise to the principle of the racial state; the common practical activity is the principle of the civil state; political beliefs are the principle of the rule of political parties; and the common religious belief leads to large organisations called churches.

The division of mankind into races is accompanied, with a few noteworthy exceptions, by regional isolation. To a lesser degree this is true of the separation according to a creed. The various classes and parties always live completely mixed; associations and political parties generally try not to separate spatially their members. In these last two cases we are dealing also with purely internal principles of separation and togetherness. Here we can examine the effects.

One cannot simply ask: which people should join together? The question makes sense only if the purpose of the grouping is made clear. It could in fact be - and it really is - that different groupings are needed for different purposes, so that the boundaries of the groups must overlap. Two people can very well be in an association for the protection of animals while they cannot stand each other in a political association.

Our question was, however: which people should unite to form a state? But what does that mean? What is the purpose that is at stake here? Clearly it depends on the purpose of the state itself. The goal we gave was that of peace and security. According to which principle should the group form itself so that this end will be reached? If it should turn out that other aims require other groupings that contradict those of the state, it would immediately follow that the state cannot take it upon itself to make those other ends its own. They must be left to other organisations, otherwise the state would come into conflict because of the impossibility to pursue, with its means, ends that are entirely irreconcilable with its highest aim: peace. The means and the ends of the state can be defined as political, and distinct from all other means and ends. It follows, and I hold this sentence under all circumstances, that the highest aim of politics is Peace.

What are the principles that should govern the political union of individuals so that the purpose of the state, peace on earth, may be achieved? I have no reason to play hide and seek with the reader or to make him first receptive, by careful preparations, to the truths I have to say. So now forthwith I declare that none of the principles of association listed here seems suitable to be the basis of the natural state. Race, religion, political conviction, interest, and occupation, none of these is right for being the foundation of great peace, but the only reliable basis is the character of the individuals, their ethical qualities (not "convictions").

People of character, the kind and peaceful, naturally belong to the same group, form the invisible Civitas dei, the Community which is over the states, over the nations, over the confessions and parties. The bonds that are forged between the characters, resulting from sympathy, are stronger than those arising from customs, education, religion, so-called blood and all the others. Will I not a thousand times more willingly do things with a Chinese who I believe reliable and of kindly disposition, than with a European insincere and selfish? What matters if the white man has the same habits of mine, did the same studies, and belongs to the same religion? And what does it matter that the yellow man lives in a completely different way and thinks differently from me and dresses and eats differently? The divide between he and I is much thinner, and I get along with him better than with the one who outwardly has so much more in common with me.

Since every war is immoral, except when it is directed against immorality, one must never fight a political party as such, but what is immoral about it. And if this happens, the struggle of the parties is not a conflict between parties but a struggle of groups that no longer coincide with the parties but are defined quite differently from their political goals. In other words: the moral position would mean the dissolution of political parties. Or it would lead to the formation of new parties which can be distinguished from each other on the basis of their moral stances. This would bring us to the real opposites, which must be reconciled on a higher level.

Our idea of the state is: union for the protection of all the common necessities of life. With this definition, it remains entirely open whether the boundaries of the state, that is the perimeter of the citizens who belong to it, are determined by local cohabitation in a physical space, or whether the separation is made on the basis of another principle. So, not only countries or groups of countries deserve the name of state, but it could also be given to quite different organisations, provided only that they serve the purpose of common protection. Clearly this does not apply, for example, to the Church; we cannot reduce it to the principle of the state, although of course it is possible that it will develop into a state, assuming those purposes and uniting those principles with its own.

The closest possibility to achieve state-building through a non-spatial principle, seems to be unification according to political convictions. At first glance, this is a very natural process since the political is the state-forming element. As mentioned, the principles related to this are found in the party-based states, but they are only beginnings because, generally, the parties are not states within the state. They lack the traditional means of power that are needed for internal and external protection, which remain prerogatives of the country and its government. If, however, they were able to get the means of power, be it by secret armaments or by persuading some sections of the army or the police, then the tensions will soon be discharged into a revolution or civil war. As scary as such events might be, it should however be noted that they tend to be incomparably less bloody and involve fewer losses of human lives than wars between spatially separated states, that is, between hostile countries. This again speaks for the fact that opposing tendencies, if they already exist, should not be spatially separated from each other, but that the opponents should mix with each other. Then, the inevitable settlement takes place with disasters of a more limited scale. If the opponents and supporters of slavery in the United States had not also been geographically separated into northern and southern states, the civil war could not have assumed dimensions so devastating.

Let us imagine that the division according to political convictions would replace the division into territorial states. Then, there would not be countries in the usual sense but there would be political organisations whose members would have their residences scattered over all the continents and regions of the world. Each of these invisible communities might have its own laws, its own customs, its own administration of justice and government and also its form of state. There might be invisible republics and monarchies, but the presidents and princes would not rule over territories but only people who voluntarily belong to their state. And, because the beliefs of an individual may also change, then inherent in this principle is the possibility of switching from one organisation to another at any time.

However, such a situation would clearly be sustainable only if there are also special rules for mutual relations of members of different organisations (I intentionally do not say: between the organisations themselves).

There should therefore be agreement on a certain minimum basis of law or supranational or inter-states right, and, if one wishes, one can say that this would lead precisely to the establishment of a single world state. But the boundaries between a very extended state and many small states bound together by rules, are always fluid. The "world state", when you think of it, would be very light, and would be made ​​up of relatively simple rules that will probably be limited to the aspect of arbitration. To give an example, it could be determined that disputes between two members of different parties would be settled by a court composed of various members of other parties, who would also have to monitor the implementation of decisions through a common police power.

It should not be at all difficult to make such statutes world-wide (or rather to apply them, because it is always easy to set them up). In fact, when one sees the minimum of international rules existing nowadays for the states to coexist quite well in normal times, then one realises that these very general rules tend to function autonomously because the common interest for their existence is great.

They might temporarily hinder or appear bad only to small groups or individuals, but they would have against them the will of the majority that counts, and to which they must submit.

The essential condition is always that the members of the groups live intermingled, because as soon as a spatial separation occurs, new interests and complications arise. The effectiveness of our criminal law is also based on the fact that criminals are people who live separately or in small groups within human society. If they were to come together in tens of thousands to form, for example, their own city, we would no longer be able to get by with the usual laws and measures. Spatial segregation generally reduces or eliminates the need to be considerate of each other. Interests are isolated and each group can pursue its own interests undisturbed - or at least believes that it can do so, whereas in reality sooner or later there is contact with the others, from which a hostile opposition soon develops.

Conflicts between states, that plague humanity today, are born precisely from the fact that we have territorial states, separated by territorial borders. This is why each state believes it has the right to say: "This is an internal affair, and no one else has the right to interfere with it." If purely internal, spiritual divisions were to take the place of territorial divisions, there would no longer be any "internal" affairs - or, which would amount to the same thing - all affairs would be "internal". Interests would not accept to be isolated; those who think differently would always be close by; what we do will always concern them, all plans would have to be formulated with them in mind from the outset, antagonisms could not escalate into conflicts between people.

The unnatural aspect concerning our states are their borders. Each physical border is artificial because there is never a sensible reason why on one side should be called good what on the other side is called bad. Originally, when there was still a lack of means of transport, peoples were separated by seas and mountain ranges, they could not come together and therefore could not adapt to each other. Then people thought: borders must be there because they even exist in nature, and separator lines were built where there were none. People have learned to overcome mountains and seas, but one thing which seems impossible to break are the borders created by humans.

Currently, it is common to make a platonic complaint about the existence of borders, especially economic ones. But people do not see how deep the source of evil is; it is in the reality of the state itself. And this needs to be changed; only then will borders disappear.

The borders between countries cannot simply be erased through agreements because they are the real and more evident result of human activity. When we pass from Italy to Switzerland, from Germany to France, then we find that this side of the border is really different from the other side. Borders can fall naturally if these differences will disappear, as the dividing line between two colours of a surface no longer exists when the two sides become the same colour.

The ignorant and limited believe that through such mixing the colourful diversity of the earth, which I am praising, would be transformed into monotony. On the contrary, with the mixture of individuals, ever new individual differences arise, and it is these that are important for the progress of culture. A people that wants to grow only by itself renounces an important factor of renewal and overcoming of its own monotony. Through mixing, the individual diversity becomes greater, but the spatial distribution more uniform. A uniform distribution of people in the space with the greatest possible individual differences does not mean monotony, but the maximum of variety.

The question was: according to which principle should people unite in society to be able to protect themselves against external enemies, considering that the individual cannot provide security on his own and will need the combined forces of many? That the space-geography factor must certainly have a role derives already from the concept of the “external” enemy. The “association” must then refer always to the space. So the question is: under what principle should people live together? Would it be good to form a state including all those who, by chance, have established their residence in a geographically defined district (peninsula, space between two mountain ranges, etc.)? Or it would be a good thing that in such a space only those who adhere already to another principle can settle themselves?

When do people belong together by nature? When they are of such a nature that they understand, tolerate, and promote each other. But when does this happen? When they all support the same idea? Perhaps, but if the very idea is that they belong together, then they are caught up in the tragic circle of a senseless nationalism. Are there genuine ideas that really unite? Religions? They, too, have failed the test, for they have not only united the faithful, but have kindled the bloodiest wars against the infidels. Christianity, too, was unable to fulfil the great hope that Dante and Campanella placed in it: it has not united European humanity. Modern attempts to make the people (the "blood") itself the object of religious veneration and to increase national embers through religious fire seem like a declaration of war against any union of peoples through religion. If such attempts succeeded, national antagonisms would always be religious ones as well; the idea of a supranational religion would be made as ridiculous as that of a humanity that unites people.

To this idea of universal humanity, has it ever been given the chance to express all its power? If we did it, we would not need to seek a further brighter star. In fact, the idea of humanity is, at the same time, the moral idea, and the only true core of all religions. To our question "What individuals are part of a community?" we must respond “the good people”. The good will is the only guarantee of a mutual understanding and development. And when Homines bonae voluntatis (men of good will) struggle against all the others who do not want peace, this is the only war which carries a justification in itself, the only one for which even the philosopher can carry the flag, the only reasonable and natural war. The good will, alone, can be the principle of association. The state that results from it is the true city of God (Civitas Dei) and all other forms of states which are based on different principles are the cities of the Devil (Civitates Diaboli).

To desire separation and isolation prevents the development of a state of peacefully coexistence; it prevents the emergence of a morality between the people. Morality is always the product of a life in common. If people lived completely separated from and closed off from one another, there would be no good and evil in action, but only the useful and the harmful in the most crass way; there would not be goodness or justice or respect; no one would be affected by the acting of each solitary person because no one would know anything about it. Whoever wants to have his own law, must physically isolate himself and create barriers. In the case of the states, this is called “autarky”. Autarky prevents morality between states. For the development of morality, it is necessary that each individual comes into daily contact with many other individuals. Unceasing intercourse and reciprocal action form the prerequisite for the processes that lead to the formation of conscience and respect for the rules of coexistence.

There is only one true durable foundation of the state, and that is morality. Look no more! If you do not want to govern the world with goodness and justice, then you shouldn’t govern it at all, because you would be the origin of the struggle and discord that would lead to the destruction of your work.


Does the state protect the individual against external enemies? Does it not happen often enough that it creates new ones? Moreover, is it not true that it becomes the enemy of the individual, by taking a position of power and coercion? And sometimes it becomes so bad that the individual would prefer to be confronted with a larger uncertainty of dangers from the outside rather than endure the tyranny of the state, which constantly pursues him with its threats and thereby robs him of more of his freedom than an external enemy could do. Impairment of freedom, however, is present wherever, what is permitted "before God", is forbidden (many moral things are still best expressed in theological language).


It is perfectly true that the interests of the individual, the nation and of all humanity ultimately converge. But just as the individual is most happy when he cares for others and does not directly pursue only his own ends, so humanity is not best served when we do everything only for the nation, but we serve the nation in the best way when we keep our eyes fixed on the ends of humanity.


Suppression of freedom of conscience must ultimately be a danger for any state power. The danger for the state is to appear like a fool, and the more it does so, the less fear it will provoke. The politician who wants to impose on the citizen a particular world view (for this is where the control of the expression of opinions easily degenerates) is indeed a comic figure. Who is he that presume to decide which, among all philosophies, is the only true one?

For no ruler should be able to allow himself the cynicism of declaring to his subjects: “I'm not sure that the ideology that I demand from you is right, but I expect you all to follow it”.

Experience teaches that a state can do quite well for a while if no citizen is allowed to express an opinion that differs from that of the government - but it is still a colossus with feet of clay, because a state that deliberately does without the intelligence of its citizens renounces a vital vitamin.

If the moral decisions of the individual are usually presented under the beautiful image that his "conscience" stands against his selfishness and overcomes it, then groups of people - parties and states - also need a conscience if a supra-individual morality is to develop. The representatives of groups and peoples who meet in national and international parliaments should be the conscience of their clients, and not the expression of their egoism. So far, they almost always represent only the latter, especially in international negotiations. They are mandated to defend the "interests" of their constituents or of their state, but they should be mandated to look after the interests of humanity, regardless of whether or not this will lead to some sacrifice for their own people. But a diplomat or a representative of the people would be considered an incompetent idealist if he decided, for once, to speak and vote for a higher interest than that of his own people. In the end, however, he would not harm the people at all, because, eventually, they could only benefit from the harmony that would arise from these higher principles.

Certainly it is difficult to look to the good of all and only to that when somebody has been brought up in a certain circle or in a country where he is confronted with the principle of not opposing people’s ideas and of serving their particular good.

There should therefore be an international school for diplomats which would not be under the direction of a single state and in which the pupils would have to study the views and wishes of all peoples, equally, in an objective manner. Every country should be required to send the best young minds; there they would be removed, for years, from any partisan influence; for example, they should be sent to a beautiful island far away; and only those who finished this school would later be appointed diplomatic representatives of their country, and their capacity would be expressly recognised by the International Forum of the school. Of course, it would not only be a question of knowledge, but also of character, of love for humanity and incorruptibility of judgement. I would even advocate that not only the diplomats who represent a nation to the outside world should attend this school, but also the rulers who are at the head of their own peoples. For I believe that only those who have come to know and understand the needs of all peoples can lead and protect them well.

You cannot expect to receive generally such an “hearty” understanding from the history that is taught in schools and universities. Historians succumb so terribly to the domain of prejudice. Someone who is used to breathing in an atmosphere of pure mathematics and natural sciences must be shaken by such an impression when he casts a glance at the works of most historians who deal with the issues of their day, or of their people. Great figures like Ranke and Gibbon are rare. Many are almost more politicians than historians. Just look at a man like Treitschke!

For this reason there should also be International Universities where History, Literature and especially Law should be taught with true objectivity. Thank God, medicine, natural sciences, and mathematics are already inherently objective and do not require protective measures.


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