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Political Obligation 

T.H. Green 

Batoche Books 


Batoche Books 

52 Eby Street South 

Kitchener, Ontario 

N2G 3L1 



ISBN: 1-55273-018-2 


A. The Grounds of Political Obligation 5 

B. Spinoza 22 

C. Hobbes 32 

D.Locke 39 

E. Rousseau 49 

F. Sovereignty and the General Will 60 

G. Will, Not Force, is the Basis of the State 84 

H. Has the Citizen Rights Against the State? 103 

I. Private Rights, the Right to Life and Liberty 113 

K. The Right of the State Over the 

Individual in War 118 

L. The Right of the State to Punish 135 

M. The Right of the State to Promote Morality 157 

N. The Right of the State in Regard to Property 161 

O. The Right of the State in Regard to the Family .. 177 

A. The Grounds of Political Obligation 

1. 1 have entitled the subject of the course 'pohtical obligation.' I mean 
that term to include both the obligation of the subject towards the sover- 
eign, of the citizen towards the state, and the obligations of individuals 
to each other as enforced by a political superior. My purpose is to con- 
sider the moral function or object served by law, or by the system of 
rights and obligations which the state enforces, and in so doing to dis- 
cover the true ground or justification for obedience to law. My plan will 
be (1) to state in outline what I consider the true function of law to be, 
which is at the same time the true ground of our moral duty to obey it 
(moral duty I always distinguish from legal obligation); (2) to examine 
the chief doctrines of political obligation that have been current in mod- 
ern Europe, and by criticising them to bring out more clearly the main 
points of the truer doctrine; (3) to consider in detail the chief rights and 
obligations enforced in civilised states, inquiring what is their justifica- 
tion, and what is the ground for respecting them, on the principle stated. 

2. In previous lectures I have explained what I understand moral 
goodness to be, and how itis possible that there should be such a thing; 
in other words, what are the conditions on the part of reason and will 
which are implied in our being able to conceive moral goodness as an 
object to be aimed at, and to give some partial reality to the conception. 
I shall not go over the ground already traversed, but start from the point 
at which we there arrived. 

The highest moral goodness we found was an attribute of character 
so far as it issued in acts done for the sake of their goodness, not for the 
sake of any pleasure or any satisfaction of desire which they bring to the 
agent. But it is impossible that an action should be done for the sake of 
its goodness, unless it has been previously contemplated as good for 

6/T.H. Green 

some other reason than that which consists in its being done for the sake 
of its goodness. It must have been done, or conceived as possible to be 
done, and have been accounted good, irrespectively of its being done 
from this which we ultimately come to regard as the highest motive. In 
other words, a prior morality, founded upon interests which are other 
than the pure interest in being good, and governed by rules of conduct 
relative to a standard of goodness other than that which makes it depend 
on this interest, is the condition of there coming to be the morality of a 
character governed by interest in an ideal of goodness. Otherwise this 
ideal would be an empty one; it would be impossible to say what the 
good actions were, that were to be done for the sake of their goodness; 
and the interest in it impossible, since it would be an interest without an 

3. When, however, morality of the latter kind has come to be 
recognised as the highest, the only true, morality, the prior morality 
needs to be criticised from the point of view thus gained. Those inter- 
ests, other than the interest in being good, which form the motives on the 
part of the individual on which it rests, will not indeed be rejected as of 
no moral value; for no one can suppose that without them, or except as 
regulating them, the pure interest in being good could determine con- 
duct at all. But they will be estimated according to their value as leading 
up to, or as capable of becoming elements in, a character in which this 
interest is the governing principle. Again, those rules of conduct, ac- 
cording to which the terms right and wrong, good and bad, are com- 
monly applied, and which, as was just now said, are relative to a stan- 
dard which is certainly not founded on the conception of good as con- 
sisting in the character described, are not indeed to be rejected; for with- 
out them there would be nothing to define the duties which the highest 
character is prepared to do for their own sake, but have to be revised 
according to a method which inquires into their rationale or justifica- 
tion, as conditions of approximation to the highest character, in the sense 

4. The criticism of moral interests — of the general motives which 
determine moral conduct and regulate such moral approbation and dis- 
approbation as is not based on a strict theory of moral good from the 
point of view stated may be called by the term a 'theory of the moral 
sentiments. ' The criticism of recognised rules of conduct will fall under 
two heads according as these rules are embodied in 'positive law' (law 
of which the observance is enforced on the individual by a political 

Principles of Political Obligation/7 

superior) or only form part of the 'law of opinion' — part of what the 
individual feels to be expected of him by some person or persons to 
whose expectations he ought to conform. 

5. Moral interests are so greatly dependent on generally recognised 
rules of conduct that the criticism of the latter should come first. The 
law of opinion, again, in so many ways presupposes a social fabric 
supported by 'positive' law, that we can only fairly take account of it 
when we have considered the moral value and justifiability of the fabric 
so supported. I propose therefore to begin our inquiry into the detail of 
goodness into the particular kinds of conduct which the man wishing to 
do good for the sake of its goodness is entitled to count good — by con- 
sidering what is of permanent moral value in the institutions of civil life, 
as established in Europe; in what way they have contributed and con- 
tribute to the possibility of morality in the higher sense of the term, and 
are justified, or have a moral claim upon our loyal conformity, in conse- 

6. The condition of a moral life is the possession of will and reason. 
Will is the capacity in a man of being determined to action by the idea of 
a possible satisfaction of himself. An act of will is an action so deter- 
mined. A state of will is the capacity as determined by the particular 
objects in which the man seeks self-satisfaction; which becomes a char- 
acter in so far as the self-satisfaction is habitually sought in objects of a 
particular kind. Practical reason is the capacity in a man of conceiving 
the perfection of his nature as an object to be attained by action. All 
moral ideas have their origin in reason, i.e., in the idea of a possible self- 
perfection to be attained by the moral agent. This does not mean that the 
moral agent in every stage of his progress could state this idea to him- 
self in an abstract form, any more than in every stage in the acquisition 
of knowledge about nature a man can state to himself in an abstract 
form the conception of the unity of nature which yet throughout condi- 
tions the acquisition of his knowledge. Ideas do not first come into exist- 
ence, or begin to operate, upon the formation of an abstract expression 
for them. This expression is only arrived at upon analysis of a concrete 
experience which they have rendered possible. Thus we only learn to 
express the idea of self-perfection in that abstract form upon analysis of 
an experience of self-improvement which we have gone through our- 
selves, and which musthave been gone through by those with whom the 
possession of language and an organisation of life (however elemen- 
tary) connect us; but the same analysis shows that the idea must have 

8/T.H. Green 

been at work to make such experience possible. In this idea all particu- 
lar moral ideas all ideas of particular forms of conduct as estimable 
originate, though an abstract expression for the latter is arrived at much 
sooner than such an expression for the idea in which they originate. 
They arise as the individual's conception of the society on the well- 
being of which his own depends, and of the constituents of that well- 
being, becomes wider and fuller; and they are embodied in the laws, 
institutions, and social expectation, which make conventional morality 
This growth of conventional morality forms the 'moral progress of man- 
kind. ' B ut it must be remembered that a merely conventional morality is 
not a true morality; that it becomes so only in so far as upon habits 
disciplined by conformity to conventional morality there supervenes an 
intelligent interest in some of the objects contributory to human perfec- 
tion, which that conventional morality subserves and in so far as that 
interest becomes the dominant interest of the character. 

7. The value then of the institutions of civil life lies in their opera- 
tion as giving reality to these capacities, as enabling them to be really 
exercised. The way in which they thus operate is what now has to be 
exhibited. In their general effect, apart from particular aberrations, they 
render it possible for a man to be freely determined by the idea of a 
possible satisfaction of himself instead of being driven this way and that 
by external forces thus giving reality to the capacity called will: and 
they enable him to realise his reason, i.e., his idea of self-perfection, by 
acting as a member of a social organisation in which each contributes to 
the better-being of all the rest. So far as they do in fact thus operate they 
are morally justified, and may be said to correspond to the 'law of na- 
ture,' the jus naturae, according to the only sense in which that phrase 
can be intelligibly used. 

8. There has been much controversy as to what the jus naturae 
(Naturrecht) really is, or whether there is such a thing at all. The con- 
troversy, when it comes to be dealt with in English, is further embar- 
rassed by the fact that we have no one term to represent the full meaning 
of jus or Recht, as a system of correlative rights and obligations, actu- 
ally enforced or that should be enforced by law. The essential questions 
are: (1 ) whether we are entitled to distinguish the rights and obligations 
which are anywhere actually enforced by law from rights and obliga- 
tions which really exist though not enforced; and (2), if we are entitled 
to do so, what is to be our criterion of rights and obligations which are 
really valid, in distinction from those that are actually enforced. 

Principles of Political Obligation/9 

9. No one would seriously maintain that the system of rights and 
obligations, as it is anywhere enforced by law — the jus orRecht of any 
nation is all that it ought to be. Even Hobbes holds that a law, though it 
cannot be unjust, may be pernicious. But there has been much objection 
to the admission of natural rights and obligations. At any rate the phrase 
is liable to misinterpretation. It may be taken to imply that rights and 
obligations can exist in a 'state of nature' a state in which every indi- 
vidual is free to do as he likes; that legal rights and obligations derive 
their authority from a voluntary act by which individuals contracted 
themselves out of this state; and that the individual retains from the state 
of nature certain rights with which no legal obligations ought to con- 
flict. Such a doctrine is generally admitted untenable; but it does not 
follow from this that there is not a true and important sense in which 
natural rights and obligations exist — the same sense as that in which 
duties exist, though unfulfilled. There is a system of rights and obliga- 
tions which should be maintained by law, whether it is so or not, and 
which may properly be called 'natural,' not in the sense in which the 
term 'natural' would imply that such a system ever did exist or could 
exist independently of force exercised by society over individuals, but 
'natural' because necessary to the end which it is the vocation of human 
society to realise. 

10. The jus naturae, thus understood, is at once distinguished from 
the sphere of moral duty, and relative to it. It is distinguished from it 
because admitting of enforcement by law. Moral duties do not admit of 
being so enforced. The question sometimes put, whether moral duties 
should be enforced by law, is really an unmeaning one, for they simply 
cannot be enforced. They are duties to act, it is true, and an act can be 
enforced: but duties to act from certain dispositions and with certain 
motives, and these cannot be enforced. Nay, the enforcement of the out- 
ward act, of which the moral character depends on a certain motive and 
disposition, may often contribute to render that motive and disposition 
impossible; and from this fact arises a limitation to the proper province 
of law in enforcing acts, which will have to be further considered below. 
When obligations then are spoken of in this connection, as part of the 
jus naturae correlative to rights, they must always be understood not as 
moral duties, not as relative to states of will, but as relative to outward 
acts, of which the performance or omission can and should be enforced. 
There is a moral duty to discharge such obligations, and to do so in a 
certain spirit, but the obligation as such, as that with which law has to 

10/T.H. Green 

do or may properly have to do, is relative to an outward act merely, and 
does not amount to a moral duty. There is a moral duty in regard to 
obligations, but there can be no obligation in regard to moral duties. 
Thus the jus naturae the system of rights and obligations, as it should 
become no less than as it actually is maintained — is distinct from mo- 
rality in the proper sense. But it is relative to it. This is implied in saying 
that there is a moral duty in regard to actual obligations, as well as in 
speaking of the system of rights and obligations as it should become. If 
such language is justifiable, there must be a moral ground both for con- 
forming to, and for seeking to develop or improve established Recht; 
which can only lie in the moral end served by it. 

1 1 . Thus we begin the ethical criticism of law with two principles : — 
that nothing but external acts can be matter of 'obligation' (in the re- 
stricted sense); and that in regard to that which can be made matter of 
obligation, the question what should be made matter of obligation the 
question how far rights and obligations, actually established by law, 
correspond to the true jus naturae — must be considered with reference 
to the moral end, as serving which alone law and the obligations im- 
posed by it have their value. 

12. Before proceeding, some remarks have to be made as to what is 
implied in these principles, (a) Does the law, or is it possible that it 
should, confine its view to external acts? What exactly is meant by an 
external act? In the case of obligations which I am legally punishable 
for disregarding, the law, in deciding whether punishment is or is not 
due, takes account of much beside the external act; and this implies that 
much beside external action is involved in legal obligation. In the case 
where the person or property of another is damaged by me, the law does 
not inquire merely whether the act of damage was done, and done by 
means of my bodily members, but whether it was done intentionally; 
and if not done with the direct intention of inflicting the damage , whether 
the damage arose in a manner that might have been foreseen out of 
something which I did intend to do: whether, again, if it was done quite 
accidentally the accident was due to culpable negligence. This however 
does not show that the law can enforce or prevent anything but external 
action, but only that it is action which it seeks to enforce or prevent, for 
without intention there is no action. We talk indeed of a man acting 
against his will, but if this means acting against intention it is what it is 
impossible to do. What I call an act done against my will is either (1 ) an 
act done by someone else using my body through superior force, as a 

Principles of Political Obligation/1 1 

means, e.g. if another uses my hand to pull the trigger of a gun by which 
someone is shot: in which case there is an act, but it is not mine; or (2) 
a natural event in which my limbs are affected in a certain way which 
causes certain results to another person, e.g., if the rolling of a ship 
throws me against another person who is thus thrown into the water, in 
which case there is no act at all; or (3) an act which I do under the 
influence of some strong inducement, e.g. fear of death, but which is 
contrary to some strong wish. In this case the act is mine, but mine 
because I intend it; because it is not against my will as = intention. In 
saying then that the proper, because the only possible, function of law is 
to enforce performance of or abstinence from external actions, it is im- 
plied that its function is to produce or prevent certain intentions, for 
without intention on the part of someone there is no act. 

13. But if act necessarily includes intention, what is the nature of 
the restriction implied in calling it external? An external action is a 
determination of will as exhibited in certain motions of the bodily mem- 
bers which produce certain effects in the material world; not a determi- 
nation of the will as arising from certain motives and a certain disposi- 
tion. All that the law can do is to enjoin or forbid determinations of will 
as exhibited in such motions, &c. It does indeed present a motive, for it 
enforces its injunctions and prohibitions primarily by fear — by its threat 
of certain consequences if its commands are disobeyed. This enforce- 
ment is not an exercise of physical force in the strict sense, for in this 
sense no force can produce an action since it cannot produce a determi- 
nation of will; and the only way in which the law or its administrators 
employ such force is not in the production but in the prevention of ac- 
tion (as when a criminal is locked up or the police prevent mischievous 
persons from assaulting us or breaking into our houses). But though, in 
enforcing its commands by threats, the law is presenting a motive, and 
thus, according to our distinction, affecting action on its inner side, it 
does this solely for the sake of the external act. It does not regard the 
relation of the act to the motive fear as of any intrinsic importance. If 
the action is performed without this motive ever coming into play under 
the influence of what the moralist counts higher motives, the purpose of 
the law is equally satisfied. Indeed, it is always understood that its pur- 
pose is most thoroughly served when the threat of pains and penalties 
has ceased to be necessary, and the obligations correlative to the rights 
of individuals and of societies are fulfilled from other motives. Its busi- 
ness is to maintain certain conditions of life — to see that certain actions 

12/T.H. Green 

are done which are necessary to the maintenance of those conditions, 
others omitted which would interfere with them. It has nothing to do 
with the motive of the actions or omissions, on which, however, the 
moral value of them depends. 

14. It appears, then, that legal obligations — obligations which can 
possibly form the subject of positive law — can only be obligations to do 
or abstain from certain acts, not duties of acting from certain motives, 
or with a certain disposition. It is not a question whether the law should 
or should not oblige to anything but performance of outward acts. It 
simply cannot oblige to anything else, because the only means at its 
command for obtaining the fulfilment of obligations are (1) threats of 
pain, and offers of reward, by means of which it is possible indeed to 
secure the general performance of certain acts, but not their perfor- 
mance from the motive even of fear of the pain threatened or hope of the 
reward offered, much less from any higher motive; (2) the employment 
of physical force, (a) in restraining men disposed to violate obligations, 
(b) in forcibly applying the labour or the property of those who violate 
obligations to make good the breach, so far as is possible; (as, e.g., 
when the magistrate forestalls part of a man's wages to provide for a 
wife whom he has deserted, or when the property of a debtor is seized 
for the benefit of his creditors.) 

15. Only outward acts, then, can be matter of legal obligation; but 
what sort of outward acts should be matter of legal obligation? The 
answer to this question arises out of the above consideration of the means 
which law employs to obtain fulfilment of obligations, combined with 
the view of law as relative to a moral end, i.e., the formation of a society 
of persons acting from a certain disposition, from interest in the society 
as such. Those acts should be matter of legal injunction or prohibition 
of which the performance or omission, irrespectively of the motive from 
which it proceeds, is so necessary to the existence of a society in which 
the moral end stated can be realised that it is better for them to be done 
or omitted from that unworthy motive which consists in fear or hope of 
legal consequences than not to be done at all. 

16. We distinguish, then, the system of rights actually maintained 
and obligations actually enforced by legal sanctions (Recht or jus) from 
the system of relations and obligations which should be maintained by 
such sanctions (Naturrecht); and we hold that those actions or omis- 
sions should be made obligations which, when made obligations, serve 
a certain moral end; that this end is the ground or justification or ratio- 

Principles of Political Obligation/13 

nale of legal obligation; and that thus we obtain a general rule, of both 
positive and negative application, in regard to the proper matter or con- 
tent of legal obligation. For since the end consists in action proceeding 
from a certain disposition, and since action done from apprehension of 
legal consequences does not proceed from that disposition, no action 
should be enjoined or prohibited by law of which the injunction or pro- 
hibition interferes with actions proceeding from that disposition, and 
every action should be so enjoined of which the performance is found to 
produce conditions favourable to action proceeding from that disposi- 
tion, and of which the legal injunction does not interfere with such ac- 

17. Does this general rule give any real guidance in the difficulties 
which practically arise in regard to the province of law as to what should 
be required by law, and what left to the inclination of individuals? What 
cases are there or have there been of enactments which on this principle 
we can pronounce wrong? Have attempts ever been made by law to 
enforce acts as virtuous which lose their virtue when done under fear of 
legal penalties? It would be difficult, no doubt, to find instances of at- 
tempts to enforce by law actions of which we should say that the value 
lies in the disposition from which they are done actions, e.g., of disinter- 
ested kindness — because the clear conception of virtue as depending not 
on outward results but on dispositions is but slowly arrived at, and has 
never been reflected in law. But without any strictly moral object at all, 
laws have been made which check the development of the moral dispo- 
sition. This has been done (a) by legal requirements of religious obser- 
vance and profession of belief, which have tended to vitiate the religious 
source of morality; (b) by prohibitions and restraints, unnecessary or 
which have ceased to be necessary, for maintaining the social conditions 
of the moral life, and which interfere with the growth of self-reliance, 
with the formation of a manly conscience and sense of moral dignity in 
short, with the moral autonomy which is the condition of the highest 
goodness; (c) by legal institutions which take away the occasion for the 
exercise of certain moral virtues (e.g., the Poor-law, which takes away 
the occasion for the exercise of parental forethought, filial reverence, 
and neighbourly kindness). 

1 8. Laws of this kind have often been objected to on the strength of 
a one-sided view of the function of Law; the view, viz., that its only 
business is to prevent interference with the liberty of the individual. And 
this view has gained undue favour on account of the real reforms to 

14/T.H. Green 

which it has led. The laws which it has helped to get rid of were really 
mischievous, but mischievous for further reasons than those conceived 
of by the supporters of this theory. Having done its work, the theory 
now tends to become obstructive because in fact advancing civilisation 
brings with it more and more interference with the liberty of the indi- 
vidual to do as he likes, and this theory affords a reason for resisting all 
positive reforms — all reforms which involve an action of the state in the 
way of promoting conditions favourable to moral life. It is one thing to 
say that the state in promoting these conditions must take care not to 
defeat its true end by narrowing the region within which the spontaneity 
and disinterestedness of true morality can have play; another thing to 
say that it has no moral end to serve at all, and that it goes beyond its 
province when it seeks to do more than secure the individual from vio- 
lent interference by other individuals. The true ground of objection to 
'paternal government' is not that it violates the 'laissez faire' principle 
and conceives that its office is to make people good, to promote moral- 
ity, but that it rests on a misconception of morality. 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 im- 
possible by narrowing the room for the self-imposition of duties and for 
the play of disinterested motives. 

19. The question before us, then, is: in what ways and how far do 
the main obligations enforced and rights maintained by law in all civilised 
societies contribute to the moral end described — to establish those con- 
ditions of life in which a true, i.e., a disinterested or unselfish, morality 
shall be possible? The answer to this question will be a theory of the jus 
naturae; i.e., it will explain how far positive law is what it should be, 
and what is the ground of the duty to obey it; in other words, of political 
obligation. There are two things from which such a theory must be dis- 

It is not an inquiry into the process by which actual law came to be 
what it is; nor is it an inquiry how far actual law corresponds to and is 
derived from the exercise of certain original or natural rights. It is not 
the former, because the process by which the law of any nation and the 
law in which civilised nations agree has come to be what it is, has not 
been determined by reference to that end to which we hold that law 
ought to be directed and by reference to which we criticise it. That is to 
say, the process has not been determined by any such conscious refer- 

Principles of Political Obligation/15 

ence on the part of the agents in the process. No doubt, a desire for 
social good as distinct from private pleasure, for what is good on the 
whole as distinct from what is good for the moment, has been a neces- 
sary condition of it, but (1), as an agent in the development of law, this 
has not reached the form of a conception of moral good according to 
that definition of it by which the value of law is to be estimated; and (2) 
in bringing law to its present state it has been indistinguishably blended 
with purely selfish passions and with the simple struggle for existence. 

20. A true theory of jus naturae, a rationale of law or ideal of what 
it should be, is not to be had by inquiring how far actual law corre- 
sponds to, and is derived from, the exercise of certain original or natural 
rights, if that is taken to mean that we know, or can ascertain, what 
rights are natural on grounds distinct from those on which we determine 
what laws are justifiable, and that then we can proceed to ascertain 
what laws are justifiable by deduction from such rights. 'Natural rights,' 
so far as there are such things, are themselves relative to the moral end 
to which perfect law is relative. A law is not good because it enforces 
'natural rights,' but because it contributes to the realisation of a certain 
end. We only discover what rights are natural by considering what pow- 
ers must be secured to a man in order to the attainment of this end. 
These powers a perfect law will secure to their full extent. Thus the 
consideration of what rights are 'natural' (in the only legitimate sense) 
and the consideration what laws are justifiable form one and the same 
process, each presupposing a conception of the moral vocation of men. 

21. The doctrine here asserted, that all rights are relative to moral 
ends or duties, must not be confused with the ordinary statement that 
every right implies a duty, or that rights and duties are correlative. This 
of course is true in the sense that possession of a right by any person 
both implies an obligation on the part of someone else, and is condi- 
tional upon the recognition of certain obligations on the part of the per- 
son possessing it. But what is meant is something different, viz. that the 
claim or right of the individual to have certain powers secured to him by 
society, and the counter-claim of society to exercise certain powers over 
the individual, alike rest on the fact that these powers are necessary to 
the fulfilment of his vocation as a moral being, to an effectual self- 
devotion to the work of developing the perfect character in himself and 

22. This, however, is not the ground on which the claim in question 
has generally been asserted. Apart from the utilitarian theory, which 

16/T.H. Green 

first began to be applied politically by Hume, the ordinary way of justi- 
fying the civil rights of individuals, i.e., the powers secured to them by 
law as against each other, as well as the rights of the state against indi- 
viduals, i.e., the powers which, with the general approval of society, it 
exercises against them, has been to deduce them from certain supposed 
prior rights, called natural rights. In the exercise of these natural rights, 
it has been supposed, men with a view to their general interest estab- 
lished political society. From that establishment is derived both the sys- 
tem of rights and obligations maintained by law as between man and 
man, and the right of the state to the submission of its subjects. If the 
question then is raised, why I ought to respect the legal rights of my 
neighbours, to pay taxes, or have my children vaccinated, serve in the 
army if the state requires it, and generally submit to the law, the answer 
according to this theory will be that if I fail to do so I shall directly or 
indirectly be violating the natural rights of other men; directly in those 
cases where the legal rights of my neighbours are also natural rights, as 
they very well may be (e.g. rights of liberty or personal safety); indi- 
rectly where this is not the case, because, although the rights of the state 
itself are not natural and many rights exercised by individuals would 
not only not be secured but would not exist at all but for legal enact- 
ment, yet the state itself results from a covenant which originally in the 
exercise of their natural rights men made with each other, and to which 
all born under the state and sharing the advantages derived from it must 
be considered parties. There is a natural right, therefore, on the part of 
each member of a state to have this compact observed, with a corre- 
sponding obligation to observe it; and this natural right of all is violated 
by any individual who refuses to obey the law of the state or to respect 
the rights, not in themselves natural, which the state confers on indi- 

23. This, on the whole, was the form in which the ground of politi- 
cal obligation, the justification of established rights, was presented 
throughout the seventeenth century, and in the eighteenth till the rise of 
the 'utilitarian' theory of obligation. Special adaptations of it were made 
by Hobbes and others. In Hobbes, perhaps (of whom more later), may 
be found an effort to fit an anticipation of the utilitarian theory of politi- 
cal obligation into the received theory which traced political obligation, 
by means of the supposition of a primitive contract, to an origin in natu- 
ral right. But in him as much as anyone the language and framework of 
the theory of compact is retained, even if an alien doctrine may be read 

Principles of Political Obligation/17 

between the lines. Of the utilitarian theory of political obligation more 
shall be said later. It may be presented in a form in which it would 
scarcely be distinguishable from the doctrine just now stated, the doc- 
trine, viz., that the ground of political obligation, the reason why certain 
powers should be recognised as belonging to the state and certain other 
powers as secured by the state to individuals, lies in the fact that these 
powers are necessary to the fulfilment of man's vocation as a moral 
being, to an effectual self-devotion to the work of developing the perfect 
character in himself and others. Utilitarianism proper, however, 
recognises no vocation of man but the attainment of pleasure and avoid- 
ance of pain. The only reason why civil rights should be respected — the 
only justification of them — according to it, would be that more pleasure 
is attained or pain avoided by the general respect for them; the ground 
of our consciousness that we ought to respect them, in other words their 
ultimate sanction, is the fear of what the consequences would be if we 
did not. This theory and that which I deem true have one negative point 
in common. They do not seek the ground of actual rights in a prior 
natural right, but in an end to which the maintenance of the rights con- 
tributes. They avoid the mistake of identifying the inquiry into the ulti- 
mate justifiability of actual rights with the question whether there is a 
prior right to the possession of them. The right to the possession of 
them, if properly so called, would not be a mere power, but a power 
recognised by a society as one which should exist. This recognition of a 
power, in some way or other, as that which should be, is always neces- 
sary to render it a right. Therefore when we had shown that the rights 
exercised in political society were derived from prior 'natural' rights, a 
question would still remain as to the ground of those natural rights. We 
should have to ask why certain powers were recognised as powers which 
should be exercised, and thus became these natural rights. 

24. Thus, though it may be possible and useful to show how the 
more seemingly artificial rights are derived from rights more simple and 
elementary, how the rights established by law in a political society are 
derived from rights that may be called natural, not in the sense of being 
prior to society but in the sense of being prior to the existence of a 
society governed by written law or a recognised sovereign, still such 
derivation is no justification of them. It is no answer to the question why 
they should be respected; because this question remains to be asked in 
regard to the most primitive rights themselves. Political or civil rights, 
then, are not to be explained by derivation from natural rights, but in 

18/T.H. Green 

regard to both political and natural rights, in any sense in which there 
can be truly said to be natural rights, the question has to be asked, how 
it is that certain powers are recognised by men in their intercourse with 
each other as powers that should be exercised, or of which the possible 
exercise should be secured. 

25. I have tried to show in lectures on morals that the conception 
expressed by the 'should be' is not identical with the conception of a 
right possessed by some man or men, but one from which the latter 
conception is derived. It is, or implies on the part of whoever is capable 
of it, the conception of an ideal, unattained condition of himself, as an 
absolute end. Without this conception the recognition of a power as a 
right would be impossible. A power on the part of anyone is so recognised 
by others, as one which should be exercised, when these others regard it 
as in some way a means to that ideal good of themselves which they 
alike conceive: and the possessor of the power comes to regard it as a 
right through consciousness of its being thus recognised as contributory 
to a good in which he too is interested. No one therefore can have a right 
except (1) as a member of a society, and (2) of a society in which some 
common good is recognised by the members of the society as their own 
ideal good, as that which should be for each of them. The capacity for 
being determined by a good so recognised is what constitutes personal- 
ity in the ethical sense; and for this reason there is truth in saying that 
only among persons, in the ethical sense, can there come to be rights; 
(which is quite compatible with the fact that the logical disentanglement 
of the conception of rights precedes that of the conception of the legal 
person: and that the conception of the moral person; in its abstract and 
logical form, is not arrived at till after that of the legal person). 

Conversely, everyone capable of being determined by the concep- 
tion of a common good as his own ideal good, as that which uncondi- 
tionally should be (of being in that sense an end to himself), in other 
words, every moral person, is capable of rights; i.e., of bearing his part 
in a society in which the free exercise of his powers is secured to each 
member through the recognition by each of the others as entitled to the 
same freedom with himself. To say that he is capable of rights, is to say 
that he ought to have them, in that sense of 'ought' in which it expresses 
the relation of man to an end conceived as absolutely good, to an end 
which, whether desired or no, is conceived as intrinsically desirable. 
The moral capacity implies a consciousness on the part of the subject of 
the capacity that its realisation is an end desirable in itself, and rights 

Principles of Political Obligation/19 

are the condition of realising it. Only through the possession of rights 
can the power of the individual freely to make a common good his own 
have reality given to it. Rights are what may be called the negative 
realisation of this power. That is, they realise it in the sense of providing 
for its free exercise, of securing the treatment of one man by another as 
equally free with himself, but they do not realise it positively, because 
their possession does not imply that in any active way the individual 
makes a common good his own. The possession of them, however, is the 
condition of this positive realisation of the moral capacity, and they 
ought to be possessed because this end (in the sense explained) ought to 
be attained. 

26. Hence on the part of every person ('person' in the moral sense 
explained) the claim, more or less articulate and reflected on, to rights 
on his own part is co-ordinate with his recognition of rights on the part 
of others. The capacity to conceive a common good as one's own and to 
regulate the exercise of one's powers by reference to a good which oth- 
ers recognise, carries with it the consciousness that powers should be so 
exercised; which means that there should be rights, that powers should 
be regulated by mutual recognition. There ought to be rights, because 
the moral personality — the capacity on the part of an individual for 
making a common good his own — ought to be developed; and it is de- 
veloped through rights; i.e., through the recognition by members of a 
society of powers in each other contributory to a common good and the 
regulation of those powers by that recognition. 

27. In saying that only among 'persons' can there come to be rights, 
and that every 'person' should have rights, I have been careful to ex- 
plain that I use 'person' in the moral not merely in the legal sense. In 
dealing, then, with such phrases as 'jura personarum, and, personal 
rights,' we must keep in view the difference between the legal and ethi- 
cal sense of the proposition that all rights are personal, or subsist as 
between persons. In the legal sense, so far as it is true — and it is so only 
if 'person' is used in the sense of Roman law — it is an identical propo- 
sition. A person means a subject of rights and nothing more. Legal per- 
sonality is derived from the possession of right, not vice versa. Like 
other identical propositions, its use is to bring out and emphasise in the 
predicate what is included in the understood connotation of the subject; 
to remind us that when we speak of rights we imply the existence of 
parties, in English phraseology, capable of suing and being sued. I n the 
ethical sense, it means that rights are derived from the possession of 

20/T.H. Green 

personality as = a rational will (or the capacity which man possesses of 
being determined to action by the conception of such a perfection of his 
being as involves the perfection of a society in which he lives), in the 
sense (a) that only among beings possessed of rational will can there 
come to be rights, (b) that they fulfil their idea, or are justifiable, or 
such rights as should be rights, only as contributing to realisation of 
rational will. It is important to bear this distinction in mind in order that 
the proposition in its ethical sense, which can stand on its own merits, 
may not derive apparent confirmation from a juristic truism. 

28. The moral idea of personality is constantly tending to affect the 
legal conception of the relation between rights and persons. Thus the 
jura personarum, which properly = either rights arising out of 'status,' 
or rights which not only (like all rights) reside in someone having a legal 
status and are available against others having a legal status, but are 
exercised over, or in respect of, someone possessed of such status (e.g. 
a wife or a free servant) come to be understood as rights derived from 
the human personality or belonging to man as man. It is with some such 
meaning that English writers on law speak of rights to life and liberty as 
personal rights. The expression might seem pleonastic, since no right 
can exist except as belonging to a person in the legal sense. They do not 
use the phrase either pleonastically or in the sense of the Roman law- 
yers' jura personarum above, but in the sense that these rights are im- 
mediately derived from, or necessarily attach to, the human personality 
in whatever that personality is supposed to consist. There is no doubt, 
however, that historically the conception of the moral person, in any 
abstract form, is not arrived at till after that of the legal person has been 
thus disentangled and formulated; and further that the abstract concep- 
tion of the legal person, as the sustainer of rights, is not arrived at till 
long after rights have been actually recognised and established. But the 
disentanglement or abstract formulation of the conception of moral per- 
sonality is quite a different thing from the action of the consciousness in 
which personality, consists. 

29. The capacity, then, on the part of the individual of conceiving a 
good as the same for himself and others, and of being determined to 
action by that conception, is the foundation of rights; and rights are the 
condition of that capacity being realised. No right is justifiable or should 
be a right except on the ground that directly or indirectly it serves this 
purpose. Conversely every power should be a right, i.e., society should 
secure to the individual every power, that is necessary for realising this 

Principles of Political Obligation/21 

capacity. Claims to such powers as are directly necessary to a man's 
acting as a moral person at all — acting under the conception of a good 
as the same for self and others — may be called in a special sense per- 
sonal rights (though they will include more than Stephen includes under 
that designation); they may also be called, if we avoid misconceptions 
connected with these terms, 'innate' or 'natural' rights. They are thus 
distinguished from others which are (1) only indirectly necessary to the 
end stated, or (2) are so only under special conditions of society; as well 
as from claims which rest merely on legal enactment and might cease to 
be enforced without any violation of the jus naturae. 

30. The objection to calling them 'innate' or 'natural,' when once it 
is admitted on the one side that rights are not arbitrary creations of law 
or custom but that there are certain powers which ought to be secured as 
rights, on the other hand that there are no rights antecedent to society, 
none that men brought with them into a society which they 'contracted' 
to form, is mainly one of words. They are 'innate' or 'natural' in the 
same sense in which according to Aristotle the state is natural — not in 
the sense that they actually exist when a man is born and that they have 
actually existed as long as the human race — but that they arise out of, 
and are necessary for the fulfilment of, a moral capacity without which 
a man would not be a man. There cannot be 'innate' rights in any other 
sense than that in which there are innate duties, of which, however, 
much less has been heard. Because a group of beings are capable each 
of conceiving an absolute good of himself and of conceiving it to be 
good for himself as identical with, and because identical with, the good 
of the rest of the group, there arises for each a consciousness that the 
common good should be the object of action, i.e., a duty, and a claim in 
each to a power of action that shall be at once secured and regulated by 
consciousness of a common good on the part of the rest, i.e., a right. 
There is no ground for saying that the right arises out of a primary 
human capacity, and is thus 'innate' which does not apply equally to the 

3 1 . The dissociation of 'innate' rights from 'innate' duties has gone 
along with the delusion that such rights existed apart from society Men 
were supposed to have existed in a state of nature, which was not a state 
of society, but in which certain rights attached to them as individuals, 
and then to have formed societies by contract or covenant. Society hav- 
ing been formed, certain other rights arose through positive enactment; 
but none of these, it was held, could interfere with the natural rights 

22/T.H. Green 

which belonged to men antecedently to the social contract or survived it. 
Such a theory can only be stated by an application to an imaginary 
state of things, prior to the formation of societies as regulated by cus- 
tom or law, of terms that have no meaning except in relation to such 
societies. 'Natural right,' as = right in a state of nature which is not a 
state of society, is a contradiction. There can be no right without a con- 
sciousness of common interest on the part of members of a society. 
Without this there might be certain powers on the part of individuals, 
but no recognition of these powers by others as powers of which they 
allow the exercise, nor any claim to such recognition, and without this 
recognition or claim to recognition there can be no right. 

B. Spinoza 

32. Spinoza is aware of this. In the Tractatus Politicus, he says 'By the 
right of nature, then, I mean the actual laws or rules of nature in accor- 
dance with which all things come to be; that is, the actual power of 
nature... Hence everything a man does in accordance with the laws of 
his nature, he does by the sovereign right of nature, and he has as much 
right against other things in nature as he has power and strength' (11.4). 
If only, seeing that the jwi' naturae [law of nature] was mere potenda 
[power], he had denied that it was jus at all, he would have been on the 
right track. Instead of that, however, he treats it as properly jus, and 
consistently, with this regards all jus as mere potenda: nor is any jus 
humanum [human law] according to him, guided by or the product of 
reason. It arises, in the modern phrase, out of the 'struggle for exist- 
ence.' As Spinoza says.'., men are led more by blind desire than by 
reason; and so their natural power, or natural right, must not be defined 
in terms of reason, but must be held to cover every possible appetite by 
which they are determined to act, and by which they try to preserve 
themselves' (II. 5). The jus civile [civil law] is simply the result of the 
conflict of natural powers, which = natural rights, which arises from the 
effort of every man to gratify his passions and 'preserve his own being.' 
Man is simply a pars naturae [part of nature], the most crafty of the 
animals. 'In so far as men are tormented by anger, envy, or any passion 
involving hatred, they are divided and at odds with one another; and are 
the more to be feared because they are more powerful, more cunning 
and astute, than other creatures. But men are by nature subject to these 
passions in the highest degree... so men are by nature enemies' (11.14). 
Universal hostility means universal fear, and fear means weakness. It 

Principles of Political Obligation/23 

follows that in the state of nature there is nothing fit to be called poten- 
tia or consequently 7M5; 

I therefore conclude that the right of nature peculiar to hu- 
man beings can scarcely be conceived save where men hold 
rights as a body, and thus have the power to defend their pos- 
session of territories which they can inhabit and cultivate, to 
protect themselves, to repel all force, and to live in accordance 
with the common judgement of all. For (by section 1 3 of this 
Chapter) the more men there be that unite in this way, the more 
rightthey collectively possess;... (11.15). 

The collective body, i.e., has m^ove jus in naturam [right in nature], 
i.e., potentiam, than any individual could have singly (II. 13). In the 
advantage of this increased jm5 in naturam the individual shares. On the 
other hand. 

Where men hold rights as a body, and are all guided as if by 
one mind, then, of course, (by Section 13 of this Chapter) each 
of them has the less right the more the rest together exceed him 
in power; that is, his only real right against other things in na- 
ture is what the corporate right allows him. In other matters he 
must carry out every command laid upon him by the common 
decision; or (by Section 4 of this Chapter) be compelled to do 
so by right (11.16). 

This jus by which the individual's actions are now to be regulated, 
is still simply potentia. 'This corporate right, which is defined by the 
power of a people, is generally called sovereignty... (11.17). It is not to 
be considered anything different from jus naturae. It is simply the naturalis 
potentia of a certain number of men combined; 'of a people which is 
guided as if by one mind' (III. 2). 

Thus in the status civilis [civil state] the jus naturae of the indi- 
vidual in one sense disappears, in another does not. It disappears in the 
sense that the individual member of the state has no mind to act or 
power to act against the mind of the state. Anyone who had such a mind 
or power would not be a member of the state He would be an enemy 
against whose potentia the state must measure its own. On the other 
hand, in statu civili, just as much as in statu naturali, 'man acts in 

24/T.H. Green 

accordance with the laws of his own nature and pursues his own advan- 
tage' (III. 3). He exercises his naturalis potentia for some natural end of 
satisfying his wants and preserving his life as he did or would do outside 
the status civilis. Only in status civilis these motives on the part of 
individuals so far coincide as to form the 'one mind' (11.16) which di- 
rects the 'power of the people' (11.17). 

According to this view any member of a state will have just so much 
jus, i.e., potentia, against other members as the state allows him. If he 
can exercise any jus or potentia against another 'on his own judgement' 
(III. 3), he is so far not a member of the state and the state is so far 
imperfect. If he could exercise any jm^ ov potentia against the state it- 
self, there would be no state, or, which is the same, the state would not 
be sui juris [autonomous] . 

33. Is there then no limit to ihejus which the state may exercise? 
With Spinoza this is equivalent to the question, is there no limit to the 
potentia which it can exercise? As to this, he suggests three consider- 

(1) Its power is weakened by any action against right reason, be- 
cause this must weaken the 'union of minds' on whichitis founded. .'.. 
[T]he right of a commonwealth is determined by the power of a people 
guided as if by one mind; but this union of minds is quite inconceivable 
unless the commonwealth does its best to achieve those conditions which 
sound reason declares to be for the good of all men' (III. 7). And it is a 
contradiction to say that the state has a right to weaken its own power. 

(2) The 'right' or 'power' of the state depends on its power of af- 
fecting the hopes and fears of individual citizens. 'Subjects are under 
the control of the commonwealth, and not possessed of their own right, 
only in so far as they fear its power or its threats, or in so far as they 
love the political order (by Section 10 of the previous Chapter). It fol- 
lows that all actions which no one can be induced to do by rewards or 
threats fall outside the right of the commonwealth' (III. 8). Whatever 
cannot be achieved by rewards and threats is beyond the power and 
therefore beyond the 'right' of the state. Examples are given in the same 

(3) .'.. commands which arouse the indignation of a great number 
of subjects hardly fall within the right of the commonwealth. 'Severities 
of a certain kind lead to conspiracies against the state, and thus weaken 
it; . ' . . what is true of each citizen, or of each man in the state of nature, 
is true of a commonwealth also; the greater its cause for fear it has, the 

Principles of Political Obligation/25 

less is it possessed of own right' (III. 9). 

Just so far then as there are certain things which the state cannot do, 
or by doing which it lessens its power, so far there are things which it 
has no 'right' to do. 

34. Spinoza proceeds to consider the relation of states or sovereign 
powers to each other. Here the principle is simple. They are to each 
other as individuals in the state of nature, except that they will not be 
subject to the same weaknesses. 

For since (by Section 2 of this Chapter) the right of the 
sovereign is simply the right of nature itself, two states are in 
the same relation to one another as two men in the condition of 
nature; with this exception, that a commonwealth can guard 
itself against being subjugated by another, as a man in the state 
of nature cannot do. For, of course, a man is overcome by sleep 
every day, is often afflicted by disease of body or mind, and is 
finally prostrated by old age; in addition, he is subject to other 
troubles against which a commonwealth can make itself secure 
(III. 11). 

In other words '... two commonwealths are enemies by nature. For 
men in the state of nature are enemies...; and so all who retain the right 
of nature, and are not united in a single commonwealth, remain en- 
emies' (III. 13). 'Rights to make war' are simply the powers of any one 
state to attack or defend itself against another. 'Rights to maintain peace- 
ful relations' (III. 13), on the other hand, do not appertain to any single 
state, but arise out of the agreement of two at least. They last as long as 
the agreement, the foedus, lasts; and this lasts as long as the fear or 
hope, which led to its being made, continues to be shared by the states 
which made it (III. 14). As soon as this ceases to be the case, the agree- 
ment is necessarily at an end, ' [and a state] cannot be accused of treach- 
ery or perfidy because it breaks faith as soon as its reason for fear or 
hope is removed. For in this respect each contracting party was on pre- 
cisely the same footing; if it could be the first to free itself from fear it 
would gain possession of its own right, and would use it as its own 
judgement dictated' (III. 14). 

35. It would seem to follow from the above that a state can do no 
wrong, in the sense that there are no rights that it can violate. The same 

26/T.H. Green 

principle is applicable to it as to the individual; .'.. there is no sin in the 
state of nature; or rather,.... if anyone sins, it is against himself, and not 
against others... [the law of nature] forbids absolutely nothing that is 
within human power' (11.18). A state is to any other state, and to its 
subjects, as one individual against another in statu naturali. A wrong, a 
peccatum, consists in a violation by individuals of the commune decre- 
tum [common decree]. There can be no peccare on the part of the com- 
mune decretum itself. But 

I do not assert that everything which I say is done in the 
best way. It is one thing to cultivate a field by right, and another 
to cultivate it in the best way; it is one thing, I say, to defend and 
preserve oneself, to give judgement and so on by right, another 
to defend and preserve oneself in the best way, and to give the 
best judgement. In consequence, it is one thing to rule and have 
charge of public affairs by right, another to rule and direct pub- 
lic affairs in the best way. So now that I have dealt with the 
right of commonwealths in general, it is time for me to discuss 
their best condition. (V. 1) 

Hence a further consideration 'of the best condition of common- 
wealths' (V.l). This is guided by reference to the 'finis status civilis 
[Purpose of the political order],' which is 'pax vitaeque securitas' ['Peace 
and security of life'; V.2]. Accordingly that is the best government un- 
der which men live in harmony and of which the rights are kept invio- 
late. Where this is not the case the fault lies with the government, not 
with any 'wickedness of its subjects. For citizens are not born, but made. 
Besides, man's natural passions are not the same everywhere...' (V.2). 

The end is not fully attained where men are merely kept in order by 
fear. Such a state of things is not peace but merely absence of war. 'For 
peace is not absence of war, but a virtue based on strength of mind 
[animi fortitudine] ; since... obedience is the steadfast will to do what the 
general decree of the commonwealth requires' (V.4). 

The 'peace,' then, which it is the end of the state to obtain, consists 
in rational virtue; in a common mind, governed by desire on the part of 
each individual for perfection of being in himself and others. The har- 
mony of life, too, which is another way of expressing its object, is to be 
understood in an equally high sense. The life spoken of is one 
'characterised primarily by reason, the true virtue and life of the mind' 

Principles of Political Obligation/27 


The imperium [sovereignty] which is to contribute to this end must 
clearly be one 'established by a free people, and not... a tyranny ac- 
quired over a people by the right of war' (V.6). Between the two forms 
of imperium there may be no essential difference in respect of the jUs 
which belongs to each, but there is the greatest in respect of the ends 
which they serve as well as in the means by which they have to be 
maintained' (V.6). 

36. This conclusion of Spinoza's doctrine of the state does not seem 
really consistent with the beginning. At the outset' no motives are 
recognised in men but such as render them natura hostes (natural en- 
emies]. From the operation of these motives the state is supposed to 
result. Each individual finds that the war of all against all is weakness 
for all. Consequently the desire on the part of each to strengthen him- 
self, which is a form of the universal effort 'to preserve his own being' 
(II. 5), leads to combination, it being discovered that 'nothing is more 
useful to man than man' (Ethic, IV. 18, Schol.). But we are expressly 
told that the civil state does not bring with it other motives than those 
operative in statu naturali. 'The fact is that man acts in accordance with 
the laws of his own nature and pursues his own advantage in both the 
natural and the political order' (III.3). But then it appears that there 
supervenes or may supervene on such motives .'.. the steadfast will to 
do what the general decree of the commonwealth requires' (V.4), and 
that not of a kind which seeks to carry out the commune decretum as a 
means of escaping pain or obtaining pleasure, for it is said to arise from 
the animi fortitudo which rests on reason ('related to the mind in so far 
as it thinks' — Ethic, III. 59, Schol.) and includes generositas defined as 
above. It is also said that the true object of imperium is 'vitam concorditer 
tanigere' ['living in harmony'] or 'vitam colere ' ['improving life'] in a 
sense of vita in which it is 'characterised primarily by reason' (V.5). 
And as the imperium established for this end is one which is 'estab- 
lished by a free people' (V. 6), it seems to be implied that there is a 
desire for such an end on the part of the people. It is not explained how 
such desires should arise out of the conflict of naturales potentiae or out 
of the impulses which render men natura hostes. On the other hand, if 
the elements of them already exist in the impulses which lead to the 
formation of the status civilis, the reasons for saying that men are natura 
hostes disappear, and we get a different view of jus whether naturale or 
civile from that which identifies it simply with potentia. Some power of 

28/T.H. Green 

conceiving and being interested in a good as common, some identifica- 
tion of the esse of others with suum esse which every man, as Spinoza 
says, seeks to preserve and promote, must be supposed in those who 
form the most primitive social combinations if these are to issue in a 
state directed to such ends and maintained by such a 'steadfast will' as 
Spinoza describes. And it is the interest of men in a common good, the 
desire on the part of each which he thinks of others as sharing, for a 
good which he conceives to be equally good for them, that transforms 
mere potentia into what may fitly be called jus, i.e., a power claiming 
recognition as exercised or capable of being exercised for the common 

37. If this qualification of potentia which alone renders it jus had 
been apprehended by Spinoza, he would have been entitled to speak of a 
jus naturale [natural law] as preceding ihejus civile, i.e., of claims to 
the recognition of powers and the actual customary recognition of such, 
as exercised for a common good, preceding the establishment of any 
regular institutions or general laws for securing their exercise. As it is, 
the term jus naturale is with him really unmeaning . If it means no more 
than potentia, why call it jus! 

Jus might have a meaning distinct from that of potentia in the sense 
of a power which a certain imperium enables one man to exercise as 
against another. This is what Spinoza understands by jus civile. But 
there is no need to qualify it as civile, unlessjM^ may be employed with 
some other qualification and with a distinctive meaning. But the jm^ 
naturale, as he understands it, has no meaning other than that of poten- 
tia, and his theory as it stands would have been more clearly expressed 
if instead of jus naturale and. jus civile he had spoken of potentia and 
jus, explaining that the latter was a power on the part of one man against 
others, maintained by means of an imperium which itself results from a 
combination of 'powers.' He himself in one passage shows a conscious- 
ness of the impropriety of speaking of jus except with reference to a 
community; '... the right, of nature peculiar to human beings can scarcely 
be conceived save where men hold rights as a body, and thus have the 
power to defend their possession of territories which they can inhabit 
and cultivate, to protect themselves, to repel all force, and to live in 
accordance with the common judgement of all' (11.15). He takes no no- 
tice, however, of any forms of community more primitive than that of 
the state. The division into the status naturalis and the status Civilis he 
seems to treat as exhaustive, and the status naturalis he regards, after 

Principles of Political Obligation/29 

the manner of his time, as one of pure individualism, of simple detach- 
ment of man from man, or of detachment only modified by conflict. 
Such a status naturalis lacks both the natural and the rational principles 
of social development — the natural principle, i.e., the interest in others 
arising primarily from family ties, and the rational principle, i.e., the 
power of conceiving a good consisting in the more perfect being of the 
individual and of those in whom he is interested. No process could be 
traced from it to the status Civilis. The two status stand over against 
each other with an impassable gulf between. 'Citizens are not born but 
made' (V.2). They are so made, he seems to hold, by the action of the 
imperium upon them. But how is the imperium to be made? Men must 
first be, if not civiles, yet something very different from what they are in 
the status naturalis, between which and the status civilis Spinoza 
recognises no middle term, before any imperium which could render 
them civiles could be possible. 

38. The cardinal error of Spinoza's Politics is the admission of the 
possibility of a right in the individual apart from life in society; apart 
from the recognition by members of a society of a correlative claim 
upon and duty to each other, as all interested in one and the same good. 
The error was the error of his time, but with Spinoza it was confirmed 
by his rejection of final causes. The true conception of 'right' depends 
on the conception of the individual as being what he really is in virtue of 
a function which he has to fulfil relatively to a certain end, that end 
being the common well being of a society. A 'right' is an ideal attribute 
('ideal' in the sense of not being sensibly verifiable, not reducible to any 
perceivable fact or facts) which the individual possesses so far as this 
function is in some measure freely fulfilled by him — i.e., fulfilled with 
reference to or for the sake of the end and so far as the ability to fulfil it 
is secured to him through its being recognised by the society as properly 
belonging to him. The essence of right lies in its being not simply a 
power producing sensible effects, but a power relative to an insensible 
function and belonging to individuals only in so far as each recognises 
that function in himself and others. It is not in so far as I can do this or 
that that I have a right to do this or that, but so far as I recognise myself 
and am recognised by others as able to do this or that for the sake of a 
common good, or so far as in the consciousness of myself and others I 
have a function relative to this end. Spinoza, however, objects to regard 
anything as determined by relation to a final cause. He was not disposed 
therefore to regard individuals as being what they are in virtue of func- 

30/T.H. Green 

tions relative to the life of society, still less as being what they are in 
virtue of the recognition by each of such functions in himself and others. 
He looked upon man, like everything else in nature, as determined by 
material and efficient causes, and as himself a material and efficient 
cause. But as such he has no 'rights' or 'duties' but only 'powers.' 

39. It was because Plato and Aristotle conceived the life of \he polls 
[state] so clearly as the telos [end] of the individual, relation to which 
makes him what he is the relation in the case of the polltes [citizen] 
proper being a conscious or recognised relation — that they laid the foun- 
dation for all true theory of 'rights.' It is true that they have not even a 
word for 'rights.' The claims which in modern times have been ad- 
vanced on behalf of the individual against the state under the designa- 
tion 'natural rights' are most alien from their way of thinking. But in 
saying that the polls was a 'natural' institution and that man was phusel 
polltlkos [political by nature] Aristotle, according to the sense which he 
attached to polls was asserting the doctrine of 'natural rights' in the 
only sense in which it is true. He regards the state {polls) as a society of 
which the life is maintained by what its members do for the sake of 
maintaining it by functions consciously fulfilled with reference to that 
end, which in that sense imposes duties and from which at the same time 
its members derive the ability, through education and protection, to ful- 
fil their several functions, which in that sense confers rights. It is thus 
that the polltes metechel tou archeln kal tou archesthal [the citizen 
participates both in ruling and in being ruled]. Man, hemg phusel polltes 
[by nature a citizen] — being already in respect of capacities and tenden- 
cies a member of such a society, existing only in kolnonlal [associa- 
tions] which contain its elements has 'naturally' the correlative duties 
and rights which the state imposes and confers. Practically it is only the 
Greek man that Aristotle regards as phusel polltes, but the Greek con- 
ception of citizenship once established was applicable to all men ca- 
pable of a common interest. This way of conceiving the case, however, 
depends on the 'teleological' view of man and the forms of society in 
which he is found to live, i.e., on the view of men as being what they are 
in virtue of insensible functions and of certain forms of life as deter- 
mined by relation to more perfect forms which they have the capacity or 
tendency to become. 

40. Spinoza, like Bacon, found the assumption of ends which things 
were meant to fulfil in the way of accurate inquiry into what things are 
(materially) and do. He held Plato and Aristotle cheap as compared 

Principles of Political Obligation/31 

with Democritus and Epicurus (Letter LVI). Accordingly he considers 
the individual apart from his vocation as a member of society, the state 
apart from its office as enabling the individual to fulfil that vocation. 
Each so considered is merely a vehicle of so much power (natural force). 
On the other hand, he recognises a difference between a higher and lower, 
a better and worse, state of civil society, and a possibility of seeking the 
better state because it is understood to be better. And this is to admit the 
possibility of the course of human affairs being affected by the concep- 
tion of a final cause. It is characteristic of Spinoza that while he never 
departs from the principle 'man is simply a pars naturae' (11.5), he 
ascribes to him the faculty of understanding the order of nature, and of 
conforming to it or obeying it in a new way on account of that under- 
standing. In other words, he recognised the distinction called by Kant 
the distinction between determination according to law and determina- 
tion according to the consciousness of law; though in his desire to assert 
the necessity of each kind of determination he tends to disguise the dis- 
tinction and to ignore the fact that, if rational determination or the deter- 
mination by a conception of a law is a part of nature, it is so in quite a 
different sense from determination merely according to laws of nature. 
As he puts it, the clear understanding that we are parts of nature, and of 
our position in the universe of things, will yield a new character. We 
shall only then desire what is ordained for us and shall find rest in the 
truth, in the knowledge of what is necessary. This he regards as the 
highest state of the individual, and the desire to attain it he evidently 
considers the supreme motive by which the individual should be gov- 
erned. The analogue in political life to this highest state of the individual 
is the direction of the imperium by a 'libera muldtudo' ['free people'] 
to the attainment of 'pax vitaeque securitas' (V.2), in the high sense 
which he attaches to those words in Tractatus Politicus, ch. V. 

41. The conclusion then is that Spinoza did really, though not ex- 
plicitly, believe in a final cause determining human life. That is to say, 
he held that the conception of an end consisting in the greater perfection 
of life on the part of the individual and the community might, and to 
some extent did, determine the life of the individual and the community. 
He would have said no doubt that this end, like every good, existed only 
in our consciousness; that it was 'nothing positive in things considered 
in themselves' (Ethic, IV, Preface), but an existence of the end in human 
consciousness, determining human action, is a sufficiently real exist- 
ence, without being 'positive in things.' But he made the mistake of 

32/T.H. Green 

ignoring the more confused and mixed forms in which the conception of 
this end operates; of recognising it only in the forms of the philosophic 
'love of God,' or in the wisdom of the exceptional citizen, whom alone 
he would admit are guided by reason. And in particular he failed to 
notice that it is the consciousness of such an end to which his powers 
may be directed that constitutes the individual's claim to exercise them 
as rights, just as it is the recognition of them by a society as capable of 
such direction which renders them actually rights; in short that, just as 
according to him nothing is good or evil but thinking makes it so, so it is 
only thinking that makes a might a right — a certain conception of the 
might as relative to a social good on the part at once of the person or 
persons exercising it and of a society which it affects. 

C. Hobbes 

42. All the more fruitful elements in Spinoza's political doctrine are 
lacking in Hobbes,' but the principle of the two theories is very much 
the same. Each begins with the supposition of an existence of human 
individuals, unaffected by society, and each struggling for existence 
against the rest so that men are natura hostes [natural enemies]. Each 
conceives jus naturale [natural law] as = potentia naturalis [natural 
power] . But Spinoza carries out this conception much more consistently. 
He does not consider that the natural right, which is might, ceases to 
exist or becomes anything else when a multitude combine their natural 
rights or mights in an imperium [sovereignty]. If the ostensible impe- 
rium comes into collision with the powers of individuals, single or com- 
bined, among those who have hitherto been subject to it and proves the 
weaker, it ipso facto ceases to be an imperium. Not having superior 
power, it no longer has superior right to the subditi. [subjects]. It is on 
this principle, as we have seen, that he deals with the question of limita- 
tions to the right of a sovereign. Its rights are limited because its powers 
are so. Exercised in certain ways and directions they defeat themselves. 
Thus as he puts it in Letter L (where he points out his difference from 
Hobbes), '... the Supreme Power in a State has no more right over a 
subject than is proportionate to the power by which it is superior to the 
subject' Hobbes on the other hand supposes his sovereign power to 
have an absolute right to the submission of all its subjects, singly or 
collectively, irrespectively of the question of its actual power against 
them. This right he considers it to derive from a convenant by which 
individuals, weary of the state of war, have agreed to devolve their per- 

Principles of Political Obligation/33 

sonae, in the language of Roman law, upon some individual or collec- 
tion of individuals which is henceforward to represent them, and to be 
considered as acting with their combined powers. This covenant being 
in the nature of the case irrevocable, the sovereign derives from it an 
indefeasible right to direct the actions of all members of the society over 
which it is sovereign. 

43. The doctrine may be found in Leviathan, Part II, chapter 17. In 

to erect such a common power, as may be able to defend 
them from the invasion of foreigners, and the injuries of one 
another, [men] confer all their power and strength upon one 
man, or upon one assembly of men [i.e.] appoint one man, or 
assembly of men, to bear their person... This is more than con- 
sent, or concord; it is a unity of them all, in one and the same 
person, made by convenant of every man, in such matter, as if 
every man should say to to every man, I authorise, and give up 
my right of governing myself, to this man, or to this assembly 
of men, on this condition, that thou give up thy right to him, and 
authorise all his actions in like manner. This done, the multi- 
tude so united in one person is called a Commonwealth, in Latin 
Civitas... which, to define it, is one person, of whose acts a 
great multitude, by mutual covenant one with another, have made 
themselves every on the author, to the end he may use the strength 
and means of them all, as he shall think expedient, for their 
peace and common defence. And he that carrieth this person, is 
called Sovereign, and said to have sovereign power; and every 
one besides, his Subject. 

44. In order to understand the form in which the doctrine is stated, 
we have to bear in mind the sense in which persona is used by the Ro- 
man lawyers, as = either a complex of rights, or the subject (or pos- 
sessor) of those rights, whether a single individual or a corporate body. 
In this sense of the word, a man's person is separable from his indi- 
vidual existence as a man. ' Unus homo sustinet plures per sonae' ['Each 
man has many personas']. A magistrate, e.g., would be one thing in 
respect of what he is in himself, another thing in respect of his persona 
or complex of rights belonging to him as a magistrate, and so too a 
monarch. On the same principle, a man remaining a man as before. 

34/T.H. Green 

might devolve his persona, the complex of his rights, on another. A son, 
when by the death of his father according to Roman law he was deliv- 
ered from patria potestas [fatherly authority] and became in turn head 
of a family, acquired a persona which he had not before the persona 
which had previously belonged to the father. Again, to take a modern 
instance, the fellows of a college, as a corporation, form one persona, 
but each of them would bear other 'persons,' if, e.g., they happened to 
be magistrates, or simply in respect of their rights as citizens. Thus 'one 
person' above = one sustainer of rights; while in the second passage, 
'carrieth this person,' it rather — the rights sustained. 

45. Hobbes expressly states that the sovereign 'person' may be an 
assembly, of men, but the natural associations of the term, when the 
sovereign is spoken of as a person, favour the development of a monar- 
chical doctrine of sovereignty. 

Sovereign power is attained either: by acquisition or institution. By 
acquisition, when a man makes his children and their children, or a 
conqueror his enemies, to submit under fear of death; by institution, 
when men agree among themselves to submit to some man or assembly 
'on confidence to be protected by him against all others. ' Hobbes speaks 
as if these were two ways by which a commonwealth and a sovereign 
defined as above could be brought into existence, but clearly a sover- 
eign by acquisition is not a sovereign in the sense explained. He does not 
'carry a person... of whose acts a great multitude by mutual covenant 
one with another, have made themselves every on the author, to the end 
he may use the strength and means of them all, as he shall think expedi- 
ent, for their peace and common defence.' And what Hobbes describes 
in the sequel (ch. 18) are, as he expressly says, rights of sovereigns by 
institution; but he seems tacitly to assume that every sovereign may 
claim the same, though he could hardly have supposed that the existing 
sovereignties were in their origin other than sovereignties by acquisi- 

A commonwealth is said to be instituted, when a multitude 
of men do agree and covenant, every one with every one, that to 
whatsoever man or assembly of men, shall be given by the ma- 
jor part the right to present the person of them all,... every one, 
as well he that voted for it, as he that voted against it, shall 
authorise all the actions and judgments of that man or assembly 
of men, in the same manner as if they were his own, to the end 

Principles of Political Obligation/35 

to live peaceably amongst themselves, and be protected against 
other men. 

Here a distinction is drawn between the covenant of all with all to 
be bound by the act of the majority in appointing a sovereign, and that 
act of appointment itself which is not a covenant of all with all. The 
natural conclusion would be that it was no violation of the covenant if 
the majority afterwards transferred the sovereign power to other hands. 
But in the sequel Hobbes expressly makes out such a transference to be 
a violation of the original compact. This is an instance of his desire to 
vindicate the absolute right of a de facto monarch. 

46. Throughout these statements we are moving in a region of fic- 
tion from which Spinoza keeps clear. Not only is the supposition of the 
devolution of wills or powers on a sovereign by a covenant historically 
a fiction (about that no more need be said); the notion of an obligation 
as distinct from a compulsion to observe this covenant is inconsistent 
with the supposition that there is no right other than power prior to the 
act by which the sovereign power is established. If there is no such right 
antecedent to the establishment of the sovereign power, neither can there 
be any after its establishment except in the sense of a power on the part 
of individuals which the sovereign enables them to exercise. This power, 
or jus civile, cannot itself belong to the sovereign, who enables indi- 
viduals to exercise it. The only right which can belong to the sovereign 
is XhQJus naturale, consisting in the superiority of his power, and this 
right must be measured by the inability of the subjects to resist. If they 
can resist, the right has disappeared. In a successful resistance, then, to 
an ostensibly sovereign power, there can on the given supposition be no 
wrong done to that power. To say that there is, would be a contradiction 
in terms. Is such resistance, then, a violation of ihejus civile as between 
the several subject citizens? In the absence of a sovereign power, no 
doubt, ihejus civile (according to the view in question, which makes it 
depend on the existence of an imperium) would cease to exist. But then 
a successful resistance would simply show that there was no longer 
such a sovereign power. It would not itself be a violation of jus civile, 
but simply a proof that the conditions of jus civile were no longer present. 
It might at the same time be a step to re-establishing them if, besides 
being a proof that the old imperium no longer exists, it implied such a 
combination of powers as suffices to establish a new one. 

47. No obligation, then, as distinct from compulsion, to submit to 

36/T.H. Green 

an ostensibly sovereign power can consistently be founded on a theory 
according to which right either = simple power, or only differs from it, 
in the form of jus civile, through being a power which an imperium 
enables individuals to exercise as against each other. Hobbes could not, 
indeed, have made out his doctrine (of the obligatoriness of absolute 
submission to the sovereign) with any plausibility if he had stated with 
the explicitness of Spinoza that 7M5 naturale = naturalis potentia. That 
it is so is implied in the account of the state of things preceding the 
establishment of sovereignty as one of helium omnium contra omnes 
[war of all against all] for where there is no recognition of a common 
good, there can be no right in any other sense than power. But where 
there are no rights but natural powers, no obligatory covenant can be 
made. In order, however, to get a sovereignty, to which there is a per- 
petual obligation of submission, Hobbes has to suppose a covenant of 
all with all, preceding the establishment of sovereignty, and to the ob- 
servance of which, therefore, there cannot be an obligation in the sense 
that the sovereign punishes for the non-observance (the obligation cor- 
responding to jus civile in Spinoza's sense), but which no one can ever 
be entitled to break. As the obligatoriness of this covenant, then, cannot 
be derived from the sovereignty which is established through it, Hobbes 
has to ascribe it to a 'law of nature' which enjoins 'that men perform 
their covenants made.' Yet in the immediate sequel of this passage he 
says expressly, 'the nature of justice consisteth in keeping of valid cov- 
enants, but the validity of covenants begins not but with the constitution 
of a civil power, sufficient to compel men to keep them; and then it is 
also that propriety begins.' On this principle the covenant by which a 
civil power is for the first time constituted cannot be a valid covenant. 
The men making it are not in a position to make a valid covenant at all. 
The 'law of nature,' to which alone Hobbes can appeal according to his 
principles, as the source of the obligatoriness of the covenant of all with 
all, he defines as a 'precept or general rule, found out by reason, by 
which a man is forbidden to do that, which is destructive of his life, or 
taketh away the means of preserving the same; and to omit that, by 
which he thinketh it may be best preserved.' When a law of nature, 
however, is said to command or forbid, we must not understand those 
terms in that sense which, according to Hobbes, could only be derived 
from the establishment of an imperium. This 'law of nature,' therefore, 
is merely an expression in a general form of the instinct by which, as 
Spinoza says, every living creature 'seeks to preserve his own being,' as 

Principles of Political Obligation/37 

guided by a calculation of consequences (for no meaning but this can be 
given to 'reason' according to Hobbes). The prohibition, then, by this 
law of nature of a breach of that covenant of all with all, by which a 
sovereign power is supposed to be established, can properly mean noth- 
ing more than that it is everyone's interest to adhere to it. This however 
could only be a conditional prohibition conditional, in particular, on the 
way in which the sovereign power is exercised. Hobbes tries to show 
that it must always be for the advantage of all to obey it, because not to 
do so is to return to the state of universal war, but a successful resis- 
tance to it must be ipso facto an establishment of a new combined power 
which prevents the bellum omnium contra omnes from returning. At 
any rate an obligation to submit to established imperium measured by 
the self-interest of each in doing so, is quite a different thing from the 
obligation which Hobbes describes in terms only appropriate (accord- 
ing to his own showing) to contracts between individuals enforced by a 
sovereign power. 

48. It would seem that Hobbes' desire to prove all resistance to 
established sovereignty unjustifiable leads him to combine inconsistent 
doctrines. He adopts the notion that men are natura hostes, that jus 
naturale = mere power, because it illustrates the benefit to man's estate 
derived from the establishment of a supreme power and the effects of 
the subversion of such power once established, which he assumes to be 
equivalent to a return to a state of nature. But this notion does not jus- 
tify the view that a rebellion, which is strong enough to succeed, is 
wrong. For this purpose he has to resort to the representation of the 
sovereign as having a right, distinct from power, founded on a contract 
of all with all, by which sovereignty is established. This representation 
is quite alien to Spinoza, with whom sovereignty arises, it is true, when 
'many are united,' but in the sense of combining their powers, not of 
contracting. But after all, the fiction of this contract will not serve the 
purpose which Hobbes wants it to serve. The sovereignty established by 
the contract can only have a natural right to be maintained inviolate, for 
all other right presupposes it and cannot be presupposed by it. If this 
natural right means mere power, then upon a successful rebellion it dis- 
appears. If it means anything else, it must mean that there are natural 
rights of men other than their mere power, which are violated by its 
subversion. But if there are such rights, there must equally be a possi- 
bility of collision between the sovereign power and these natural rights, 
which would justify a resistance to it. 

38/T.H. Green 

49. It may be asked whether it is worth while to examine the inter- 
nal consistency of a theory which turns upon what is admitted to be 
historically a fiction the supposition of a contract of all with all. There 
are fictions and fictions however. The supposition that some event took 
place which as a matter of history did not take place may be a way of 
conveying an essentially true conception of some moral relation of man. 
The great objection to the representation of the right of a sovereign 
power over subjects, and the rights of individuals which are enforced by 
this imperium, as having arisen out of a contract of all with all, is that it 
conveys a false notion of rights. It is not merely that the possibility of 
such a contract being made presupposes just that state of things — a r 
gime of recognised and enforced obligations which it is assumed to ac- 
count for. Since those who contract must already have rights, the repre- 
sentation of society with its obligations as formed by contract implies 
that individuals have certain rights , independently of society and of their 
functions as members of a society, which they bring with them to the 
transaction. But such rights abstracted from social function and recog- 
nition could only be powers or (according to Hobbes' definition) liber- 
ties to use powers, which comes to the same; i.e., they would not be 
rights at all; and from no combination or devolution of them could any 
right in the proper sense, anything more than a combined power, arise. 

50. Spinoza's then is the only logical development of that separa- 
tion of right from social duty which is implied in the doctrine of 'social 
contract.' Happily the doctrine has not been logically developed by those 
whose way of thinking has been affected by it. The reduction of political 
right — the right of the state over its subjects — to superior power, has 
not been popularly accepted, though the general conception of national 
right seems pretty much to identify it with power. Among the enlight- 
ened, indeed, there has of late appeared a tendency to adopt a theory 
very like Spinoza's, without the higher elements which we noticed in 
Spinoza; to consider all right as a power attained in that 'struggle for 
existence' to which human 'progress' is reduced. But for one person, 
who, as a matter of speculation, considers the right of society over him 
to be a disguised might, there are thousands who, as a matter of prac- 
tice, regard their own right as independent of that correlation to duty 
without which it is merely a might. The popular effect of the notion that 
the individual brings with him into society certain rights which he does 
not derive from society — which are other than claims to fulfil freely 
(i.e., for their own sake) certain functions towards society — is seen in 

Principles of Political Obligation/39 

the inveterate irreverence of the individual towards the state in the as- 
sumption that he has rights against society irrespectively of his fulfilment 
of any duties to society, that all powers that be are restraints upon his 
natural freedom which he may rightly defy as far as he safely can. 

D. Locke 

51. It was chiefly Rousseau who gave that cast to the doctrine of the 
origin of political obligation in contract in which it best lends itself to 
the assertion of rights apart from duties on the part of individuals, in 
opposition to the counter- fallacy which claims rights for the state irre- 
spectively of its fulfilment of its function as securing the rights of indi- 
viduals. It is probably true that the Contrat Social had great effect on 
the founders of American independence an effect which appears in the 
terms of the Declaration of Independence and in preambles to the con- 
stitutions of some of the original American states. Butthe essential ideas 
of Rousseau are to be found in Locke's Second Treatise of Government, 
which was probably well known in America for half a century before 
Rousseau was heard of. Locke again constantly appeals to Hooker's 
first book on Ecclesiastical Polity, and Grotius argues in exactly the 
same strain. 

Hooker, Grotius, Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau only differ in their 
application of the same conception; viz. that men live first in a state of 
nature, subject to a law of nature, also called the law of reason; that in 
this state they are in some sense free and equal; that 'finding many 
inconveniences' in it they covenant with each other to establish a gov- 
ernment — a covenant which they are bound by the 'law of nature' to 
observe — and that out of this covenant the obligation of submission to 
the 'powers that be' arises. Spinoza alone takes a different line: he does 
not question the state of nature or the origin of government in a combi- 
nation of men who find the state of nature 'inconvenient' ; but he regards 
this combination as one of powers directed to a common end and consti- 
tuting superior force, not as a covenant which men are bound by the law 
of nature to observe. 

52. The common doctrine is so full of ambiguities that it readily 
lends itself to opposite applications. In the first place 'state of nature' 
may be understood in most different senses. The one idea common to all 
the writers who suppose such a state to have preceded that of civil soci- 
ety is a negative one. It was a state which was not one of political soci- 
ety, one in which there was no civil government; i.e., no supreme power. 

40/T.H. Green 

exercised by a single person or plurality of persons, which could compel 
obedience on the part of all members of a society and was recognised as 
entitled to do so by them all, or by a sufficient number of them to secure 
general obedience. But was it one of society at all? Was it one in which 
men had no dealings with each other except in the way of one struggling 
to make another serve his will and to get for himself what the the other 
had, or was it one in which there were ties of personal affection and 
common interest, and recognised obligations, between man and man? 
Evidently among those who spoke of a state of nature there were very 
various and wavering conceptions on this point. They are apt to make 
an absolute opposition between the state of nature and the political state, 
and to represent men as having suddenly contracted themselves out of 
one into the other. Yet evidently the contract would have been impos- 
sible unless society in a form very like that distinctively called political 
had been in existence beforehand. If political society is to be supposed 
to have originated in a pact at all, the difference between it and the 
preceding state of nature cannot with any plausibility be held to have 
been much more than a difference between a society regulated by writ- 
ten law and officers with defined power and one regulated by customs 
and tacitly recognised authority. 

53. Again, it was held that in a state of nature men were 'free and 
equal.' This is maintained by Hobbes as much as by the founders of 
American independence. But if freedom is to be understood in the sense 
in which most of these writers seem to understand it, as a power of 
executing, of giving effect to, one's will, the amount of freedom pos- 
sessed in a state of nature, if that was a state of detachment and collision 
between individuals, must have been very small. Men must have been 
constantly thwarting each other and (in the absence of that jus in naturam 
[right in nature] , as Spinoza calls it, which combination gives) thwarted 
by powers of nature. In such a state those only could be free, in the 
sense supposed, who were not equal to the rest, who in virtue of supe- 
rior power could use the rest. But whether we suppose an even balance 
of weaknesses, in subjection to the crushing forces of nature, or a do- 
minion of few over many by means of superior strength, in such a state 
of nature no general pact would be possible. No equality in freedom is 
possible except for members of a society of whom each recognises a 
good of the whole which is also his own, and to which the free coopera- 
tion of all is necessary. But if such society is supposed in the state of 
nature — and otherwise the 'pact' establishing political society would be 

Principles of Political Obligation/41 

impossible — it is already in principle the same as political society. 

54. It is not always certain whether the writers in question consid- 
ered men to be actually free and equal in the state of nature, or only so 
according to the 'law of nature,' which might or might not be observed. 
(Hobbes represents the freedom and equality in the state of nature as 
actual, and this state as being for that reason bellum omnium contra 
omnes [a war of all against all].) They all, however, implicitly assume a 
consciousness of the law of nature in the state of nature. It is thus not a 
law of nature in the sense in which we commonly use the term. It is not 
a law according to which the agents subject to it act necessarily but 
without consciousness of the law. It is a law of which the agent subject 
to it has a consciousness, but one according to which he may or may not 
act; i.e., one according to which he ought to act. It is from it that the 
obligation of submission to civil government, according to all these writ- 
ers, is derived. But in regard to such a law, two questions have to be 
asked: firstly, how can the consciousness of obligation arise without 
recognition by the individual of claims on the part of others — social 
claims in some form or other — which may be opposed to his momentary 
inclinations? and secondly, given a society of men capable of such a 
consciousness of obligation, constituting a law according to which the 
members of the society are free and equal, in what does it differ from a 
political society? If these questions had been fairly considered, it must 
have been seen that the distinction between a political society and a state 
of nature, governed by such a law of nature, was untenable; that a state 
of things out of which political society could have arisen by compact 
must have been one in which the individual regarded himself as a mem- 
ber of a society which has claims on him and on which he has claims, 
and that such society is already in principle a political society. But the 
ambiguity attending the conception of the 'law of nature' prevented them 
from being considered. When the writers in question spoke of a law of 
nature, to which men in the state of nature were subject, they did not 
make it clear to themselves that this law, as understood by them, could 
not exist at all without there being some recognition or consciousness of 
it on the part of those subject to it. The designation of it as 'law of 
nature' or 'law of God' helped to disguise the fact that there was no 
imponent of it, in the sense in which a law is imposed on individuals, by 
a political superior. In the absence of such an imponent, unless it is 
either a uniformity in the relations of natural events or an irresistible 
force and it is not represented in either of these ways in juristic writings 

42/T.H. Green 

it can only mean a recognition of obligation arising in the. conscious- 
ness of the individual from his relations to society. But this not being 
clearly realised, it was possible to represent the 'law of nature' as ante- 
cedent to the laws imposed by a political superior, without its being 
observed that this implied the antecedence of a condition of things in 
which the result supposed to be obtained through the formation of po- 
litical society — the establishment, viz. of reciprocal claims to freedom 
and equality on the part of members of a society — already existed. 

55. In fact, the condition of society in which it could properly be 
said to be governed by a law of nature, i.e., by an obligation of which 
there is no imponent but the consciousness of man, an obligation of 
which the breach is not punished by a political superior, is not anteced- 
ent to political society but one which it gradually tends to produce. It is 
the radical fault of the theory which finds the origin of political society 
in compact that it has to reverse the true process. To account for the 
possibility of the compact of all with all it has to assume a society sub- 
ject to a law of nature, prescribing the freedom and equality of all. But 
a society governed by such a law as a law of nature, i.e., with no imponent 
but man's consciousness, would have been one from which political 
society would have been a decline one in which there could have been no 
motive to the establishment of civil government. Thus this theory must 
needs be false to itself in one of two ways. Either it is false to the con- 
ception of a 'law of nature,' with its prescription of freedom and equal- 
ity as governing the state of things prior to the compact by which politi- 
cal society is established, only introducing the law of nature as the ground 
of the obligatoriness of that compact but treating the state of nature as 
one of universal war in which no reciprocal claims of any sort were 
recognised (so Hobbes) or just so far as it realises the conception of a 
society governed by a law of nature, as equivalent to that spontaneous 
recognition by each of the claims of all others, without which the cov- 
enant of all with all is in fact unaccountable, it does away with any 
appearance of necessity for the transition from the state of nature to that 
of political society, and tends to represent the latter as a decline from the 
former. This result is seen in Rousseau; but to a great extent Rousseau 
had been anticipated by Locke. The broad differences between Locke 
and Hobbes in their development of a common doctrine, are (1) that 
Locke denies that the state of nature is a state of war, and (2) that Locke 
distinguishes the act by which political society is established from that 
by which the government, legislative and executive, is established, and 

Principles of Political Obligation/43 

consequently the dissolution of the (political) society from the dissolu- 
tion of the government ( 211). 

56. 'The State of Nature, and the State of War... are as far distant, 
as a State of Peace, Good Will, Mutual Assistance, and Preservation, 
and a State of Enmity, Malice, Violence, and Mutual Destruction are 
one from another. Men living together according to reason, without a 
common Superior on Earth, with Authority to judge between them, is 
properly the State of Nature. But force, or a declared design of force 
upon the Person of another, where there is no common Superior on 
Earth to appeal to for relief, is the State of War... (§19). In the state of 
nature, however, when the state of war has once begun, there is not the 
same means of terminating it as in civil society. 

The right of war may belong to a man, 'though he be in Society and 
a fellow Subject' (§19), when his person or property is in such immedi- 
ate danger that it is impossible to appeal for relief to the common supe- 
rior. 'But when the actual force is over, the State of War ceases between 
those that are in Society... because then there lies open the remedy of 
appeal for the past injury, and to prevent future harm...' (§ 20). In the 
state of nature, when the state of war has once begun it continues until 
the aggressor offers peace and reparation. The state of war, though not 
proper to the state of nature, is a frequent incident of it, and to avoid it 
'is one great reason of Mens putting themselves into Society... (§ 21). 
The state of nature is not one that is altogether over and done with. 'All 
Princes and Rulers of Independent Governments all through the World, 
are in a State of Nature...' (§14). The members of one state in dealing 
with those of another are in a state of nature, and the law of nature alone 
binds them, 'For Truth and keeping of Faith belongs to Men, as men, 
and not as Members of S ociety ' (§14). ' [A] 11 Men are naturally in that 
State, and remain so, till by their own Consents they make themselves 
Members of some Politick Society...' (§15). 

57. The antithesis, as put above, between the state of nature and the 
state of war can only be maintained on the supposition that the 'law of 
nature, is observed in a state of nature. Locke does not explicitly state 
that this is the case. If it were so, it would not appear how the state of 
war should arise in the state of nature. But he evidently thought of the 
state of nature as one in which men recognised the law of nature, though 
without fully observing it. He quotes with approval from Hooker lan- 
guage which implies that not only is the state of nature a state of equal- 
ity but that in it there is such consciousness of equality with each other 

44/T.H. Green 

on the part of men that they recognise the principle 'do as you would be 
done by.' With Hobbes, in the supposed state of nature the 'law of na- 
ture' is emphatically not observed, and hence it is a state of war. As has 
been pointed out above, a 'law of nature' in the sense in which these 
writers use the term, as a law which obliges but yet has no imponent in 
the shape of a sovereign power, as Locke says (§ 1 36), 'is no where to be 
found but in the minds of Men' ; it can only have its being in the con- 
sciousness of those subject to it. If therefore we are to suppose a state of 
nature in which such a law of nature exists, it is more consistent to 
conceive it in Locke's way than in Hobbes ' ; more consistent to conceive 
it as one in which men recognise duties to each other than as a helium 
omnium contra omnes. 

58. From his conception of what men are in the state of nature, and 
of the ends for which they found political societies, Locke derives cer- 
tain necessary limitations of what the supreme power in a common- 
wealth may rightfully do. The prime business of the political society, 
once formed, is to establish the legislative power. This is 'sacred and 
unalterable in the hands where the Community have once placed it' 
(§134); 'unalterable,' i.e., as we gather from the sequel, by anything 
short of an act of the community which originally placed it in these 
hands. But as men in a state of nature have no 'Arbitrary Power' (§8) 
over each other (which must mean that according to the 'law of nature' 
they have no such power), so they cannot transfer any such power to the 
community nor it to the legislature. No legislature can have the right to 
destroy, enslave or designedly impoverish the subjects. And as no legis- 
lature can be entitled to do anything which the individual in the state of 
nature would not by the law of nature be entitled to do, so its great 
business is to declare the law of nature in general terms and administer 
it by known authorised judges. The state of nature, Locke seems to 
think, would have done very well, but for the inconvenience of every 
man being judge in his own case of what the law of nature requires. Itis 
to remedy this inconvenience by establishing (1) a settled law, received 
by common consent, (2) a known and indifferent judge, (3) a power to 
enforce the decisions of such a judge, that political society is formed 

Hence a legislature violates the 'trust that is put in them by the 
Society' unless it observes the following rules: (1) to govern by estab- 
lished promulgated laws, not to be varied to suit particular interests ; (2) 
these laws are to be designed only for the good of the people; (3) it must 

Principles of Political Obligation/45 

not raise taxes but by consent of the people through themselves or depu- 
ties; (4) it 'neither must nor can transfer the Power of making Laws to 
any Body else, or place it anywhere but where the People have' (§142). 

59. Thus 'the Legislative being only a Fiduciary Power to act for 
certain ends, there remains still in the People a Supream Power to re- 
move or alter the Legislative...' (§149). Subject to this ultimate 'sover- 
eignty' (a term which Locke does not use) of the people, the legislative 
is necessarily the supreme power, to which the executive is subordinate. 
An appearance to the contrary can only arise in cases where (as in En- 
gland) the supreme executive power is held by a person who has also a 
share in the legislative. Such a person 'in a very tolerable sense may 
also be called Supream...' (§ 151). It is not, however, to him as supreme 
legislator (which he is not, but only a participator in supreme legisla- 
tion) but to him as supreme executor of the law that oaths of allegiance 
are taken. It is only as executing the law that he can claim obedience 
(§151), his executive power being, like the power of the legislative, 'a 
Fiduciary Trust, placed in him' (§156) to enforce obedience to law and 
that only. 

This distinction of the supreme power of the people from that of the 
supreme legislative and the supreme executive, corresponding to a dis- 
tinction between the act of transferring individual powers to a society 
and the subsequent act by which that society establishes a particular 
form of government, enables Locke to distinguish what Hobbes had 
confounded, dissolution of government and dissolution of political soci- 

60. He gets rid of Hobbes' notion, that because the 'covenant of all 
with all,' by which a government is established, is irrevocable, therefore 
the government once established is unalterable. He conceives the origi- 
nal pact merely as an agreement to form a civil society, which must 
indeed have a government, but not necessarily always the same govern- 
ment. The pact is a transfer by individuals of their natural rights to a 
society, and can only be cancelled through the dissolution of the society 
by foreign conquest. The delegation by the society of legislative and 
executive powers to a person or persons is a different matter. The soci- 
ety always retains the right, according to Locke, of resuming the powers 
thus delegated, and must exercise the right in the event either of the 
legislative being altered, placed in different hands from those originally 
intended, of a collision between its executive and legislative officers, or 
of a breach between different branches of the legislature (when as in 

46/T.H. Green 

England there are such different branches), or when legislative and ex- 
ecutive or either of them 'act contrary to their trust.' He thus in effect 
vindicates the right of revolution, ascribing to a 'sovereign people' the 
attributes which Hobbes assigned to a 'person' single or corporate on 
which the people forming a society were supposed by an irrevocable act 
to have devolved their powers. In other words, he considered the whole 
civil society in all cases to have the rights which Hobbes would only 
have allowed it to possess where the government was not a monarchy or 
aristocracy but a democracy; i.e., where the supreme 'person' on to 
which all devolve their several personae is an 'assembly of all that will 
come together.' As such a democracy did not then exist in Europe, any 
more than it does now, except in some Swiss cantons, the practical dif- 
ference between the two views was very great. Both Locke and Hobbes 
wrote with a present political object in view, Hobbes wishing to con- 
demn the Rebellion, Locke to justify the Revolution. For practical pur- 
poses, Locke's doctrine is much the better; but if Hobbes' translation of 
the irrevocability of the covenant of all with all into the illegitimacy of 
resistance to an established government in effect entitles any tyrant to 
do as he likes, on the other hand, itis impossible upon Locke's theory to 
pronounce when resistance to a de facto government is legitimate or 
otherwise. It would be legitimate according to him when it is an act of 
the 'sovereign people' (not that Locke uses the phrase), superseding a 
government which has been false to its trust. But this admitted, all sorts 
of question arise as to the means of ascertaining what is and what is not 
an act of the 'sovereign people.' 

61. The rapid success of the Revolution without popular disorder 
prevented these questions from becoming of importance, but in the pres- 
ence of such sectarian enthusiasm as existed in Hobbes' time they would 
have become dangerous. Locke's theory would not any more than that 
of Hobbes justify resistance to the powers that be on the part of any 
body of men short of the civil society acting as a whole, i.e., by a major- 
ity. The sectaries of the time of the Rebellion, in pleading a natural or 
divine right to resist the orders of the government, would have been as 
much condemned by Locke's theory as by Hobbes'. But who can say 
when any popular action by which established powers, legislative or 
executive, are resisted or altered is an act of the 'sovereign people,' of 
the civil society acting as a whole or no? Where government is demo- 
cratic, in Hobbes' sense, i.e., vested in an assembly of all who will come 
together, the act of the 'sovereign people' is unmistakeable. Itis the act 

Principles of Political Obligation/47 

of the majority of such an assembly. But in such a case the difficulty 
cannot arise. There can be no withdrawal by the sovereign people of 
power from its legislative or executive representatives, since it has no 
such representatives. In any other case it would seem impossible to say 
whether any resistance to or deposition of an established legislative or 
executive is the act of the majority of the society or no. Any sectary or 
revolutionary may plead that he has the 'sovereign people' on his side. 
If he fails, it is not certain that he has them not on his side ; for it may be 
that, though he has the majority of the society on his side, yet the society 
has allowed the growth within it of a power which prevents it from 
giving effect to its will. On the other hand, if the revolution succeeds, it 
is not certain that it had the majority on its side when it began, though 
the majority may have come to acquiesce in its result. In short, on Locke's 
principle that any particular government derives its authority from an 
act of the society, and the society by a like act may recall the authority, 
how can we ever be entitled to say that such an act has been exercised? 
62. It is true that there is no greater difficulty about supposing it to 
be exercised in the dissolution than in the establishment of a government 
indeed not so much but the act of first establishing a government is 
thrown back into an indefinite past. It may easily be taken for granted 
without inquiry into the conditions of its possibility. On the other hand, 
as the act of legitimately dissolving a government or superseding one by 
another has to be imagined as taking place in the present, the inquiry 
into the conditions of its possibility cannot well be avoided. If we have 
once assumed with Hobbes and Locke that the authority of government 
is derived from a covenant of all with all — either directly or mediately 
by a subsequent act in which the covenanted society delegates its pow- 
ers to a representative or representatives — it will follow that a like act is 
required to cancel it, and the difficulties of conceiving such an act under 
the conditions of the present are so great, that Hobbes' view of the origi- 
nal act by which any Government was established as irrevocable has 
much to say for itself. If the authority of any government its claim on 
our obedience — is held to be derived not from an original, or from any, 
covenant but from the function which it serves in maintaining those 
conditions of freedom which are conditions of the moral life, then no act 
of the people in revocation of a prior act need be reckoned necessary to 
justify its dissolution. If it ceases to serve this function, it loses its claim 
on our obedience. It is aparekbaois [corruption]. (Here again the Greek 
theory, deriving the authority of government not from consent but from 

48/T.H. Green 

the end it serves, is sounder than the modern.) Whether or no any par- 
ticular government has on this ground lost its claim and may be rightly 
resisted is a question, no doubt, difficult for the individual to answer 
with certainty. In the long run, however, it seems generally if not always 
to answer itself. A government no longer serving the function described — 
which, it must be remembered, is variously served according to circum- 
stances brings forces into play which are fatal to it. But if it is difficult 
upon this theory for the individual to ascertain, as a matter of specula- 
tion, under any particular circumstances whether resistance to an estab- 
lished government is justified or no, at any rate upon this theory such a 
justification of resistance is possible. Upon Locke's theory, the condi- 
tion necessary to justify it viz. an act of the whole people governed is 
one which, anywhere except in a Swiss canton, would be impossible to 
fulfil. For practical purposes Locke comes to a right result by ignoring 
this impossibility. Having supposed the reality of one impossible event — 
the establishment of government by compact or by act of a society 
founded on compact — he cancels this error in the result by supposing 
the possibility of another transaction equally impossible viz. the collec- 
tive act of a people dissolving its government. 

63. It is evident from the chapter on dissolution of government [XIX] 
that he did not seriously contemplate the conditions under which such 
an act could be exercised. What he was really concerned about was to 
dispute 'the right divine of kings to govern wrong, on the part of a 
legislative as much as on the part of an executive power; to maintain the 
principle that government is only justified by being for the good of the 
people, and to point out the difference between holding that some gov- 
ernment is necessarily for the good of the people and holding that any 
particular government is for their good a difference which Hobbes had 
ignored. In order to do this, starting with the supposition of an actual 
deed on the part of a community establishing a government, he had to 
suppose a reserved right on the part of the community by a like deed to 
dissolve it. But in the only particular case in which he contemplates a 
loss by the legislature of representative character he does not suggest 
the establishment of another by an act of the whole people. He saw that 
the English Parliament in his time could not claim to be such as it could 
be supposed that the covenanting community originally intended it to 
be. See the notable passage in §157: 

... it often comes to pass, that in governments, where part 

Principles of Political Obligation/49 

of the Legislative consists of Representatives chosen by the 
People, that in tract of time this Representation becomes very 
unequal and disproportionate to the reasons it was first estab- 
lished upon... [T]he bare Name of a Town, of which there re- 
mains not so much as the mines, where scarce so much Hous- 
ing as a Sheep-coat; or more Inhabitants than a Shepherd is to 
be found, sends as many Representatives to the grand Assem- 
bly of Law-makers, as a whole County numerous in People, 
and powerful in riches. This Strangers stand amazed at, and 
everyone must confess needs a remedy. Though most think it 
hard to find one, because the Constitution of the legislative be- 
ing the original and supream act of the Society, antecedent to 
all positive Laws in it, and depending, wholly on the People, no 
inferiour Power can alter it. And therefore the people when the 
Legislative is once Constituted, having in such a government as 
we have been speaking of, no Power to act as long as the gov- 
ernment stands; this inconvenience is thought incapable of a 

The only remedy which he suggests is not an act of the sovereign 
people, but an exercise of prerogative on the part of the executive, in the 
way of redistributing representation, which would be justified by salus 
populi suprema est lex [the good of the people is the highest law']. 

E. Rousseau 

64. That 'sovereignty of the people,' which Locke looks upon as held in 
reserve after its original exercise in the establishment of government, 
only to be asserted in the event of a legislature proving false to its trust, 
Rousseau supposes to be in constant exercise. Previous writers had 
thought of the political society or commonwealth, upon its formation by 
compact, as instituting a sovereign. They differed chiefly on the point 
whether the society afterwards had or had not a right of displacing an 
established sovereign. Rousseau does not think of the society, civitas or 
commonwealth, as thus instituting a sovereign, but as itself in the act of 
its formation becoming a sovereign and ever after continuing so. 

65. In his conception of a state of nature, Rousseau does not differ 
from Locke. He conceives the motive for passing out of it, however, 
somewhat differently and more after the manner of Spinoza. With Locke 
the motive is chiefly a sense of the desirability of having an impartial 

50/T.H. Green 

judge, and efficient enforcement, of the law of nature. According to 
Rousseau, the social pact takes place when men find the hindrances to 
their preservation in a state of nature too strong for the forces which 
each individual can bring to bear against them. This recalls Spinoza's 
view of the jus in naturam [right in nature] as acquired by a combina- 
tion of the forces of individuals in civil society. 

66. The 'problem of which the social contractis a solution' Rousseau 
states thus: 'To find a form of association which protects with the whole 
common force the person and property of each associate, and in virtue 
of which everyone, while uniting himself to all, only obeys himself and 
remains as free as before' (Contrat Social, I, vi). The terms of the con- 
tract which solves this problem Rousseau states thus: 'Each of us throws 
into the common stock his person and all his faculties under the supreme 
direction of the general will and we accept each member as an indivis- 
ible part of the whole.' There results from this act of association, in 
place of the several persons of the several contracting parties, a 'collec- 
tive moral body, composed of as many members as there are voices in 
the assembly which body receives from this act its unity, its common 
self, its life, and its will...' It is called by its members a state when it is 
passive, a sovereign when it is active, a power when compared with 
similar bodies. The associates are called collectively a people, severally 
citizens as sharing in the sovereign authority, subjects as submitted to 
the laws of the state (I, vi). Each of them is under an obligation in two 
relations, 'as a member of the sovereign body towards the individuals, 
and as a member of the state towards the sovereign.' All the subjects 
can by a public vote be placed under a particular obligation towards the 
sovereign, but the sovereign cannot thus incur an obligation towards 
itself. It cannot impose any law upon itself which it cannot cancel. Nor 
is there need to restrict its powers in the interest of the subjects. For the 
sovereign body, being formed only of the individuals which constitute it, 
can have no interest contrary to theirs. 'From the mere fact of its exist- 
ence, it is always all that it ought to be' (since, from the very fact of its 
institution, all merely private interests are lost in it). On the other hand, 
the will of the individual (his particular interest as founded upon his 
particular desires) may very well conflict with that general will which 
constitutes the sovereign. Hence the social pact necessarily involves a 
tacit agreement, that anyone refusing to conform to the general will 
shall be forced to do so by the whole body politic; in other words, 'shall 
be forced to be free,' since the universal conformity to the general will is 

Principles of Political Obligation/51 

the guarantee to each individual of freedom from dependence on any 
other person or persons (I, vii). 

67. The result to the individual may be stated thus. He exchanges 
the natural liberty to do and get what he can a liberty limited by his 
relative strength for a liberty at once limited and secured by the general 
will; he exchanges the mere possession of such things as he can get a 
possession which is the effect of force for a property, founded on a 
positive title, on the guarantee of society. At the same time he becomes 
a moral agent. Justice instead of instinct becomes the guide of his ac- 
tions. For the moral slavery to appetite he substitutes the moral freedom 
which consists in obedience to a self-imposed law. Now for the first 
time it can be said that there is anything which he ought to do, as distin- 
guished from that which he is forced to do (I, viii). 

68. Such language makes it clear that the sovereignty of which 
Rousseau discusses the origin and attributes, is something essentially 
different from the supreme coercive power which previous writers on 
the 'jus civile' ['civil law'] had in view. A contemporary of Hobbes had 
said that 

'there's on earth a yet auguster thing. 

Veiled though it be, than Parliament and King.' 

It is to this 'auguster thing,' not to such supreme power as English 
lawyers held to be vested in 'Parliament and King,' that Rousseau's 
account of the sovereign is really applicable. What he says of it is what 
Plato or Aristotle might have said of the theios nous [divine intelli- 
gence] , which is the source of the laws and discipline of the ideal polity 
and what a follower of Kant might say of the 'pure practical reason,' 
which renders the individual obedient to a law of which he regards him- 
self, in virtue of his reason, as the author, and causes him to treat hu- 
manity equally in the person of others and in his own always as an end, 
never merely as a means. But all the while Rousseau himself thinks that 
he is treating of the sovereign in the ordinary sense of some power of 
which it could be reasonably asked how it was established in the part 
where it resides, when and by whom and in what way it is exercised. His 
reader more or less familiar with the legal conception of sovereignty but 
not at all with that of practical, reason or of a 'general will' — a common 
ego, which wills nothing but what is for the common good — is pretty 
sure to retain the idea of supreme coercive power as the attribute of 

52/T.H. Green 

sovereignty and to ignore the attribute of pure disinterestedness, which, 
according to Rousseau, must characterise every act that can be ascribed 
to the sovereign. 

69. The practical resuU is a vague exaUation of the prerogatives of 
the sovereign people, without any corresponding limitation of the condi- 
tions under which an act is to be deemed that of the sovereign people. 
The justifiability of laws and acts of government, and of the rights which 
these confer, comes to be sought simply in the fact that the people wills 
them, not in the fact that they represent a true volont g n rale [general 
will], an impartial and disinterested will for the common good. Thus the 
question of what really needs to be enacted by the state in order to se- 
cure the condition under which a good life is possible, is lost sight of in 
the quest for majorities; and as the will of the people in any other sense 
than the measure of what the people will tolerate is really unascertain- 
able in the great nations of Europe, the way is prepared for the sophist- 
ries of modern political management, for manipulating electoral bodies, 
for influencing elected bodies, and procuring plebiscites. 

70. The incompatibility between the ideal attributes which Rousseau 
ascribes to the sovereign and any power that can actually be exercised 
by any man or body of men becomes clearer as we proceed. He ex- 
pressly distinguishes sovereignty' from 'power,' and on the ground of 
this distinction holds that it cannot be alienated, represented, or divided. 
'Sovereignty being simply the exercise of the general will can never be 
alienated, and the sovereign, who is only a collective being, can only be 
represented by himself. Power can be transmitted, but not will' (II, i). In 
order to the possibility of a representation of the general will, there must 
be a permanent accord between it and the individual will or wills of the 
person or persons representing it. But such permanent accord is impos- 
sible (lb.). Again, a general will is from the nature of the case indivis- 
ible. It is commonly held to be divided, not, indeed, in respect of its 
source, but in respect of the objects to which its acts are directed, e.g. 
into legislative and executive powers; into rights of taxation, of war, of 
justice, etc. But this supposed division of sovereign powers or rights 
implies that 'what are only emanations from the sovereign authority are 
taken to be parts of it' (II, ii). The only exercise of sovereign power, 
properly so called, is in legislation, and there is no proper act of legisla- 
tion except when the whole people comes to a decision with reference to 
the whole people. Then the matter decided on is as general as the will 
which decides on it; and this is what constitutes a law (II, vi). By this 

Principles of Political Obligation/53 

consideration several questions are answered. Whose office is it to make 
laws? It is that of the general will, which can neither be alienated nor 
represented. Is the prince above the law? The answer is, He is a member 
of the state, and cannot be so. Can the law be unjust? No one can be 
unjust to himself: therefore not the whole people to the whole people. 
How can we be free and yet subject to the laws? The laws are the regis- 
ter of our own will (II, vi). 

Laws, in short, are properly those general 'conditions of civil asso- 
ciation' which the associates impose on themselves. Where either of the 
specified conditions is lacking, where either it is not the universal will 
from which an ordinance proceeds or it is not the whole people to which 
it relates, it is not a law but a decree, not an act of sovereignty but of 
magistracy (II, vi). 

71. This leads to a consideration of the nature and institution of 
magistracy or government (III, i). The government is never the same as 
the sovereign. The two are distinguished by their functions, that of the 
one being legislative, that of the other executive. Even where the people 
itself governs, its acts of government must be distinguished from its acts 
of sovereignty the latter, the former having a particular, a general refer- 
ence. Government is the exercise according to law of the executive power, 
and the 'prince' or 'magistrate' is the man or body of men charged with 
this administration; 'a body intermediary between the subjects and the 
sovereign, charged with the execution of the laws, and with the mainte- 
nance of civil and political freedom' (lb.). Where all or most of the 
citizens are magistrates, or charged with the supreme functions of gov- 
ernment, we have a democracy where a few, an aristocracy; where one 
is so charged, a monarchy (III, iii). The differences depend, not as Hobbes 
and others had supposed, on the quarter where the sovereignty resides — 
for it must always reside in the whole body of people — but on that in 
which government resides. The idea of government is that the dominant 
will of the prince should be the general will or law, that it should be 
simply the public force by which that general will is brought to bear on 
individuals or against other states, serving the same purpose in the state 
as the union of soul and body in the individual (III, i); and this idea is 
most likely to be satisfied under a democracy. There, the general will (if 
there is a general will, which the democracy is no guarantee for there 
being, according to Rousseau's distinction between the volont g n rale 
and volont de tous [will of all], of which more hereafter) cannot fail to 
coincide with the dominant will of the government. The prevalence of 

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particular interests may prevent there being a will at all of the kind 
which Rousseau would count general or truly sovereign, but they can- 
not be more prevalent in the magistracy, constituted by the whole people, 
than in the same people acting in the way of legislation. In a democracy, 
therefore, the will of the sovereign, so far as there is a sovereign in the 
proper sense, necessarily finds expression in the will of the magistracy. 
On the other hand, though under either of the other forms of government 
there is danger of collision between sovereign and government, yet the 
force of the government is greater than in a democracy. It is greatest 
when the government is a monarchy because under all other forms there 
is more or less discrepancy between the individual wills of the several 
persons composing the government, as directed to the particular good of 
each, and the corporate will of the government of which the object is its 
own efficiency, and under a monarchy this source of weakness is avoided 
(III, ii). As there is more need of force in the government in proportion 
to the number of subjects whose particular wills it has to control, it 
follows that monarchy is best suited to the largest, democracy to the 
smallest states (III, iii). 

72. As to the institution of government, Rousseau maintains strenu- 
ously that it is not established by contract. 'There is only one contract in 
the state, viz. that of the original association: and this excludes every 
other. No other public contract can be imagined which would not be a 
violation of the first' (III, xvi). Even when government is vested in an 
hereditary body, monarchic or aristocratic, this is merely a provisional 
arrangement, made and liable to be reversed by the sovereign, whose 
officers the governors are. The act by which government is established 
is twofold, consisting first of the passing of a law by the sovereign, to 
the effect that there shall be a government; secondly of an act in execu- 
tion of this law, by which the governors — the 'magistrates' are appointed. 
But it may. be asked. How can the latter act, being one not of sover- 
eignty, but of magistracy (for it has a particular reference in the desig- 
nation of the governors), be performed when as yet there is no govern- 
ment? The answer is that the people resolves itself from a sovereign 
body into a body of magistrates, as the English Parliament resolves 
itself constantly from a legislative body into a committee. In other words, 
by a simple act of the general will a democracy is for the time estab- 
lished, which then proceeds either to retain the government in its own 
hands, or place it in those of an officer or officers according to the form 
in which the sovereign has decided to establish the government (III, 

Principles of Political Obligation/55 

xvii). Acts similar to that by which the government was originally con- 
stituted need to be periodically repeated in order to prevent the govern- 
ment from usurping the function of the sovereign, i. e. the function of 
legislation. (Could this usurpation occur under a democracy?) In order 
that the sovereignty may not fall into abeyance, it must be exercised, 
and it can only be exercised in assemblies of the whole people. These 
must be held periodically, and at their opening two questions ought to be 
submitted; one, whether it pleases the sovereign to maintain the present 
form of government; the other, whether it pleases the people to leave the 
administration in the hands of those at present charged with it (III, xviii). 
Such assemblies are entitled to revise and repeal all previously enacted 
laws. A law not so repealed the sovereign must be taken tacitly to con- 
firm, and it retains its authority. But as the true sovereign is not any law 
but the general will, no law, even the most fundamental, can be exempt 
from liability to repeal. Even the social pact itself might legitimately be 
dissolved, by agreement of all the citizens assembled (III, xviii). (Whether 
unanimity is necessary for the purpose is not specified.) Without such 
assemblies there can be no exercise of the general will (which, as before 
stated, cannot be represented), and consequently no freedom. 'The En- 
glish people, e.g., is quite mistaken in thinking itself free. It is only free 
while the election of members of Parliament is going on. As soon as 
they are elected, it is in bondage, it is nothing. In the short moments of 
its freedom it makes such a bad use of it that it well deserves to lose it' 

(III, XV). 

73. It appears from the above that, according to Rousseau, the gen- 
eral will, which is the true sovereign, can only be exercised in assem- 
blies of the whole people. On the other hand, he does not hold that an act 
of such an assembly is necessarily an act of the general will. After tell- 
ing us that the 'general will is always right, and always tends to the 
public good,' he adds, 'but it does not follow that the deliberations of 
the people have always the same rectitude... There is often a great dif- 
ference between the will of all and the general will. The latter only looks 
to the common interest; the other looks to private interests, and is only a 
sum of the wills of individuals' (II, iii). Again (II, iv), 'that which 
generalises the will is not so much the number of voices as the common 
interest which unites them.' He holds apparently that in the assembly of 
the whole people, if they had sufficient information, and if no minor 
combinations of particular interests were formed within the entire body, 
the difference between the wills of individuals would neutralise each 

56/T.H. Green 

other, and the vote of the whole body would express the true general 
will. But in fact in all assemblies there is at least a liability to lack of 
information and to the formation of cliques ; and hence it cannot be held 
that the vote of the assembly necessarily expresses the 'general will.' 
Rousseau, however, does not go so far as to say that unless the law is 
actually such as contributes to the common good, it is not an expression 
of the general will. The general will, according to him, always aims at 
or wills the common good, but is liable to be mistaken as to the means of 
attaining it. 'It is always right, but the judgment which guides it is not 
always enlightened... Individuals see the good which they reject; the 
public wills the good which it does not see' (II, vi). Hence the need of a 
guide in the shape of a great lawgiver. Apparently, however, the pos- 
sible lack of enlightenment on the part of the 'general will' does not, in 
Rousseau's view, prevent its decisions from being for the public good. 
In discussing the 'limits of the sovereign power' he maintains that there 
can be no conflict between it and the natural right of the individual, 
because, 'although it is only that part of his power, his goods, his free- 
dom, of which the use is important to the community that the individual 
transfers to the sovereign by the social pact, yet the sovereign alone can 
be judge of the importance'; and the sovereign 'cannot lay on the sub- 
jects any constraint which is not for the good of the community.' 'Under 
the law of reason' (which is thus identified with the general will) 'noth- 
ing is done without a cause, any more than under the law of nature' (II, 

74. But though even an unenlightened 'general will' is the general 
will still, and (as we are left to infer) cannot in its decisions do otherwise 
than promote the public good, Rousseau distinctly contemplates the 
possibility of the 'general will' being so overpowered by particular in- 
terests that it finds no expression in the votes of a popular assembly, 
though the assembly be really one of a whole people, and the vote of the 
majority is duly taken (IV, i). In such cases it is not that the 'general 
will' is 'annihilated or corrupted; it is always constant, unalterable, and 
pure.' Even in the individual whose vote is governed by his private in- 
terest the 'general will' is not extinct, nor is he unaware either of what 
the public good requires or of the fact that what is for the public good is 
also for his own. But his share in the public evil to which he knows that 
his vote will contribute, seems nothing by the side of the special private 
good which he hopes to gain. By his vote, in short, he does not answer 
the question. Is so and so for the advantage of the state? but. Is it for the 

Principles of Political Obligation/57 

advantage of this particular man or party (IV, i)? 

75. The test of the dominance of the general will in assemblies of 
the people is an approach to unanimity. 'Long debates, discussions, tu- 
mult, indicate the ascendency of particular interests and the decline of 
the state' (IV, ii). Rousseau, however, does not venture to say that abso- 
lute unanimity in the assembly is necessary to an expression of the gen- 
eral will, or to give a law a claim upon the obedience of the subjects. 
This would have been to render effectual legislation impossible. Upon 
the theory, however, of the foundation of legitimate sovereignty in con- 
sent — the theory that the natural right of the individual is violated un- 
less he is himself a jointimponent of the law which he is called to obey 
it is not easy to see what rightful claim there can be to the submission of 
a minority. Rousseau so far recognises the difficulty that he requires 
unanimity in the original compact (IV, ii). If among those who are par- 
ties to it there are others who oppose it, the result is simply that the latter 
are not included in it. 'They are strangers among the citizens.' But this 
does not explain how they are to be rightfully controlled, on the prin- 
ciple that the only rightful control is founded on consent; or, if they are 
not controlled, what is the value of the 'social compact.' How can the 
objects of the pact be attained while those who are bound by it have 
these 'strangers' living among them who are not bound by it, and who, 
not being bound by it cannot be rightfully controlled? The difficulty 
must recur with each generation of the descendants of those who were 
parties to the original pact. The parties to the pact, it is true, have no 
right to resist the general will, because the pact is ex hypothesi to the 
effect that each individual, in all things of common concern, will take 
the general will for his own. The true form, therefore, of the question 
upon which each party to the pact should consider himself to be voting 
in the assembly is, as Rousseau puts it, not 'Is the proposed measure 
what I wish for, or what I approve, or no?' but 'Is it in conformity with 
the general will?' If, having voted upon this question, he finds himself in 
a minority, he is bound to suppose that he is mistaken in his views of the 
general will, and to accept the decision of the majority as the general 
will which, by the pact, he is bound to obey. So far all is consistent; 
though how the individual is to be answered if he pleads that the vote of 
the assembly has been too much biased by particular interest to be an 
expression of the 'general will,' and that therefore it is not binding on 
him, does not appear. 

76. But after the first generation of those who were parties to the 

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supposed original compact, what is to settle whether anyone is a party 
to it or no? Rousseau faces the question, but his only answer is that 
'when once the state is instituted, consent is implied in residence; to 
dwell on the territory is to submit to the sovereignty' (IV, ii). This an- 
swer, however, will scarcely stand examination. Rousseau himself does 
not consider that residence in the same region with the original parties to 
the pact renders those so resident also parties to it. Why should it do so, 
when the pact has descended to a later generation? It may be argued of 
course that everyone residing in a settled society, which secures him in 
his rights of person and property, has the benefit of the society from the 
mere fact of his residence in it, and is therefore morally bound to accept 
its laws. But this is to abandon the doctrine of obligation being founded 
on consent. Residence in a territory governed by a certain sovereign can 
only be taken to imply consent to the rule of that sovereign, if there is 
any real possibility of relinquishing it, and this there can scarcely ever 

77. Rousseau certainly carried out the attempt to reconcile submis- 
sion to government with the existence of natural rights antecedent to the 
institution of government, by the hypothesis of a foundation of govern- 
ment in consent, more consistently than any other writer; and his result 
shows the hopelessness of the attempt. To the consistency of his theory 
he sacrifices every claim to right on the part of any state except one in 
which the whole body of citizens directly legislates, i.e., on the part of 
nearly all states then or now existing; and finally he can only justify the 
control of the minority by the majority in any state whatever by a sub- 
terfuge. It does not follow, however, because the doctrine of natural 
rights and the consequent conception of government as founded on com- 
pact are untenable, that there is no truth in the conception of the state or 
sovereign as representing a 'general will,' as authorised or entitled to 
obedience on that account. It is this conception, as the permanently valu- 
able thing in Rousseau, that we have now further to consider. 

78. The first remark upon it which suggests itself is that, as Rousseau 
puts the matter, there may be an independent political society in which 
there is no sovereign power at all, or in which, at any rate, it is not 
exercised. The sovereign is the 'general will.' But the general will can 
only be exercised through the assembly of a whole people. The neces- 
sary conditions of its exercise, then, in Rousseau's time, were only ful- 
filled in the Swiss cantons and (perhaps) in the United Provinces. In 
England they were fulfilled in a way during the time of a general elec- 

Principles of Political Obligation/59 

tion. But even where these conditions were fulfilled, it did not follow 
that the 'general will' was put in force. It might be overpowered, as in 
the Roman comitia, by particular interests. Is it then to be understood 
that, according to Rousseau, either there could be independent states 
without any sovereignty in actual exercise, or that the European 'states' 
of his time, and equally the great states of the present day for in none of 
these is there any more exercise of the general will than in the England 
of his time — are not properly states at all? 

79. We may try to answer this question by distinguishing sovereign 
de facto from sovereign dejure, and saying that what Rousseau meant 
was that the 'general will,' as defined by him and as exercised under the 
conditions which he prescribes, was the only sovereign dejure, but that 
he would have recognised in the ordinary states of his time a sovereign 
de facto; that in the same way, when he describes the institution of gov- 
ernment as arising out of a twofold act consequent on the original pact 
an act in which the sovereign people first decides that there shall be a 
government and then, not as a sovereign people, but as a democratic 
magistracy, decides in what hands the government shall be placed he 
does not conceive himself to be describing what has actually taken place, 
but what is necessary to give a government a moral title to obedience. 
Whether Rousseau himself had this distinction in view is not always 
clear. At the outset he states his object thus: 'Man is born free, and 
everywhere he is in fetters. How has this change come about? I do not 
know. What can render it legitimate? That is a question which I deem 
myself able to answer' (I, i). The answer is the account of the establish- 
ment of a sovereign by social pact. It might be inferred from this that he 
considered himself in the sequel to be delineating transactions to the 
actual occurrence of which he did not commit himself, but which, if 
they did occur, would constitute a duty as distinct from a physical ne- 
cessity of submission on the part of subjects to a sovereign, and to which 
some equivalent must be supposed, in the shape of a tacit present con- 
vention on the part of the members of a state if their submission is to be 
matter of duty as distinct from physical necessity or is to be claimed as 
a matter of right by the ostensible sovereign. This, however, would merely 
be an inference as to his meaning. His actual procedure is to describe 
transactions, by which the sovereignty of the 'general will' was estab- 
lished, and by which it in turn established a government, as if they had 
actually taken place. Nor is he content with supposing a tacit consent of 
the people as rendering subjection legitimate. The people whose sub- 

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mission to law is to be 'legitimate' must actually take part in sovereign 
legislative assemblies. It is very rarely that he uses language which im- 
plies the possibility of a sovereign power otherwise constituted. He does 
indeed speak of the possibility of a prince in the special meaning of the 
term, as representing the head of the executive — usurping sovereignty, 
and speaks of the sovereignty thus usurped as existing de facto, not de 
jure; but in no other connection (so far as I have observed) does he 
speak of anything short of the volont g n rale exercised through the vote 
of an assembled people as sovereign at all. And the whole drift of his 
doctrine is to show that no sovereign, otherwise constituted, had any 
claim on obedience. There was no state in Europe at his time in which 
his doctrine would not have justified rebellion, and even under existing 
representative systems the conditions are not fulfilled which according 
to him are necessary to give laws that claim on our obedience which 
arises from their being an expression of the general will. The only sys- 
tem under which these conditions could be fulfilled would be one of 
federated self-governing communes, small enough to allow each mem- 
ber an active share in the legislation of the commune. It is probably the 
influence of Rousseau that has made such a system the ideal of political 
enthusiasts in France. 

F. Sovereignty and the General Will 

80. The questions then arise ( 1 ) whether there is any truth in Rousseau's 
conception of sovereignty as founded upon a volonte generale in its 
application to actual sovereignty. Does anything like such a sovereignty 
exist in the societies properly called political? (2) Is there any truth in 
speaking of a sovereignty de jure founded upon the volonte generale! 
(3) If there is, are we to hold with Rousseau that this 'will' can only be 
exercised through the votes of a sovereign people? 

81. (1) The first question is one which, if we take our notions of 
sovereignty from such writers as Austin, we shall be at first disposed 
decidedly to negative. Austin is considered a master of precise defini- 
tion. We may begin, therefore, by looking to his definition of sover- 
eignty and the terms connected with it. His general definition of law 
runs as follows; 'A law, in the most general and comprehensive accep- 
tation in which the term, in its literal meaning, is employed, may be said 
to be a rule laid down for the guidance of an intelligent being by an 
intelligent being having power over him. ' These rules are of two kinds : 
laws of God, and Human law. We are only concerned with the latter. 

Principles of Political Obligation/61 

Human laws are again distinguished into two classes, according as they 
are or are not established by political superiors. 'Of the laws orrules set 
by men to men, some are established by political superiors, sovereign 
and subject; by persons exercising supreme and subordinate govern- 
ment, in independent nations, or independent political societies., the 
aggregate of the rules established by political superiors, is frequently 
styled positive law...' (I, 88-9). This is distinguished from 'positive 
morality.' Laws are further explained as a species of commands. A com- 
mand is 'a signification of desire,' distinguished by the fact that 'the 
party to whom it is directed is liable to evil from the other, in case he 
does comply not with the desire' (I, 91). This liability to evil forms the 
sanction of the command. Where it 'obliges generally to acts or forbear- 
ances of a class, a command is a law or rule' (1, 95). 

Every positive law, or every law simply and strictly so called, is set 
by a sovereign person, or a sovereign body of persons, to a member or 
members of the independent political society wherein that person or body 
is sovereign or supreme. Or (changing the expression) it is set by a 
monarch, or sovereign number, to a person or persons in a state of sub- 
jection to its author. Even though it sprung directly from another foun- 
tain or source, it is a positive law, or a law strictly so called, by the 
institution of that present sovereign in the character of political supe- 
rior. Or (borrowing the language of Hobbes) 'the legislator is he, not by 
whose authority the law was first made, but by whose authority it con- 
tinues to be a law.' (1, 225-6) 

The notions of sovereignty and independent political society may be 
expressed concisely thus. If a determinate human superior, not in a habit 
of obedience to a like superior, receive habitual obedience from the bulk 
of a given society that determinate superior is sovereign in that society 
and the society (including the superior) is a society political and inde- 
pendent. (I, 226) 

In order that a given society may form a society political and inde- 
pendent, the two distinguishing marks which I have mentioned above 
must unite. The generality of the given society must be in a habit of 
obedience to a determinate and common superior; whilst that determi- 
nate person, or determinate body of persons, must not be habitually 
obedient to a determinate person or body. It is the union of that positive , 

62/T.H. Green 

with this negative mark, which renders that certain superior sovereign 
or supreme, and which renders that given society (including that certain 
superior) a society political and independent. (I, 227) 

82. It may be remarked in passing that, according to the above, 
while every law implies a sovereign, from whom directly or indirectly 
(through a subordinate political superior) it proceeds, it is not necessary 
to a sovereign that his commands should take the form of laws, as op- 
posed to 'occasional or particular commands' (1, 95). A superior might 
signify his desires only in the form of such particular and occasional 
commands, and yet there might be a habit of obedience to him, and he 
might not be habitually obedient to any other person or body; in which 
case he would be a 'sovereign.' 

83. Austin's doctrine seems diametrically opposed to one which finds 
the sovereign in a volont g n rale, because (a) it only recognises sover- 
eignty in a determinate person or persons, and (b) it considers the es- 
sence of sovereignty to lie in the power, on the part of such determinate 
person or persons, to put compulsion without limit on subjects, to make 
them do exactly as it pleases. The volonte generale, on the other hand, 
it would seem, cannot be identified with the will of any determinate 
person or persons; it can, indeed, according to Rousseau, only be ex- 
pressed by a vote of the whole body of subject citizens, but when you 
have got them together there is no certainty that their vote does express 
it; and it does not — at any rate necessarily — command any power of 
compulsion, much less unlimited power. Rousseau expressly contem- 
plates the possibility of the executive power conflicting with and over- 
bearing the 'general will.' Indeed according to his view it was the ordi- 
nary state of things, and though this view may be exaggerated, no one 
could maintain that the 'general will,' in any intelligible sense of the 
words, had always unlimited force at its command. 

84. The two views thus seem mutually exclusive, but perhaps it 
may be by taking each as complementary to the other that we shall gain 
the truest view of sovereignty, as it actually exists. In those states of 
society in which obedience is habitually rendered by the bulk of society 
to some determinate superior, single or corporate, who in turn is inde- 
pendent of any other superior, the obedience is so rendered because this 
determinate superior is regarded as expressing or embodying what may 
properly be called the general will, and is virtually conditional upon the 
superior being so regarded. It is by no means an unlimited power of 

Principles of Political Obligation/63 

compulsion that the superior exercises, but one dependent in the long 
run, or dependent for the purpose of insuring an habitual obedience, 
upon conformity to certain convictions on the part of the subjects as to 
what is for their general interest. As Maine says (Early History of Insti- 
tutions [Lecture XII], p. 359), 'The vast mass of influences, which we 
may call for shortness moral, perpetually shapes, limits, or forbids the 
actual direction of the forces of society by its Sovereign.' Thus, quite 
apart from any belief in the right of revolution, from the view that the 
people in any state are entitled to an ultimate sovereignty, or are sover- 
eign de jure, and may withdraw either legislative or executive power 
from the hands in which it has been placed in the event of its being 
misused, it may fairly be held that the ostensible sovereign — the deter- 
minate person or persons to whom we can point and say that with him or 
them lies the ultimate power of exacting habitual obedience from the 
people is only able to exercise this power in virtue of an assent on the 
part of the people, nor is this assent reducible to the fear of the sovereign 
felt by each individual. It is rather a common desire for certain ends 
specially the 'pax vitaeque secuitas' ['peace and security of life'] to 
which the observance of law or established usage contributes, and in 
most cases implies no conscious reference on the part of those whom it 
influences to any supreme coercive power at all. Thus when it has been 
ascertained in regard to any people that there is some determinate per- 
son or persons to whom in the last resort they pay habitual obedience, 
we may call this person or persons sovereign if we please, but we must 
not ascribe to him or them the real power which governs the actions and 
forbearances of the people, even those actions and forbearances (only a 
very small part) which are prescribed by the sovereign. This power is a 
much more complex and less determinate, or rather less easily determin- 
able, thing; but a sense of possessing common interests, a desire for 
common objects on the part of the people, is always the condition of its 
existence. Let this sense or desire which may properly be called general 
will — cease to operate, or let it come into general conflict with the 
sovereign's commands, and the habitual obedience will cease also. 

85. If, then, those who adopt the Austinian definition of a sovereign 
mean no more than that in a thoroughly developed state there must be 
some determinate person or persons, with whom in the last resort lies 
the recognised power of imposing laws and enforcing their observance, 
over whom no legal control can be exercised, and that even in the most 
thorough democracy where laws are passed in the assembly of the whole 

64/T.H. Green 

people, it is still with determinate persons, viz. a majority of those who 
meet in the assembly, that this power resides, they are doubtless right. 
So far they only need to be reminded that the thoroughly developed 
state, as characterised by the existence of such definite sovereignty, is 
even among civilised people but imperfectly established. It is only per- 
fectly established (1) where customary or 'common' or 'judge-made' 
law, which does not proceed from any determinate person or persons, is 
either superseded by express enactments that do proceed from such per- 
son or persons, or (as in England) is so frequently trenched upon by 
statute law that it may fairly be said only to survive upon sufferance, or 
to be itself virtually enacted by the sovereign legislature and (2) where 
no question of right can be raised between local legislatures or authori- 
ties and the legislature claiming to be supreme (as in America before the 
war of secession, and as might perhaps be found to be the case in Ger- 
many now, if on certain educational and ecclesiastical matters the Impe- 
rial legislature came to be at issue with the local legislatures). But though 
the organisation of the state, even in civilised and independent nations, 
is not everywhere complete, it no doubt involves the residence with a 
determinate person or persons, or a body or bodies, of supreme — i.e., 
legally uncontrolled power to make and enforce laws. The term 'sover- 
eign,' having acquired this definite meaning, Rousseau was misleading 
his readers when he ascribed sovereignty to the 'general will.' He could 
only be understood as meaning, and in fact understood himself to mean, 
that there was no legitimate sovereign except in the most thorough de- 
mocracy, as just described. 

86. But the Austinians, having found their sovereign, are apt to 
regard it as a much more important institution than, if it is to be identi- 
fied with a determinate person or persons, it really is; they are apt to 
suppose that the sovereign, with the coercive power (i.e., the power of 
operating on the fears of the subjects) which it exercises, is the real 
determinant of the habitual obedience of the people at any rate of their 
habitual obedience in respect of those acts and forbearances which are 
prescribed by law. But, as we have seen, this is not the case. It then 
needs to be pointed out that if the sovereign power is to be understood in 
this fuller, less abstract sense if we mean by it the 'real determinant of 
the habitual obedience of the people, ' we must look for its sources much 
more widely and deeply than the 'analytical jurists' do; that it can no 
longer be said to reside in a determinate person or persons, but in that 
impalpable congeries of the hopes and fears of a people bound together 

Principles of Political Obligation/65 

by common interests and sympathy, which we call the general will. 

87. It may be objected that this view of the 'general will,' as that on 
which habitual obedience to the sovereign really depends, is at best only 
applicable to 'self-governing' communities, not to those under a des- 
potic sovereign. The answer is that it is applicable in all forms of soci- 
ety where a sovereign in the sense above defined (as a determinate per- 
son or persons with whom in the last resort lies the recognised power of 
imposing laws and enforcing their observance) really exists, be any but 
that there are many where there cannot fairly be said to such sovereign 
at all; in other words, that in all organised communities the power which 
practically commands the habitual obedience of the people in respect of 
those acts and forbearances which are enjoined by law or authoritative 
custom, is one dependent on the general will of the community, but this 
power is often not sovereign in the sense in which the ruler of an inde- 
pendent state is sovereign. It may very well be that there is at the same 
time another power merely coercive — a power really operating on people 
simply through their fears to which obedience is rendered and which is 
not in turn representative of a general will; but where this is the case we 
shall find that such power is only in contact with the people, so to speak, 
at one or two points; that their actions and forbearances, as determined 
by law and custom, are in the main independent of it; that it cannot in 
any proper sense be said to be a sovereign power over them; at any rate, 
not in the sense in which we speak of King, Lords, and Commons as 
sovereign in England. 

88. Maine has pointed out {Early History of Institutions , Lecture 
XIII [p. 384]) that the great despotic empires of ancient times, exclud- 
ing the Roman, of which more shall be said directly and modern empires 
in the East, were in the main tax-collecting institutions. They exercise 
coercive force over their subjects of the most violent kind for certain 
purposes, at certain times, but they do not impose laws as distinct from 
'occasional or particular commands,' nor do they judicially administer 
or enforce a customary law. In a certain sense the subjects render them 
habitual obedience, i.e., they habitually submit when the agents of the 
empire descend on them for taxes and recruits, but in the general tenor 
of their lives their actions and forbearances are regulated by authorities 
with which the empire never interferes — with which probably it could 
not interfere without destroying itself. These authorities can scarcely be 
said to reside in a determinate person or persons at all, but so far as they 
do so, they reside mixedly in priests, or exponents of customary reli- 

66/T.H. Green 

gion, in heads of families acting within the family, and in some village- 
council acting beyond the limits of the family. Whether in such a state of 
things we are to consider that there is a sovereign power at all, and, if 
so, where it is to be considered to reside, are chiefly questions of words. 
If complete uncontrolledness by a stronger power is essential to sover- 
eignty, the local authorities just spoken of are not sovereign. The con- 
quering despot could descend on them and sweep them away, leaving 
anarchy in their place, and he does compel them to be put in exercise for 
a particular purpose, that of raising tribute or sometimes recruits. On 
the other hand, these authorities, which represent a general will of the 
communities, form the power which determines such actions and for- 
bearances of the individual as do not proceed from natural inclination. 
The military ruler, indeed, is sovereign in the sense of possessing irre- 
sistible coercive power, but in fact this power is only exercised within 
narrow limits, and not at all in any legislative or judicial way. If exer- 
cised beyond these limits and in conflict with customary law, the result 
would be a general anarchy. The truest way of expressing the state of 
the case is to say that, taking the term 'sovereign' in the sense which we 
naturally associate with it and in which it is used by modern European 
writers on sovereignty, there is under such conditions no sovereign, but 
that the practical regulation of life, except during intervals of military 
violence and anarchy, rests with authorities representing the general will, 
though these are to a certain extent interfered with by an alien force. 

89. The same accountis applicable to most cases of foreign domin- 
ion over a people with any organised common life of their own. The 
foreign power is not sovereign in the sense of being a maker or main- 
tainer of laws. Law-making, under such conditions, there is properly 
none. The subject people inherits laws, written or unwritten, and main- 
tains them for itself, a certain shelter from violence being afforded by 
the foreign power. Such, in the main, was the condition of North Italy, 
for instance, under Austrian domination. Where this is the case, the 
removal of the coercive power of the foreigner need not involve anar- 
chy, or any violation of established rights (such as Hobbes supposes to 
follow necessarily from the deposition of an actual sovereign). The so- 
cial order does not depend on the foreign dominion and may survive it. 
The question whether in any particular case it actually can do so must 
depend on the possibility of preventing further foreign aggression, and 
on the question whether there is enough national unity in the subject 
people to prevent them from breaking up into hostile communities when 

Principles of Political Obligation/67 

the foreign dominion is removed. 

90. It is otherwise where the foreign power is really a law-making 
and maintaining one, and is sovereign in that proper sense, as was the 
Roman Empire. But just so far as the Roman Empire was of this sover- 
eign, i.e., law-making and maintaining, character, it derived its perma- 
nence, its hold on the 'habitual obedience' of its subjects, from the sup- 
port of the 'general will.' As the empire superseded customary or writ- 
ten laws of conquered countries, it conferred rights of Roman citizen- 
ship, a much more perfect system of protection in action and acquisition 
than the conquered people had generally possessed before. Hence, while 
nothing could be further removed from what Rousseau would have 
counted liberty than the life of the citizens of the Roman Empire, for 
they had nothing to do with making the laws which they obeyed, yet 
probably no political system was ever more firmly grounded on the good- 
will of the subjects, none in the maintenance of which the subjects felt a 
stronger interest. The British power in India exercises a middle function 
between that of the Roman Empire and that of the mere tax-collecting 
and recruit-raising empire with which the Roman Empire has just been 
contrasted. It presents itself to the subject people in the first place as a 
tax-collector. It leaves the customary law of the people mostly untouched. 
But if only to a very small extent a law-making power, it is emphatically 
a law-maintaining one. It regulates the whole judicial administration of 
the country, but applies its power generally only to enforce the custom- 
ary law which it finds in existence. For this reason an 'habitual obedi- 
ence' may fairly be said to be rendered by the Indian people to the En- 
glish government, in a sense in which it could not be said to be rendered 
to a merely tax-collecting military power; but the habitual obedience is 
so rendered only because the English government presents itself to the 
people, not merely as a tax-collector, but as the maintainer of a custom- 
ary law, which, on the whole, is the expression of the 'general will.' The 
same is true in principle of those independent states which are despoti- 
cally governed, in which, i. e., the ultimate legislative power does not 
reside, wholly or in part, with an assembly representing the people, or 
with the people themselves; e.g. Russia. It is not the absolute coercive 
power of the Czar which determines the habitual obedience of the people. 
This coercive power, if put to the test as a coercive power, would prob- 
ably be found very far from absolute. This habitual obedience is deter- 
mined by a system of law, chiefly customary, which the administration 
controlled by the Czar enforces against individuals but which corre- 

68/T.H. Green 

sponds to the general sense of what is equitable and necessary. If a 
despotic government comes into anything like habitual conflict with the 
unwritten law which represents the general will, its dissolution is begin- 

91. The answer, then, to the question whether there is any truth in 
Rousseau's conception of sovereignty as founded upon a volont g n 
rale, in its application to actual sovereignty, must depend on what we 
mean by 'sovereign.' The essential thing in political society is a power 
which guarantees men rights, i.e., a certain freedom of action and ac- 
quisition conditionally upon their allowing a like freedom in others. It is 
but stating the same condition otherwise to speak of a power which 
guarantees the members of the society these rights, this freedom of ac- 
tion and acquisition, impartially or according to a general rule or law. 
What is the lowest form in which a society is fit to be called political, is 
hard to say. The political society is more complete as the freedom guar- 
anteed is more complete, both in respect of the persons enjoying it and 
of the range of possible action and acquisition over which it extends. A 
family or a nomad horde could not be called a political society, on ac- 
count of the narrow range of the freedoms which they severally guaran- 
tee. The nomad horde might indeed be quite as numerous as a Greek 
state or as the sovereign canton of Genevain Rousseau's time; butin the 
horde the range within which reciprocal freedom of action and acquisi- 
tion is guaranteed to the individuals is exceedingly small. It is the power 
of guaranteeing rights, defined as above, which the old writers on sover- 
eignty and civil government supposed to be established by covenant of 
all with all, translating the common interest which men have in the main- 
tenance of such a power into an imaginary historical act by which they 
instituted it. It was this power that they had chiefly in view when they 
spoke of sovereignty. 

92. It is to be observed, however, that the power may very well exist 
and serve its purpose where it is not sovereign in the sense of being 
exempt from any liability of being interfered with by a stronger coercive 
power, such as that of a tax-collecting military ruler. The occasional 
interference of the military ruler is so far a drawback to the efficiency 
with which freedom of action and acquisition is guaranteed, but does 
not nullify the general maintenance of rights. On the other hand, when 
the power by which rights are guaranted is sovereign (as it is desirable 
that it should be) in the special sense of being maintained by a person or 
persons, wielding coercive force not liable to control by any other hu- 

Principles of Political Obligation/69 

man force, it is not this coercive force that is the important thing about 
it or that determines the habitual obedience essential to the real mainte- 
nance of rights. That which determines this habitual obedience is a power 
residing in the common will and reason of men, i.e., in the will and 
reason of men as determined by social relations, as interested in each 
other as acting together for common ends. It is a power which this 'uni- 
versal' rational will exercises over the inclinations of the individual, and 
which only needs exceptionally to be backed by coercive force. 

93. Thus, though it may be misleading to speak of the general will 
as anywhere either actually or properly sovereign, because the term 'sov- 
ereign' is best kept to the ordinary usage in which it signifies a determi- 
nate person or persons charged with the supreme coercive function of 
the state, and the general will does not admit of being vested in a person 
or persons, yet it is true that the institutions of political society — those 
by which equal rights are guaranteed to members of such a society are 
an expression of, and are maintained by, a general will. The sovereign 
should be regarded, not in abstraction as the wielder of coercive force, 
but in connection with the whole complex of institutions of political 
society. It is as their sustainer, and thus as the agent of the general will, 
that the sovereign power must be presented to the minds of the people if 
it is to command habitual loyal obedience; and obedience will scarcely 
be habitual unless it is loyal, not forced. If once the coercive power, 
which must always be an incident of sovereignty, becomes the charac- 
teristic thing about it in its relation to the people governed, this must 
indicate one of two things; either that the general interest in the mainte- 
nance of equal rights has lost its hold on the people, or that the sover- 
eign no longer adequately fulfils its function of maintaining such rights, 
and thus has lost the support derived from the general sense of interest 
in supporting it. It may be doubted whether the former is ever really the 
case; but whatever explanation of the case may be the true one, it is 
certain that when the idea of coercive force is that predominantly asso- 
ciated with the law -imposing and enforcing power, then either a disrup- 
tion of the state or a change in the sources of sovereignty must sooner or 
later take place. In judging, however, whether this is the case, we must 
not be misled by words. In England, e.g., from the way in which many 
people speak of 'government,' we might suppose that it was looked on 
mainly as the wielder of coercive force, but it would be a mistake on 
that account to suppose that English people commonly regard the laws 
of the country as so much coercion, instead of as an institution in the 

70/T.H. Green 

maintenance of which they are interested. When they speak dyslogistically 
of 'government,' they are not thinking of the general system of law but 
of a central administrative agency which they think interferes mischie- 
vously with local and customary administration. 

94. It is more true to say that law, as the system of rules by which 
rights are maintained, is the expression of a general will than that the 
general will is the sovereign. The sovereign, being a person or persons 
by whom in the last resort laws are imposed and enforced in the long run 
and on the whole, is an agent of the general will contributes to realise 
that will. Particular laws may, no doubt, be imposed and enforced by 
the sovereign, which conflict with the general will not in the sense that if 
all the subject people could be got together to vote upon them, a major- 
ity would vote against them; that might be or might not be — but in the 
sense that they tend to thwart those powers of action, acquisition, and 
self-development on the part of the members of the society, which there 
is always a general desire to extend though the desire may not be en- 
lightened as to the best means to the end, and which it is the business of 
law to sustain and extend. The extent to which laws of this kind may be 
intruded into the general corpus juris [body of law] without social dis- 
ruption it is impossible to specify. Probably there has never been a 
civilised state in which they bore more than a very small proportion to 
the amount of law which there was the strongest general interest in main- 
taining. But, so far as they go, they always tend to lessen the 'habitual 
obedience' of the people, and thus to make the sovereign cease to be 
sovereign. The hope must be that this will result in the transfer of sover- 
eignty to other hands before a 'social disruption' ensues; before the 
general system of law has been so far perverted as to lose its hold on the 
people. Of the possibility of a change in sovereignty without any detrac- 
tion from the law-abiding habits of the people, France has lately given a 
conspicuous example. Here, however it must be remembered that a tem- 
porary foreign conquest made the transition easier. 

95. (2) After what has been said, we need not dwell long on the 
question of the tenability of the distinction between sovereignty de facto 
and sovereignty de jure. It is a distinction which can only be maintained 
so long as either 'sovereign' is not used in a determinate sense, or by 
'jus' is understood something else than law or right established by law. 
Ifby 'sovereign' we understand something short of a person or persons 
holding the supreme law-making and law-enforcing power, e.g., an En- 
glish king who is often called sovereign, we might say that sovereignty 

Principles of Political Obligation/71 

was exercised de facto but not dejure when the power of such a 'sover- 
eign' was in conflict with, or was not sanctioned by, the law as declared 
and enforced by the really supreme power. Thus an English king so far 
as he affected to control the army or raise money without the co-opera- 
tion of Parliament, might be said to be sovereign de facto but not de 
jure; only, however, on the supposition that the supreme law-making 
and law-enforcing power does not belong to him, and thus that he is 
called 'sovereign' in other than the strict sense. If he were sovereign in 
the full sense 'de facto,' he could not fail to be so 'dejure,'' i.e., legally. 
In such a state of things, if the antagonism between King and Parlia- 
ment continued for any length of time, it would have to be admitted that 
there was no 'sovereign' as — supreme law-making and law-enforcing 
power; that sovereignty in this sense was in abeyance, and that anarchy 
prevailed. Or the same thing might be explained by saying that sover- 
eignty still resided de jure with the King and Parliament, though not de 
facto exercised by them — but if we use such language, we must bear in 
mind that we are qualifying 'sovereignty' by an epithet which neutralises 
its meaning as actually supreme power. If, however, the king succeeded 
in establishing such a power on a permanent footing, he would have 
become sovereign in the full sense, and there would be no ground for 
saying, as before, that he was not sovereign de jure; for the qualifica- 
tions de jure and 'not de jure,' in that sense in which they might be 
applied to a power which is not supreme, are equally inapplicable to the 
power of making and enforcing law which is supreme. The monarch's 
newly established supremacy may be in conflict with laws that were 
previously in force, but he has only to abolish those laws in order to 
render it legal. If, then, it is still to be said to be not de jure, it must be 
because 'jus' is used for something else than law or right established by 
law; viz. either for 'natural right' as not merely = natural power, or for 
certain claims which the members of the subject community have come 
to recognise as inherent in the community and in themselves as members 
of it — claims regarded as the foundation of law, not as founded upon it, 
and with which the commands of the sovereign conflict. But even ac- 
cording to this meaning of 'jus,' a sovereign in the strict Austinian sense, 
that is not so de jure, is in the long run an impossibility. 'Habitual obe- 
dience' cannot be secured in the face of such claims. 

96. But whether or no in any qualified sense of 'sovereign' or 'jus,' 
a sovereign that is not so 'de jure' is possible, once understand by 'sov- 
ereign' the determinate person or persons with whom the ultimate law- 

72/T.H. Green 

imposing and law-enforcing power resides, and by 'jus' law, it is then 
obviously a contradiction to speak of a sovereign 'de jure' as distin- 
guished from one 'defacto.' Thepowerof the ultimate imponent of law 
cannot be derived from or limited by law. The sovereign may no doubt 
by a legislative act of its own lay down rules as to the mode in which its 
power shall be exercised, but if it is sovereign in the sense supposed it 
must always be open to it to alter these rules. There can be no illegality 
in its doing so. In short, in whatever sense 'jus' is derived from the 
sovereign, in that sense no sovereign can hold his power 'de jure.' So 
Spinoza held that 'imperium' was 'dejure' indeed, but 'dejure naturaW 
{'jus naturale' — natural power), which is the same as 'de jure divino'; 
only powers exercised in subordination to 'imperium' are 'dejurecivili.' 
So Hobbes said that there could be no unjust law. A law was not a law 
unless enacted by a sovereign, and the just being that to which the sov- 
ereign obliges, the sovereign could not enact the unjust, though it might 
enact the inequitable and the pernicious the 'inequitable' presumably 
meaning that which conflicts with a 'law of nature,' the 'pernicious' 
that which tends to weaken individuals or society. Rousseau retains the 
same notion of the impeccability of the sovereign, but on different 
grounds. Every act of the sovereign is according to him de jure, not 
because all right is derived from a supreme coercive power and the 
sovereign is that power, but because the sovereign is the general will 
which is necessarily a will for the good of all. The enactment of the 
sovereign could as little, on this view, be 'inequitable' or 'pernicious' as 
it could be 'unjust. ' But this view necessitates a distinction between the 
sovereign, thus conceived, and the actually supreme power of making 
and enforcing law as it exists anywhere but in what Rousseau consid- 
ered a perfect state. Rousseau indeed generally avoids calling this actu- 
ally supreme power 'sovereign,' though he cannot, as we have seen, 
altogether avoid it; and since, whatever he liked to call it, the existence 
of such a power in forms which according to him prevented its equiva- 
lence to the general will was almost everywhere a fact, his readers would 
naturally come to think of the actually supreme power as sovereign de 
facto, in distinction from something else which was sovereign de jure. 
And further, under the influence of Rousseau's view that the only organ 
of the general will was an assembly of the whole people, they would 
naturally regard such an assembly as sovereign de jure, and any other 
power actually supreme as merely sovereign de facto. This opposition, 
however, really arises out of a confusion in the usage of the term 'sover- 

Principles of Political Obligation/73 

eign' out of inability on the one side to hold fast on the other, to the 
identification of sovereign with 'general will,' keep it simply to the sense 
of supreme law-making and law-enforcing power. If 'sovereign' — 'gen- 
eral will,' the distinction of de facto and de jure is inapplicable to it. A 
certain desire either is or is not the general will. A certain interest is or 
is not an interest in the common good. There is no sense in saying that 
such desire or interest is general will de jure but not de facto, or vice 
versa. On the other hand, if 'sovereign' = supreme law-making and 
law-enforcing power, the distinction is equally inapplicable to it. If any 
person or persons have this power at all, they cannot be said to have it 
merely de facto while others have it de jure. 

97. It may be urged with much truth that the actual possession of 
such power by a determinate person or persons is rather a convenient 
hypothesis of writers on jurisprudence than an actual fact; and, as we 
have seen, the actual condition of things at certain times in certain states 
may conveniently be expressed by saying that there was a sovereign de 
facto that was not so de jure, or vice versa, but only on the supposition 
that 'sovereign' is not taken necessarily in the full sense of a supreme 
law-making and enforcing power. In a state of things that can be so 
described, however, there is no 'sovereignty' at all in the sense of an 
actually supreme power of making and enforcing law resident in a de- 
terminate person or persons. Sovereignty in this sense can, and when it 
so exists, it is obvious that no other only exist de facto; can in the same 
sense exist de jure. It may be denied indeed in particular cases that an 
actually supreme power of making and enforcing law is exercised de 
jure, in a sense of that phrase already explained [§ 95]. Reasons were 
given for doubting whether a power could really maintain its sovereign 
attributes if conflicting withyw^, in the same sense thus explained. But 
supposing that it could, the fact that it was not exercised de jure would 
not entitle us to say that any other person or persons were sovereign de 
jure, without altering the meaning of 'sovereign.' If any one has su- 
preme power de facto, that which any one else has cannot be supreme 
power. The qualification of a power as held not de facto but de jure is 
one which destroys its character as supreme, i.e., as sovereign in the 
sense before us. 

98. It is only through trying to combine under the term 'sovereign' 
the notions of the 'general will' and of supreme power that we are led to 
speak of the people as sovereign de jure, if not de facto. There would be 
no harm indeed in speaking of the 'general will' as sovereign, if the 

74/T.H. Green 

natural association of 'sovereign' with supreme coercive power could 
be got rid of; but as this cannot be, when once we have pronounced the 
general will 'sovereign,' we are pretty sure to identify the general will 
with a vote of the majority of citizens. A majority of citizens can be 
conceived as exercising a supreme coercive power, but a 'general will' 
in the sense of an unselfish interest in the common good which in vari- 
ous degrees actuates men in their dealings with each other cannot be so 
conceived. Thus for the sovereignty in an impalpable and unnatural 
sense of the 'general will' we get a sovereignty, in the natural and de- 
monstrable sense, of the multitude. But as the multitude is not every- 
where supreme, the assertion of its sovereignty has to be put in the form 
that it is sovereign de jure. The truth which underlies this proposition is 
that an interest in common good is the ground of political society, in the 
sense that without it no body of people would recognise any authority as 
having a claim on their common obedience. It is so far as a government 
represents to them a common good that the subjects are conscious that 
they ought to obey it, i.e., that obedience to it is a means to an end 
desirable in itself or absolutely. This truth is latent in Rousseau's doc- 
trine of the sovereignty of the 'general will,' but he confounds with it the 
proposition that no government has a claim on obedience but that which 
originates in a vote passed by the people themselves who are called on 
to obey (a vote which must be unanimous in the case of the original 
compact, carried by a majority in subsequent cases). 

99. This latter doctrine arises out of the delusion of natural right. 
The individual, it is thought, having aright, not derived from society, to 
do as he likes, can only forego that right by an act to which he is a party. 
Therefore he has a right to disregard a law unless it is passed by an 
assembly of which he has been a member and by the decision of which 
he has expressly or tacitly agreed to be bound. Clearly, however, such a 
natural right of the individual would be violated under the most popular 
sovereignty no less than under one purely monarchical, if he happened 
to object to the decision of the majority; for to say, as Rousseau says, 
that he has virtually agreed, by the mere fact of residence in a certain 
territory, to be bound by votes of the majority of those occupying that 
territory, is a mere trick to save appearances. But in truth there is no 
such natural right to do as one likes irrespectively of society. It is on the 
relation to a society to other men recognising a common good — that the 
individual's rights depend, as much as the gravity of abody depends on 
relations to other bodies. A right is a power claimed and recognised as 

Principles of Political Obligation/75 

contributory to a common good. A right against society, in distinction 
from a right to be treated as a member of society, is a contradiction in 
terms. No one therefore has a right to resist a law or ordinance of gov- 
ernment, on the ground that it requires him to do what he does not like, 
and that he has not agreed to submit to the authority from which it 
proceeds: and if no one person, no number of persons. If the common 
interest requires it, no right can be alleged against it. Neither can its 
enactment by popular vote enhance, nor the absence of such vote dimin- 
ish, its right to be obeyed. Rousseau himself well says that the proper 
question for each citizen to ask himself in regard to any proposal before 
the assembly is not. Do I like or approve it? but. Is it according to the 
general will? which is only another way of asking. Is it according to the 
general interest? It is only as the organ of this general interest that the 
popular vote can endow any law with the right to be obeyed; and Rousseau 
himself, if he could have freed himself from the presuppositions of natu- 
ral right, might have admitted that, as the popular vote is by no means 
necessarily an organ of the general interest, so the decree of a monarch 
or of an aristocratic assembly, under certain conditions, might be such 
an organ. 

100. But, it may be asked. Must not the individual judge for himself 
whether a law is for the common good? and if he decides that it is not, is 
he not entitled to resist it? Otherwise, not only will laws passed in the 
interest of individuals or classes and against public good, have a claim 
to our absolute and permanent submission, but a government systemati- 
cally carried on for the benefit of a few against the many, can never be 
rightfully resisted. To the first part of this question we must of course 
answer 'yes,' without qualification. The degree to which the individual 
judges for himself of the relation between the common good and the 
laws which cross the path of his ordinary life, is the measure of his 
intelligent, as distinguished from a merely instinctive, recognition of 
rights in others and in the state; and on this recognition again depends 
his practical understanding of the difference between mere powers and 
rights as exercised by himself. Supposing then the individual to have 
decided that some 'command of a political superior' is not for the com- 
mon good, how ought he to act in regard to it? In a country like ours, 
with a popular government and settled methods of enacting and repeal- 
ing laws, the answer of common sense is simple and sufficient. He should 
do all he can by legal methods to get the command cancelled, but till it is 
cancelled he should conform to it. The common good must suffer more 

76/T.H. Green 

from resistance to a law or to the ordinance of a legal authority than 
from the individual's conformity to a particular law or ordinance that is 
bad, until its repeal can be obtained. It is thus the social duty of the 
individual to conform, and he can have no right, as we have seen, that is 
against his social duty no right to anything or to do anything, that is not 
involved in the ability to do his duty. 

101. But difficulties arise when either (1) it is a case of disputed 
sovereignty, and in consequence the legal authority of the supposed com- 
mand is doubtful; or (2) the government is so conducted that there are 
no legal means of obtaining the repeal of a law; or (3) when the whole 
system of law and government is so perverted by private interests hos- 
tile to the public that there has ceased to be any common interest in 
maintaining it; or (4) — a more frequent case when the authority from 
which the objectionable command proceeds is so easily separable from 
that on which the general maintenance of social order and the fabric of 
settled rights depends, that it can be resisted without serious detriment 
to this order and fabric. In such cases, may there not be a right of resis- 
tance based on a 'higher law' than the command of the ostensible sover- 

102. (1) As to cases where the legal authority of the supposed com- 
mand is doubtful. In modern states the definition of sovereignty — the 
determination of the person or persons with whom the supreme power 
of making and enforcing law legally resides — has only been arrived at 
by a slow process. The European monarchies have mostly arisen out of 
the gradual conversion of feudal superiority into sovereignty in the strict 
sense. Great states such as Germany and Italy have been formed by the 
combination of independent or semi-dependent states. In England the 
unity of the state goes back much further than anywhere else, but in 
England it was but gradually that the residence of sovereignty jointly in 
King, Lords, and Commons came to be practically established, and it is 
still founded merely on a customary law. In the United States, with a 
written constitution, it required all Austin's subtlety to detect where 
sovereignty lay, and he places it where probably no ordinary citizen of 
the United States had ever thought of it as residing, viz. 'in the states' 
governments as forming one aggregate body: meaning by a state's gov- 
ernment, not its ordinary legislature, but the body of citizens which ap- 
points its ordinary legislature, and which, the union apart, is properly 
sovereign.. . therein. ' He bases this view on the provision in the constitu- 
tion, according to which amendments to it are only valid 'when ratified 

Principles of Political Obligation/77 

by the legislature in three-fourths of the several states, or by convention 
in three-fourths thereof.' (I, p. 268n) But no ordinary citizen of the 
United States probably ever thought of sovereignty except as residing 
either in the government of his state or in the federal government con- 
sisting of Congress and President, or sometimes in one way, sometimes 
in the other. In other countries, e.g. France, where since Louis XIV the 
quarter in which sovereignty resides has at any given time been easily 
assignable, there have since the revolution been such frequent changes 
in the ostensible sovereign that there might almost at any time have been 
a case for doubting whether the ostensible sovereign had such command 
over the habitual obedience of the people as to be a sovereign in that 
sense in which there is a social duty to obey the sovereign, as the repre- 
sentative of the common interest in social order; whether some prior 
sovereignty was not really still in force. For these various reasons there 
have been occasions in the history of all modern states at which men, or 
bodies of men, without the conscious assertion of any right not founded 
upon law, might naturally deem themselves entitled to resist an author- 
ity which on its part claimed a right a legally established power to en- 
force obedience, and turned out actually to possess the power of doing 

103. In such cases the truest retrospective account to be given of the 
matter will often be that at the time there was nothing amounting to a 
right on either side. A right is a power of which the exercise by the 
individual or by some body of men is recognised by a society either as 
itself directly essential to a common good or as conferred by an author- 
ity of which the maintenance is recognised as so essential. But in cases 
of the kind described the authorities, appealed to on each side as justify- 
ing respectively compulsion and resistance, often do not command a 
sufficiently general recognition of their being necessary to the common 
good to enable them to confer rights of compulsion or resistance. One or 
other of them may be coming to do so, or ceasing to do so, but rights, 
though on the one hand they are eternal or at least coeval with human 
society, on the other hand take time to form themselves in this or that 
particular subject and to transfer themselves from one subject to an- 
other (just as one may hold reason to be eternal, and yet hold that it 
takes time for this or that being to become rational). Hence in periods of 
conflict between local or customary, and imperial or written, law, be- 
tween the constituent powers of a sovereignty, such as King and Parlia- 
ment in England, of which the relation to each other has not become 

78/T.H. Green 

accurately defined, between a fallen and a rising sovereign in a period of 
revolution, between federal and state authorities in a composite state, 
the facts are best represented by saying that for a time there may be no 
right on either side in the conflict, and that it is impossible to determine 
precisely the stage at which there comes to be such a right on the one 
side as implies a definite resistance to right on the other. This of course 
is not to be taken to mean that in such periods rights in general are at an 
end. It is merely that right is in suspense on the particular point at issue 
between the conflicting powers. As we have seen, the general fabric of 
rights in any society does not depend on the existence of a definite and 
ascertained sovereignty, in the restricted sense of the words; on the de- 
termination of a person or persons in whom supreme power resides, but 
on the control of the conduct of men according to certain regular prin- 
ciples by a society recognising common interests; and though such con- 
trol may be more or less weakened during periods of conflict of the kind 
supposed, it never ceases. 

104. It does not follow, however, because there may often not be 
strictly a right on either side in such periods of conflict that there is not 
a good and an evil, a better and a worse, on one side or the other. Of this 
we can only judge by reference to the end, whatever it be, in which we 
conceive the good of man to consist. There may be clear ground for 
saying, in regard to any conflict, that one side rather than the other 
ought to have been takin, not because those on one side were, those on 
the other were not, entitled to say that they had a right to act as they did, 
but because the common good of a nation or mankind was clearly pro- 
moted by one line of action, not by the other. E.g., in the American war 
of secession, though it would be difficult to say that a man had not as 
much a right to fight for his seceding states as for the Union, yet as the 
special interest of the seceding state was that of maintaining slavery, 
there was reason for holding that the side of the Union, not that of the 
seceding states, was the one which ought to be taken. On the other hand, 
it does not follow that in a struggle for sovereignty the good of man is 
more served by one of the competing powers than by the other. Good 
may come out of the conflict without one power contributing more to it 
than the other. There may thus be as little ground retrospectively for 
saying that one side or the other ought to have been taken, as that men 
had a right to take one and not the other. At the same time, as regards the 
individual, there is no reason for doubting that the better the motive 
which determines him to take this side or that — the more he is actuated 

Principles of Political Obligation/79 

in doing so by some unselfish desire for human good, the more free he is 
from egotism, and that conceit or opinionatedness which is a form of 
egotism the more good he will do whichever side he adopts. 

105. It is in such cases as we have been considering that the distinc- 
tion between sovereign de facto and sovereign de jure arises. It has a 
natural meaning in the mouths of those who, in resisting some coercive 
power that claims their obedience, can point to another determinate au- 
thority to which they not only consider obedience due, but to which such 
obedience in some considerable measure is actually rendered a meaning 
which it has not when all that can be opposed to sovereign de facto is 
either a 'general will,' or the mere name of a fallen dynasty exercising 
no control over men in their dealings with each other. But where this 
opposition can be used with a natural meaning, it is a truer account of 
the matter (as we have seen) to say. that sovereignty is in abeyance. The 
existence of competing powers, each affecting to control men in the 
same region of outward action, and each having partisans who regard it 
alone as entitled to exercise such control, implies that there is not that 
unity of supreme control over the outward actions of men which consti- 
tutes sovereignty and is necessary to the complete organisation of a 
state. The state has either not reached complete organisation, or is for 
the time disorganised the disorganisation being more or less serious ac- 
cording to the degree to which the everyday rights of men (their ordi- 
nary freedom of action and acquisition) are interfered with by this want 
of unity in the supreme control. 

106. In such a state of things, the citizen has no rule of right (in the 
strict sense of the word) to guide him. He is pretty sure to think that one 
or other of the competing powers has a right to his obedience because, 
being himself interested (not necessarily selfishly interested) in its sup- 
port, he does not take account of its lacking that general recognition as 
a power necessary to the common good which is requisite in order to 
give it a right. But we looking back may see that there was no such 
right. Was there then nothing to direct him either way? Simply I should 
answer, the general rule of looking to the moral good of mankind, to 
which a necessary means is the organisation of the state, which again 
requires unity of supreme control, in the common interest, over the out- 
ward actions of men. The citizen ought to have resisted or obeyed either 
of the competing authorities according as by doing so he contributed 
most to the organisation of the state in the sense explained. It must be 
admitted that without more knowledge and foresight than the individual 

80/T.H. Green 

can be expected to possess, this rule, if he had recognised it, could have 
afforded him no sure guidance; but this is only to say that there are 
times of political difficulty in which the line of conduct adopted may 
have the most important effect, but in which it is very hard to know 
what is the proper line to take. On the other side must be set the con- 
sideration that the man who brings with him the character most free 
from egotism to the decision even of those questions of conduct, as to 
which established rules of right and wrong are of no avail, is most sure 
on the whole to take the line which yields the best results. 

107. We come next to the question of the possible duty of resistance 
in cases where no law, acknowledged or half-acknowledged, written or 
customary, can be appealed to against a command (general or particu- 
lar) that seems contrary to public good; where no counter-sovereignty, 
in the natural sense of the words, can be alleged against that of the 
imponent of the law; and where at the same time, from the people hav- 
ing no share, direct or indirect, in the government, there is no means of 
obtaining a repeal of the law by legal means. I say the duty of resistance 
because, from the point of view adopted, there can be no right unless 
there is a duty of resistance, since there can be no right unless on the 
ground that it is for common good, and if so there is a duty. In writings 
of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, starting with the assump- 
tion of natural rights, the question was never put on its proper footing. It 
was not asked. When for the sake of the common good the citizen ought 
to resist the sovereign? but. What sort of injury to person or property 
gave him a natural right to resist? Now there is sense in inquiring upon 
what sort and amount of provocation from government individuals in- 
evitably will resist how in Spinoza's language that indignatio [indigna- 
tion] is excited which leads them in unum conspirare [to conspire to- 
gether] but there is none in asking what gives them a right to resist, 
unless we suppose a wrong done to society in their persons; and then it 
becomes a question not of right merely but of duty, whether the wrong 
done is such as to demand resistance. Now when the question is thus 
put, no one presumably would deny that under certain conditions there 
might be a duty of resistance to sovereign power. 

108. Itis important, however, thatinstead of discussing the right of 
a majority to resist we should discuss the duty of resistance as equally 
possible for a minority and a majority. There can be no right of a written 
or majority of citizens, as such, to resist a sovereign. If, by law, custom- 
ary, the majority of citizens possess or share in the sovereign power. 

Principles of Political Obligation/81 

then any conflict that may arise between it and any power cannot be a 
conflict between it and the sovereign. The majority may have a right to 
resist such a power, but it will not be a right to resist a sovereign. If, on 
the other hand, the majority of citizens have no share by law or custom 
in the supreme law-making and enforcing power, they never can have a 
right, simply as a majority to resist that power. In such a case, there may 
arise a social duty to resist, and the exercise of men's powers in fulfilment 
of that duty may be sustained by such a general recognition of its being 
for the public good, as to become a right; but the resistance may be a 
duty before a majority of the citizens approve it and does not necessar- 
ily become a duty when a majority of them do approve it; while that 
general recognition of its exercise as being for the common good, through 
which the power of resistance becomes a right, must be something more 
habitual and sustained and penetrating than any vote of a majority can 
convey. Incidentally, however, the consideration of the attitude of the 
mass of the people in regard to a contemplated resistance to established 
government must always be most important in determining the question 
whether the resistance should be made. It should be made, indeed if at 
all not because the majority approve it but because it is for the public 
good, but account must be taken of the state of mind of the majority in 
considering whether it is for the public good or no. The presumption 
must generally be that resistance to a government is not for the public 
good when made on grounds which the mass of the people cannot ap- 
preciate; and it must be on the presence of a strong and intelligent popu- 
lar sentiment in favour of resistance that the chance of avoiding anar- 
chy, of replacing the existing government by another effectual for its 
purpose, must chiefly depend. On the other hand it is under the worst 
governments that. the public spirit is most crushed; and thus in extreme 
cases there may be a duty of resistance in the public interest, though 
there is no hope of the resistance finding efficient popular support. (An 
instance is the Mazzinian outbreaks in Italy.) Its repeated renewal and 
repeated failure may afford the only prospect of ultimately arousing the 
public spirit which is necessary for the maintenance of a government in 
the public interest. And just as there may thus be a duty of resistance on 
the part of a hopeless minority so on the other side resistance even to a 
monarchic or oligarchic government is not justified by the fact that a 
majority, perhaps in some temporary fit of irritation or impatience, is 
ready to support it, if, as may very well be, the objects for which gov- 
ernment subsists — the general freedom of action and acquisition and 

82/T.H. Green 

self-development are likely to suffer from an overthrow of the govern- 
ment in the popular interest. 

109. No precise rule, therefore, can be laid down as to the condi- 
tions under which resistance to a despotic government becomes a duty. 
But the general questions which the good citizen should ask himself in 
contemplating such resistance will be, (a) What prospect is there of 
resistance to the sovereign power leading to a modification of its char- 
acter or an improvement in its exercise without its subversion? (b) If it 
is overthrown, is the temper of the people such — are the influences on 
which the general maintenance of social order and the fabric of recognised 
rights depend so far separable from it — that its overthrow will not mean 
anarchy? (c) If its overthrow does lead to anarchy, is the whole system 
of law and government so perverted by private interests hostile to the 
public, that there has ceased to be any common interest in maintaining 

110. Such questions are so little likely to be impartially considered 
at a time when resistance to a despotic government is in contemplation, 
and, however impartially considered, are so intrinsically difficult to an- 
swer, that it may seem absurd to dwell on them. No doubt revolutionists 
do and must to a great extent 'go it blind. ' Such beneficent revolutions 
as there have been could not have been if they did not. But in most of 
those questions of right and wrong in conduct, which have to be settled 
by consideration of the probable effects of the conduct, the estimate of 
effects which regulates our approval or disapproval 'upon a retrospec- 
tive survey,' and according to which we say that an act should or should 
not have been done, is not one which we could expect the agent himself 
to have made. The effort to make it would have paralysed his power of 

1 1 1 . In the simple cases of moral duty, where there is no real doubt 
as to the effects of this or that action and danger arises from interested 
self-sophistication, we can best decide for ourselves whether we ought 
to act in this way or that by asking whether it is what is good in us a 
disinterested or unselfish motive — that moves us to act in this way or 
that; and in judging of the actions of others, where the issues and cir- 
cumstances are simple, the moral question the question of 'ought' or 
'ought not' is often best put in the form. How far was the action such as 
could represent a good character? That indeed is the form in which the 
question should always be put, when the nature of the case admits it; 
since, as argued in lectures on the moral criterion, it is only in its rela- 

Principles of Political Obligation/83 

tion to character that action is in the full sense good or bad, the object of 
moral approval and disapproval. But where the probable effects of a 
certain line of action are at the time of taking it very obscure, we cannot 
be sure that relatively the best character will lead a man to take the line 
which turns out best in the result, or that because a line of action has 
turned out well in result, the character of the man who adopted it was 
good. This being so, in judging of the act retrospectively, we have to 
estimate it by the result simply, in abstraction from the character of the 
agent. Thus in looking back upon a revolutionary outbreak we can only 
judge whether it was vindicated by the result. If in the light of the result 
it appears that the conditions were not present under which it would 
have furthered rather than interfered with the true objects of govern- 
ment, we judge that it should not have been made; if otherwise, we 
approve it — ^judge that the persons concerned in it were doing their duty 
in acting as they did. But whether they were really in the full sense of the 
term doing their duty in acting as they did in a case when the outbreak 
was successful, or not doing it in a case where it failed, is what we 
simply cannot tell; for this depends on the state of character which their 
action represented, and that is beyond our ken. 

112. Such is the necessary, imperfection under which all historical 
judgments labour though historians are not apt to recognise it and would 
be thought much more dull if they did. They would have fewer readers if 
they confined themselves to the analysis of situations, which may be 
correctly made, and omitted judgments on the morality of individuals 
for which, in the proper sense, the data can never be forthcoming. We 
scarcely have them for ourselves except that we know that we are none 
of us what we should be still less for our intimate acquaintances; not at 
all for men whom we only know through history past or present. In 
regard to them, we can only fall back on the generalisation, that the best 
man — the man most disinterestedly devoted to the perfecting of human- 
ity, in some form or other, in his own person or that of others — is most 
likely to act in a way that is good as measured by its results, those 
results again being estimated with reference to an ideal of character, 
that this is so even under circumstances of political complication; that 
appearances to the contrary appearances of harm done from good mo- 
tives, may be met by the considerations, (1) that there is often much 
egotism, in what calls itself conscientiousness, and that the 'conscien- 
tious' motives which lead to mischievous acts may not be in the highest 
sense disinterested; (2) that to what we call the consequences of an ac- 

84/T.H. Green 

tion many influences contribute besides the action which we call the 
cause, and if evil seems to clog the consequences of action pure in mo- 
tive, this may be due to other influences connected with motives less 
worthy, and that the consequences which in the rough we call bad might 
have been worse but for the intervention of the purely-motivated action; 
(3) that the beneficent results are often put to the credit of the actions of 
selfish men when they should rather be credited to influences more re- 
mote and complex, without which those actions would have been im- 
possible or had no good effect, and which have arisen out of unselfish 
activities. We see the evil in a course of events and lay the blame on 
someone who should have acted differently, and whom perhaps we take 
as an instance of how good men cause mischief; but we do not see the 
greater evil which would otherwise have ensued. 

In regard to the questions stated above as those which the good 
citizen should ask himself in contemplation of a possible rebellion, though 
they are questions to which it is impossible for a citizen in the heat of a 
revolutionary crisis to give a sufficient answer, and which in fact can 
only be answered after the event, yet they represent objects which the 
good citizen will set before himself at such times; and in proportion to 
the amount of good citizenship, as measured by interest in these objects 
(interest in making the best of existing institutions, in maintaining social 
order and the general fabric of rights, the interest which leads to a bona 
fide estimate of the value of the existing go governmentin its relation to 
public good) will be the good result of the political movement. 

G. Will, Not Force, is the Basis of the State 

113. looking back on the political theories we have discussed, we may 
see that they all start with putting the question to be dealt with in the 
same way and that their errors are very much due to the way in which 
they put it. They make no inquiry into the development of society and of 
man through society. They take no account of other forms of commu- 
nity than that regulated by a supreme coercive power, either in the way 
of investigating their historical origin and connection, or of considering 
the ideas and states of mind which they imply or which render them 
possible. They leave out of sight the process by which men have been 
clothed with rights and duties, and with senses of right and duty, which 
are neither natural nor derived from a sovereign power. They look only 
to the supreme coercive power on the one side and to individuals, to 
whom natural rights are ascribed, on the other, and ask what is the 

Principles of Political Obligation/85 

nature and origin of the right of that supreme coercive power as against 
these natural rights of individuals. The question so put can only be an- 
swered by some device for representing the individuals governed as con- 
senting parties to the exercise of government over them. This they no 
doubt are so long as the government is exercised in a way corresponding 
to their several wishes, but so long as this is the case, there is no inter- 
ference with their 'natural liberty' to do as they like. It is only when this 
liberty is interfered with that any occasion arises for an explanation of 
the compatibility of the sovereign's right with the natural right of the 
individual; and it is just then that the explanation by the supposition that 
the right of the sovereign is founded on consent, fails. But the need of 
the fictitious explanation arises from a wrong way of putting the ques- 
tion — the power which regulates our conduct in political society is con- 
ceived in too abstract a way on the one side, and on the other are set over 
against it, as the subjects which it controls, individuals invested with all 
the moral attributes and rights of humanity. But in truth it is only as 
members of a society, as recognising common interests and objects, that 
individuals come to have these attributes and rights, and the power, 
which in a political society they have to obey is derived from the devel- 
opment and systematisation of those institutions for the regulation of a 
common life without which they would have no rights at all. 

114. To ask why I am to submit to the power of the state, is to ask 
why I am to allow my life to be regulated by that complex of institutions 
without which I literally should not have a life to call my own, nor 
should be able to ask for a justification of what I am called on to do. For 
that I may have a life which I can call my own, I must not only be 
conscious of myself and of ends which I present to myself as mine; I 
must be able to reckon on a certain freedom of action and acquisition 
for the attainment of those ends, and this can only be secured through 
common recognition of this freedom on the part of each other by mem- 
bers of a society, as being for a common good. Without this, the very 
consciousness of having ends of his own and a life which he can direct 
in a certain way — of which he can make something would remain dor- 
mant in a man. It is true that slaves have been found to have this con- 
sciousness in high development; but a slave even at his lowest has been 
partly made what he is by an ancestral life which was not one of slavery 
pure and simple a life in which certain elementary rights were secured to 
the members of a society through their recognition of a common inter- 
est. He retains certain spiritual aptitudes from that state of family or 

86/T.H. Green 

tribal freedom. This perhaps is all that could be said of most of the 
slaves on plantations in modern times, but the slavery of the ancient 
world, being mainly founded on captivity in war, was compatible with a 
considerable amount of civilisation on the part of the slaves at the time 
when their slavery began. A Jewish slave, e.g., would carry with him 
into slavery a thoroughly developed conception of right and law. Sla- 
very moreover, implies the establishment of some regular system of rights 
in the slave-owning society. The slave, especially the domestic slave, 
has the signs and effects of this system all about him. Hence such el- 
ementary consciousness of rights of powers that are his own to make the 
best of as the born slave may inherit from an ancestral life of freedom, 
finds a stimulus to its inward development, though no opportunity for 
outward exercise, in the habits and ideas of civilised life with which a 
common language enables the slave to become conversant, and which 
through the sympathy implied in a common language he to some extent 
makes his own. Thus the appearance in slaves of the conception that 
self mastery is properly theirs, does not conflict with the proposition 
that only so far as a certain freedom of action and acquisition is secured 
to a body of men through their recognition of the exercise of that free- 
dom by each other as being for the common good, is there an actualisation 
of the individual's consciousness of having life and ends of his own. The 
exercise, manifestation, expression of this consciousness through a free- 
dom secured in the way described is necessary to its real existence, just 
as language of some sort is necessary to the real existence of thought, 
and bodily movement to that of the soul. 

115. The demand, again, for a justification of what one is called on 
by authority to do presupposes some standard of right, recognised as 
equally valid for and by the person making the demand and others who 
form a society with him, and such a recognised standard in turn implies 
institutions for the regulation of men's dealings with each other, institu- 
tions of which the relation to the consciousness of right may be com- 
pared, as above, to that of language to thought. It cannot be said that the 
most elementary consciousness of right is prior to them, or they to it. 
They are the expression in which it becomes real. As conflicting with 
the momentary inclinations of the individual, these institutions are a 
power which he obeys unwillingly; which he has to, or is made to, obey. 
But it is only through them that the consciousness takes shape and form 
which expresses itself in the question, 'Why should I thus be constrained? 
By what right is my natural right to do as I like overborne?' 

Principles of Political Obligation/87 

116. The doctrine that the rights of government are founded on the 
consent of the governed is a confused way of stating the truth that the 
institutions by which man is moralised by which he comes to do what he 
sees that he must as distinct from what he would like — express a con- 
ception of a common good; that through them that conception takes 
form and reality; and that it is in turn through its presence in the indi- 
vidual that they have a constraining power over him — a power which is 
not that of mere fear, still less a physical compulsion, but which leads 
him to do what he is not inclined to because there is a law that he should 
Rousseau, it will be remembered, speaks of the 'social pact' not merely 
as the foundation of sovereignty or civil government, but as the founda- 
tion of morality. Through it man becomes a moral agent; for slavery to 
appetite he substitutes freedom of subjection to self-imposed law. If he 
had seen at the same time that rights do not begin till duties begin, and 
that if there was no morality prior to the pact there could not be rights, 
he might have been saved from the error which the notion of there being 
natural rights introduces into his theory. But though he does not seem 
himself to have been aware of the full bearing of his own conception, the 
conception itself is essentially true. Setting aside the fictitious represen- 
tation of an original covenant as having given birth to that common 
'ego' or general will, without which no such covenant would have been 
possible, and of obligations arising out of it, as out of a bargain made 
between one man and another, it remains true that only through a recog- 
nition by certain men of a common interest, and through the expression 
of that recognition in certain regulations of their dealings with each 
other, could morality originate, or any meaning be gained for such terms 
as 'ought' and 'right' and their equivalents. 

117. Morality, in the first instance, is the observance of such regu- 
lations, and though a higher morality the morality of the character gov- 
erned by 'disinterested motives' i.e., by interestin some form of human 
perfection comes to differentiate itself from this primitive morality con- 
sisting in the observance of rules established for a common good, yet 
this 'outward' morality is the presupposition of the 'higher.' Morality 
and political subjection thus have a common source — 'political subjec- 
tion' being distinguished from that of a slave, as a subjection which 
secures rights to the subject. That common source is the rational recog- 
nition by certain human beings it may be merely by children of the same 
parent — of a common well-being which is their well-being, and which 
they conceive as their well-being whether at any moment any one of 

88/T.H. Green 

them is inclined to it or no, and the embodiment of that recognition in 
rules by which the inclinations of the individuals are restrained, and a 
corresponding freedom of action for the attainment of well-being on the 
whole is secured. 

118. From this common source morality and political subjection in 
all its forms always retain two elements in common — one consisting in 
antagonism to some inclination, the other consisting in the conscious- 
ness that the antagonism to inclination is founded on reason or on the 
conception of some adequate good. It is the antagonism to inclination 
involved in the moral life, as alone we know it, that makes it proper to 
speak analogically of moral 'laws' and 'imperatives.' It must be re- 
membered, however, that such language is analogical, and that there is 
an essential difference between laws in the strictest sense laws which 
are indeed not adequately described as general commands of a political 
superior, sanctioned by liability to pains which that superior can inflict, 
but in which a command so sanctioned is an essential element — and the 
laws of conscience, of which it is the peculiar dignity that they have no 
external imponent and no sanction consisting in fear of bodily evil. The 
relation of constraint, in the one case between the man and the exter- 
nally imposed law, in the other between some particular desire of the 
man and his consciousness of something absolutely desirable, we natu- 
rally represent in English, when we reflect on it, by the common term 
'must.' 'I must connect with the main-drainage,' says the householder 
to himself, reflecting on an edict of the Local Board. 'I must try to get 
A.B. to leave off drinking,' he says to himself, reflecting on a trouble- 
some moral duty of benevolence to his neighbour. And if the 'must' in 
the former case represents in part the knowledge that compulsion may 
be put on the man who neglects to do what he 'must, ' which is no part of 
its meaning in the second, on the other hand the consciousness that the 
constraint is for a common good, which wholly constitutes the power 
over inclination in the second case, must always be an element in that 
obedience which is properly called obedience to law, or civil or political 
obedience. Simple fear can never constitute such obedience. To repre- 
sent it as the basis of civil subjection is to confound the citizen with the 
slave, and to represent the motive which is needed for the restraint of 
those in whom the civil sense is lacking and for an occasional reinforce- 
ment of the law abiding principle in others, as if it were the normal 
influence in habits of life of which the essential value lies in their being 
independent of it. How far in any particular act of conformity to law the 

Principles of Political Obligation/89 

fear of penalties may be operative, it is impossible to say. What is cer- 
tain is that a habit of subjection founded upon such fear could not be a 
basis of political or free society to which it is necessary, not indeed that 
everyone subject to the laws should take part in voting them, still less 
that he should consent to their application to himself, but that it should 
represent an idea of common good, which each member of the society 
can make his own so far as he is rational, or capable of the conception 
of common good, however much particular passions may lead him to 
ignore it and thus necessitate the use of force to prevent him from doing 
that which, so far as influenced by the conception of common good, he 
would willingly abstain from. 

119. Whether the legislative and administrative agencies of society 
can be kept in the main free from bias by private interests and true to the 
idea of common good without popular control — whether again, if they 
can, that 'civil sense,' that appreciation of common good, on the part of 
the subjects, which is as necessary to free or political society as the 
direction of law to the maintenance of common good, can be kept alive 
without active participation of the people in legislative functions, is a 
question of circumstances which perhaps does not admit of unqualified 
answer. The views of those who looked mainly to the highest develop- 
ment of political life in a single small society have to be modified if the 
object sought for is the extension of political life to the largest number 
of people. The size of modern states renders necessary the substitution 
of a representative system for one in which the citizens shared directly 
in legislation, and this so far tends to weaken the active interest of the 
citizens in the commonwealth, though the evil may partly be counter- 
acted by giving increased importance to municipal or communal admin- 
istration. In some states, from the want of homogeneity or facilities of 
communication, a representative legislature is scarcely possible. In oth- 
ers, where it exists, a great amount of power, virtually exempt from 
popular control, has to be left with what Rousseau would have called 
the 'prince or magistrate. In all this there is a lowering of civil vitality as 
compared with that of the ancient, and perhaps of some exceptionally 
developed modern, commonwealths. But perhaps this is a temporary 
loss that we have to bear as the price of having recognised the claim to 
citizenship as the claim of all men. Certainly all political ideals, which 
require active and direct participation by the citizens in the functions of 
the sovereign state, fail us as soon as we try to conceive their realisation 
on the wide area even of civilised mankind. It is easy to conceive a better 

90/T.H. Green 

system than that of the great states of modern Europe, with their na- 
tional jealousies, rival armies and hostile tariffs, but the condition of 
any better state of things would seem to be the recognition of some 
single constraining power, which would be even more remote from the 
active co-operation of the individual citizen than is the sovereign power 
of the great states at present. 

120. These considerations may remind us how far removed from 
any foundation in their own will the requirements of the modern state 
must seem to be to most of those who have to submit to them. It is true 
that the necessity which the state lays upon the individual is for the most 
part one to which he is so accustomed that he no longer kicks against it; 
but what is it, we may ask, but an external necessity, which he no more 
lays on himself than he does the weight of the atmosphere or the pres- 
sure of summer heat and winter frosts, that compels the ordinary citizen 
to pay rates and taxes, to serve in the army, to abstain from walking 
over the squire's fields or snaring his hares, or fishing in preserved 
streams, to pay rent, or respect those artificial rights of property which 
only the possessors of them have any obvious interestin maintaining, or 
even (if he is one of the 'proletariate') to keep his hands off the superflu- 
ous wealth of his neighbour, when he has none of his own to lose? Granted 
that there are good reasons of social expediency for maintaining institu- 
tions which thus compel the individual to actions and forbearances that 
are none of his willing, is it not abusing words to speak of them as 
founded on a conception of general good? A conception does not float in 
the air. It must be somebody's conception. Whose conception, then, of 
general good is it that these institutions represent? Not that of most of 
the people who conform to them, for they do so because they are made 
to, or have come to do so habitually from having been long made to (in 
the sense of being frightened of the consequences of not conforming — 
not of consequences which follow from not conforming in the ordinary 
course of nature, but of consequences which the state inflicts, artificial 
consequences.) But when a man is said to obey an authority from inter- 
est in a common good, some other good is meant than that which con- 
sists in escaping the punishment which the authority would inflict on 
disobedience. Is the conception of common good alleged, then, a con- 
ception of it on the part of those who founded or maintain the institu- 
tions in question? But is it not certain that private interests have been 
the main agents in establishing, and are still in maintaining, at any rate 
all the more artificial rights of property? Have not our modern states 

Principles of Political Obligation/91 

again, in neariy every case, been founded on conquest, and are not the 
actual institutions of government in great measure the direct result of 
such conquest, or, where revolutions have intervened, of violence which 
has been as little governed by any conception of general good? Suppos- 
ing that philosophers can find exquisite reasons for considering the in- 
stitutions and requirements which have resulted from all this self-seek- 
ing and violence to be contributory to the common good of those who 
have to submit to them, is it not trifling to speak of them as founded on 
or representing a conception of this good, when no such conception has 
influenced those who established, maintain, or submit to them? And is it 
not seriously misleading to speak of an obedience to the requirements of 
the state, when these requirements have so largely arisen out of force 
directed by selfish motives and when the motive to the obedience is 
determined by fear, as having a common source with the morality of 
which it is admitted that the essence is to be disinterested and spontane- 

121. If we would meet these objections fairly certain admissions, 
must be made. That idea of a common good which the state fulfils has 
never been the sole influence actuating those who have been agents in 
the historical process by which states have come to be formed; and even 
so far as it has actuated them, it has been only as conceived in some very 
imperfect form that it has done so. This is equally true of those who 
contribute to the formation and maintenance of states rather as agents, 
and of those who do so rather as patients. No one could pretend that 
even the most thoughtful and dispassionate publicist is capable of the 
idea of the good served by the state to which he belongs, in all its fulness. 
He apprehends it only in some of its bearings, but it is as a common 
good that he apprehends it, i.e., not as a good for himself or for this man 
or that more than another, but for all members equally in virtue of their 
relation to each other and their common nature. The idea of the common 
good served by the state on the part of the ordinary citizen, is much 
more limited in content. Very likely he does not think of it at all in 
connection with anything that the term 'state' represents to him. But he 
has a clear understanding of certain interests and rights common to him- 
self with his neighbours — if only such as consist in getting his wages 
paid at the end of the week, in getting his money's worth at the shop, in 
the inviolability of his own person and his wife's. Habitually and in- 
stinctively i.e., without asking the reason why he regards the claim which 
in these respects he makes for himself as conditional upon his recognising 

92/T.H. Green 

a like claim in others, and thus as in the proper sense a right a claim of 
which the essence lies in its being common to himself with others. With- 
out this instinctive recognition he is one of the 'dangerous classes,' vir- 
tually outlawed by himself. With it, though he has no reverence for the 
'state' under that name, no sense of an interest shared with others in 
maintaining it, he has the needful elementary conception of a common 
good maintained by law. It is the fault of the state if this conception fails 
to make him a loyal subject, if not an intelligent patriot. It is a sign that 
the state is not a true state that it is not fulfilling its primary function of 
maintaining law equally in the interest of all, but is being administered 
in the interest of classes; whence it follows that the obedience which, if 
not rendered willingly, the state compels the citizen to render, is not one 
that he feels any spontaneous interest in rendering, because it does not 
present itself to him as the condition of the maintenance of those rights 
and interests, common to himself with his neighbours, which he under- 

122. But even if the law which regulates private relations and its 
administration are so equally applied to all, that all who are capable of 
a common interest are prompted by that interest to conform to the law, 
the result is still only the loyal subject as distinct from the intelligent 
patriot, i.e., as distinct from the man who so appreciates the good which 
in common with others he derives from the state — from the nation 
organised in the form of a self-governing community to which he be- 
longs — as to have a passion for serving it whether in the way of defend- 
ing it from external attack or developing it from within. The citizens of 
the Roman Empire were loyal subjects; the admirable maintenance of 
private rights made them that; but they were not intelligent patriots, and 
chiefly because they were not, the empire fell. That active interest in the 
service of the state, which makes patriotism in the better sense, can 
hardly arise while the individual's relation to the state is that of a pas- 
sive recipient of protection in the exercise of his rights of person and 
property. While this is the case, he will give the state no thanks for the 
protection which he will not specially associate with it, and will only be 
conscious of it when it descends upon him with some unusual demand 
for service or payment, and then he will be conscious of it in the way of 
resentment. If he is to have a higher feeling of political duty, he must 
take part in the work of the state. He must have a share, direct or indi- 
rect, by himself acting as a member or by voting for the members of 
supreme or provincial assemblies, in making and maintaining the laws 

Principles of Political Obligation/93 

which he obeys. Only thus will he learn to regard the work of the state 
as a whole, and to transfer to the whole the interest which otherwise his 
particular experience would lead him to feel only in that part of its work 
that goes to the maintenance of his own and his neighbour's rights. 

123. And even then his patriotism will hardly be the passion which 
it needs to be, unless his judgement of what he owes to the state is 
quickened by a feeling of which the patria, the fatherland, the seat of 
one's home, is the natural object and of which the state becomes the 
object only so far as it is an organisation of a people to whom the indi- 
vidual feels himself bound by ties analogous to those which bind him to 
his family — ties derived from a common dwelling-place with its asso- 
ciations, from common memories, traditions and customs, and from the 
common ways of feeling and thinking which a common language and 
still more a common literature embodies. Such an organisation of an 
homogeneous people the modern state in most cases is (the two Austrian 
states being the most conspicuous exceptions), and such the Roman 
state emphatically was not. 

124. But, it will be said, we are here again falling back on our 
unproved assumption that the state is an institution for the promotion of 
a common good. This granted, it is not difficult to make out that in most 
men at any rate there is a sufficient interest in some form of social well- 
being, sufficient understanding of the community between their own 
well-being and their neighbours,' to make them loyal to such an institu- 
tion. But the question is, whether the promotion of a common good, at 
any rate in any sense appreciable by the multitude, is any necessary 
characteristic of a state. It is admitted that the outward visible sign of a 
state is the presence of a supreme or independent coercive power, to 
which habitual obedience is rendered by a certain multitude of people, 
and that this power may often be exercised in a manner apparently det- 
rimental to general well-being. It may be the case, as we have tried to 
show that it is, that a power which is in the main so exercised and is 
generally felt to be so, is not likely long to maintain its supremacy, but 
this does not show that a state cannot exist without promotion of the 
common good of its subjects or that (in any intelligible sense) the pro- 
motion of such good belongs to the idea of a state. A short-lived state is 
not therefore not a state, and if it were, it is rather the active interference 
with the subjects' well-being, than a failure to promote it, that is fatal to 
the long life of a state. How, finally, can the state be said to exist for the 
sake of an end, or to fulfil an idea, the contemplation of which, it is 

94/T.H. Green 

admitted, has had little to do with the actions which have had most to do 
with bringing states into existence? 

125. The last question is a crucial one, which must be met at the 
outset. It must be noticed that the ordinary conception of organisation, 
as we apply it in the interpretation of nature, implies that agents may be 
instrumental in the attainment of an end or the fulfilment of an idea of 
which there is no consciousness on the part of the organic agents them- 
selves. If itis true on the one hand that the interpretation of nature by the 
supposition of ends external to it, with reference to which its processes 
are directed, has been discarded, and that its rejection has been the con- 
dition of growth in an exact knowledge of nature, on the other hand the 
recognition of ends immanent in nature, of ideas realised within it, is the 
basis of a scientific explanation of life. The phaenomena of life are not 
'ideal,' in the sense in which the ideal is opposed to that which is sensi- 
bly verifiable, but they are related to the processes of material change 
which are their conditions, as ideas or ideal ends which those processes 
contribute to realise, because while they determine the processes while 
the processes would not be what they are but for relation to them yet 
they are not those processes not identical with any one or number of 
them, or all of them together. Life does not reside in any of the organs of 
life or in any or all of the processes of material change through which 
these pass. Analyse or combine these as you will, you do not detect it as 
the result of the analysis or combination. It is a function or end which 
they realise according to a plan or idea which determines their existence 
before they, exist and survives their disappearance. If it were held, then, 
that the state were an organised community in the same sense in which a 
living body is, of which the members at once contribute to the function 
called life and are made what they are by that function, according to an 
idea of which there is no consciousness on their part, we should only be 
following the analogy of the established method of interpreting nature. 

126. The objection to such a view would be that it represents the 
state as a purely natural, not at all as a moral, organism. Moral agency 
is not merely agency by which an end is attained, or an idea realised or 
a function fulfilled, but agency determined by an idea on the part of the 
agent, by his conception of an end or function; and the state would be 
brought into being and sustained by merely natural, as opposed to moral, 
agency unless there were a consciousness of ends and of ends the same 
in principle with that served by the state itself on the part of those by 
whom it is brought into being and sustained. I say 'ends the same in 

Principles of Political Obligation/95 

principle with that served by the state itself,' because if the state arose 
out of the action of men determined indeed by the consciousness of 
ends, but ends wholly heterogeneous to that realised by the state, it would 
not be a moral institution, would not stand in any moral relation to men. 
Now among the influences that have operated in the formation of states, 
a large part, it must be admitted, are simply natural. Such are influences 
of climate, of distribution of mountain and plain, land and water, etc., of 
all physical demarcations and means of communication. But these, it is 
clear, are only organic to the formation of states so far as, so to speak, 
they take a character, which does not belong to them as merely natural, 
from agencies distinctively human. 

127. 'Human, if you like,' it may be replied, 'but not moral, if a 
moral agency implies any reference to a social or human good to a good 
which the individual in any measure desires because it is good for oth- 
ers, or for mankind, as well as himself. In the earth-hunger of conquer- 
ing hordes, in the passions of military despots, in the pride of avarice or 
vindictiveness which moved such men as Louis XI or Henry VIII to 
over-ride the semi-anarchy of feudalism with a real sovereignty, what is 
there of reference to such good? Yet if we suppose the influence of such 
motives as these, together with the natural influences just spoken of, to 
be erased from the history of the formation of states, its distinguishing 
features are gone.' 

128. The selfish motives described must not, any more than the 
natural influences, be regarded in abstraction if we would understand 
their true place in the formation of states. The pure desire for social 
good does not indeed operate in human affairs unalloyed by egotistic 
motives, but on the other hand what we call egotistic motives do not act 
without direction from an involuntary reference to social good 'involun- 
tary' in the sense that it is so much a matter of course that the individual 
does not distinguish it from his ordinary state of mind. The most con- 
spicuous modern instance of a man who was instrumental in working 
great and in some ways beneficial changes in the political order of Eu- 
rope, from what we should be apt to call the most purely selfish mo- 
tives, is Napoleon. Without pretending to analyse these motives pre- 
cisely, we may say that a leading one was the passion for glory; but if 
there is to be truth in the statement that this passion governed Napoleon, 
it must be qualified by the farther statement that the passion was itself 
governed by social influences, operative on him, from which it derived 
its particular direction. With all his egotism, his individuality was so far 

96/T.H. Green 

governed by the action of the national spirit in and upon him that he 
could only glorify himself in the greatness of France; and though the 
national spirit expressed itself in an effort after greatness which was in 
many ways of a mischievous and delusive kind, yet it again had so much 
of what may be called the spirit of humanity in it that it required satis- 
faction in the belief that it was serving mankind. Hence the 
aggrandisement of France, in which Napoleon's passion for glory satis- 
fied itself, had to take at least the semblance of a deliverance of op- 
pressed peoples, and in taking the semblance to a great extent performed 
the reality; at any rate in western Germany and northern Italy, wherever 
the Code Napoleon was introduced. 

129. It is thus that actions of men whom in themselves we reckon 
bad are 'overruled' for good. There is nothing mysterious or unintelli- 
gible in such 'overruling.' There is nothing in the effect which we as- 
cribe to the 'overruling,' any more than in any effect belonging to the 
ordinary course of nature which there was not in the cause as it really 
was and as we should see it to be if we fully understood it. The appear- 
ance to the contrary arises from our taking too partial and abstract a 
view of the cause. We look at the action e.g., of Napoleon with reference 
merely to the selfishness of his motives. We forget how far his motives, 
in respect of their concrete reality — in respect of the actual nature of the 
ends pursued as distinct from the particular relation in which those ends 
stood to his personality were made for him by influences with which his 
selfishness had. nothing to do. It was not his selfishness that made France 
a nation or presented to him continuously an end consisting in the na- 
tional aggrandisement of France, or at particular periods such ends as 
the expulsion of the Austrians from Italy, the establishment of a 
centralised political order in France on the basis of social equality, the 
promulgation of the civil code, the maintenance of the French system 
along the Rhine. His selfishness gave a particular character to his pur- 
suit of these ends, and (so far as it did so) did so for evil. Finally it led 
him into a train of action altogether mischievous. But at each stage of 
his career, if we would understand what his particular agency really 
was, we must take account of his ends in their full character, as deter- 
mined by influences with which his passion for glory no doubt co-oper- 
ated, but which did not originate with it or with him, and in some mea- 
sure represented the struggle of mankind towards perfection. 

130. And not only must we thus correct our too abstract views of 
the particular agency of such a man as Napoleon. If we would under- 

Principles of Political Obligation/97 

stand the apparent results of his action we must bear in mind how much 
besides his particular agency has really gone to produce them, so far as 
they were good, how much of unnoticed effort on the part of men ob- 
scure because unselfish, how much of silent process in the general heart 
of man. Napoleon was called the 'armed soldier of revolution' and it 
was in that character that he rendered what service he did to men; but 
the revolution was not the making of him or his likes. Caesar again we 
have learnt to regard as a benefactor of mankind, but it was not Caesar 
that made the Roman law through which chiefly or solely the Roman 
Empire became a blessing. The idiosyncrasy, then, of the men who have 
been most conspicuous in the production of great changes in the condi- 
tion of mankind, though it has been an essential element in their produc- 
tion, has been so only so far as it has been overborne by influences and 
directed to ends, which were indeed not external to the men in ques- 
tion — which on the contrary helped to make them inwardly and spiritu- 
ally what they really were — but which formed no part of their distin- 
guishing idiosyncrasy. If that idiosyncrasy was conspicuously selfish, it 
was still not through their selfishness that such men contributed to mould 
the institutions by which nations have been civilised and developed, but 
through their fitness to act as organs of impulses and ideas which had 
previously gained a hold on some society of men, and for the realisation 
of which the means and conditions had been preparing quite apart from 
the action of those who became the most noticeable instruments of their 

131. The assertion, then, that an idea of social good is represented 
by or realised in the formation of states, is not to be met by pointing to 
the selfishness and bad passions of men who have been instrumental in 
forming them, if there is reason to think that the influences, under direc- 
tion of which these passions became thus instrumental, are due to the 
action of such an idea. And when we speak thus, we do not refer to any 
action of the idea otherwise than in the consciousness of men. It may be 
legitimate, as we have seen, to consider ideas as existing and acting 
otherwise, and perhaps, on thinking the matter out, we should find our- 
selves compelled to regard the idea of social good as a communication 
to the human consciousness a consciousness developing itself in time 
from an eternally complete consciousness. But here we are considering 
it as a source of the moral action of men, and therefore necessarily as 
having its seat in their consciousness, and the proposition advanced is 
that such an idea is a determining element in the consciousness of the 

98/T.H. Green 

most selfish men who have been instrumental in the formation or main- 
tenance of states; that only through its influence in directing and con- 
trolling their actions could they be so instrumental; and that, though its 
active presence in their consciousness is due to the institutions, the 
organisation of life, under which they are born and bred, the existence 
of these institutions is in turn due to the action, under other conditions, 
of the same idea in the minds of men. 

1 32. It is the necessity of a supreme coercive power to the existence 
of a state that gives plausibility to the view that the action of merely 
selfish passions may lead to the formation of states. They have been 
motive causes, it would seem, in the processes by which this 'imperium' 
has been established; as, e.g., the acquisition of military power by a 
tribal chieftain, the conquest of one tribe by another, the supersession of 
the independent prerogatives of families by a tyrant which was the con- 
dition antecedent of the formation of states in the ancient world, the 
supersession of feudal prerogatives by the royal authority which served 
the same purpose in modern Europe. It is not, however, supreme coer- 
cive power, simply as such, but supreme coercive power, exercised in a 
certain way and for certain ends, that makes a state; viz. exercised ac- 
cording to law, written or customary and for the maintenance of rights. 
The abstract consideration of sovereignty has led to these qualifications 
being overlooked. Sovereignty = supreme coercive power, indeed, but 
such power as exercised in and over a state, which means with the qualifi- 
cations specified: but the mischief of beginning with an inquiry into 
sovereignty, before the idea of a State has been investigated, is that it 
leads us to adopt this abstract notion of sovereignty as merely supreme 
coercive power, and then, when we come to think of the state as distin- 
guished by sovereignty, makes us suppose that supreme coercive power 
is all that is essential to a state, forgetting that it is rather the state that 
makes the sovereign than the sovereign that makes the state. Supposing 
one man had been master of all the slaves in one of the states of the 
American Union, there would have been a multitude of men under one 
supreme coercive power, but the slaves and the master would have formed 
no state, because there would have been no (recognised) rights of slave 
against slave enforced by the master, nor would dealings between mas- 
ter and slaves have been regulated by any law, and in consequence the 
multitude consisting of slaves and master would not have been a state. 
The fact that sovereign power, as implied in the fact of its supremacy, 
can alter any laws, is apt to make us overlook the necessity of confor- 

Principles of Political Obligation/99 

mity to law on the part of the sovereign, if he is to be sovereign of a 
state. A power that altered laws otherwise than according to law, ac- 
cording to a constitution, written or unwritten, would be incompatible 
with the existence of a state, which is a body of persons, recognised by 
each other as having rights, and possessing certain institutions for the 
maintenance of those rights. The office of the sovereign, as an institu- 
tion of such a society, is to protect those rights from invasion, either 
from without, from foreign nations, or from within, from members of 
the society who cease to behave as such. Its supremacy is the society's 
independence of such attacks from without or within. It is an agency of 
the society, or the society itself acting for this end. If the power, existing 
for this end, is used on the whole otherwise than in conformity either 
with a formal constitution or with customs which virtually serve the 
purpose of a constitution, it is no longer an institution for the mainte- 
nance of rights and ceases to be the agent of a state. We only count 
Russia a state by a sort of courtesy on the supposition that the power of 
the Czar, though subject to no constitutional control is so far exercised 
in accordance with a recognised tradition of what the public good re- 
quires as to be on the whole a sustainer of rights. 

It is true that just as in a state, all law being derived from the sover- 
eign, there is a sense in which the sovereign is not bound by any law, so 
there is a sense in which all rights are derived from the sovereign and no 
power which the sovereign refuses to allow can be a right; but it is only 
in the sense that, the sovereign being the state acting in a certain capac- 
ity, and the state being an institution for the more complete and harmo- 
nious maintenance of the rights of its members, a power, claimed as a 
right, but which the state or sovereign refuses to allow, cannot be really 
compatible with the general system of rights. In other words, it is true 
only on supposition that a state is made a state by the function which it 
fulfils of maintaining the rights of its members as a whole or a system, 
in such a way that none gains at the expense of another (no one has any 
power guaranteed to him through another's being deprived of that power). 
Thus the state, or the sovereign as a characteristic institution of the 
state, does not create rights, but gives fuller reality to rights already 
existing. It secures and extends the exercise of powers, which men, in- 
fluenced in dealing with each other by an idea of common good, had 
recognised in each other as being capable of direction to that common 
good, and had already in a certain measure secured to each other in 
consequence of that recognition. It is not a state unless it does so. 

100/T.H. Green 

133. It may be said that this is an arbitrary restriction of the term 
'state.' If any other word, indeed, can be found to express the same 
thing, by all means let it be used instead. But some word is wanted for 
the purpose, because as a matter of fact societies of men, already pos- 
sessing rights, and whose dealings with each other have been regulated 
by customs conformable to those rights, but not existing in the form to 
which the term 'state' has just been applied — i.e., not having a system- 
atic law in which the rights recognised are expressed and harmonised, 
and which is enforced by a power strong enough at once to protect a 
society against disturbance within and aggression from without — have 
come to take on that form. A word is needed to express that form of 
society both according to the idea of it which has been operative in the 
minds of the members of the societies which have undergone the change 
described, an idea only gradually taking shape as the change proceeded, 
and according to the more explicit and distinct idea of it which we form 
in reflecting on the process. The word 'state' is the one naturally used 
for the purpose. The exact degree to which the process must have been 
carried before the term 'state' can be applied to the people in which it 
has gone on cannot be precisely determined, but as a matter of fact we 
never apply it except in cases where it has gone some way, and we are 
justified in speaking of the state according to its idea as the society in 
which it is completed. 

1 34. It is a mistake then to think of the state as an aggregation of 
individuals under a sovereign — equally so whether we suppose the indi- 
viduals as such, or apart from what they derive from society, to possess 
natural rights, or suppose them to depend on the sovereign for the pos- 
session of rights. A state presupposes other forms of community, with 
the rights that arise out of them, and only exists as sustaining, securing, 
and completing them. In order to make a state there must have been 
families of which the members recognised rights in each other (recognised 
in each other powers capable of direction by reference to a common 
good); there must further have been intercourse between families, or 
between tribes that have grown out of families, of which each in the 
same sense recognised rights in the other. The recognition of a right 
being very short of its definition, the admission of a right in each other 
by two parties, whether individuals, families, or tribes, being very dif- 
ferent from agreement as to what the right consists in — what it is a right 
to do or acquire — the rights recognised need definition and reconcilia- 
tion in a general law. When such a general law has been arrived at. 

Principles of Political Obligation/lOl 

regulating the position of members of a family towards each other and 
the dealings of families or tribes with each other; when it is voluntarily 
recognised by a community of families or tribes, and maintained by a 
power strong enough at once to enforce it within the community and to 
defend the integrity of the community against attacks from without, then 
the elementary state has been formed. 

1 35. That, however, is the beginning, not the end, of the state. When 
once it has come into being, new rights arise in it and further purposes 
are served by it. New rights arise in it ( 1 ) through the claim for recogni- 
tion on the part of families and tribes living on the same territory with 
those which in community form the state but living at first in some 
relation of subjection to them. A common humanity, of which language 
is the expression, necessarily leads to recognition of some good as com- 
mon to these families with those which form the state. This is in prin- 
ciple the recognition of rights on their part; and the consequent embodi- 
ment of this recognition in the law of the state is their admission as 
members of it (Instances of this process are found in the states of Greece 
and the early history of Rome.) (2) The same thing may happen in re- 
gard to external communities ('external' territorially), whether these have 
been already formed into states or no. It may happen through conquest 
of one by another, through their submission to a common conqueror, as 
under the Roman empire, or through voluntary combination (as with the 
Swiss cantons and the United States of America). However the combi- 
nation may arise, it results in new rights as between the combined com- 
munities within the system of a single state. (3) The extended inter- 
course between individuals, which formation of the state renders pos- 
sible, leads to new complications in their dealings with each other, and 
with it to new forms of right, especially in regard to property — rights as 
far removed from any obvious foundation on the suum cuique principle 
as that of a college to the great tithes of a parish for which it does 
nothing. (4) The administration of the state gives rise to rights; to the 
establishment of powers necessary for its administration. (5) New situ- 
ations of life may arise out of the extended dealings of man with man 
which the state renders possible, e.g. through crowding of population in 
certain localities, which make new modes of protecting the people a 
matter virtually of right. And, as new rights arise in the state once formed, 
so further purposes are served. It leads to a development and moralisation 
of man beyond the stage which they must have reached before it could 
be possible. 

102/T.H. Green 

136. On this I shall dwell more next term. What I am now con- 
cerned to point out is that, however necessary a factor force may have 
been in the process by which states have been formed and transformed, 
it has only been such a factor as co-operating with those ideas without 
which rights could not exist. I say 'could not exist,' not 'could not be 
recognised,' because rights are made by recognition. There is no right 
but thinking makes it so none that is not derived from some idea that 
men have about each other. Nothing is more real than a right, yet its 
existence is purely ideal, if by 'ideal' is meant that which is not depen- 
dent on anything material but has its being solely ideal realities that 
force is subordinate in consciousness. It is to these in the creation and 
development of states. The force of conquest from without, the force 
exercised within communities by such agents as the early Greek Tyrants 
or the royal suppressors of feudalism in modern Europe, has only con- 
tributed to the formation of states in so far as its effects have takin a 
character which did not belong to them as effects of force through their 
operation in a moral world, in which rights already existed, resting on 
the recognition by men of each other as determined, or capable of being 
determined, by the conception of a common good. It is not indeed true 
that only a state can produce a state, though modern history might seem 
to favour that notion. As a matter of fact the formation of modern states 
through feudalism out of an earlier tribal system has been dependent on 
ideas derived from, if not on institutions actually handed down from, the 
Roman state; and the improvement and development of the state system 
which has taken place since the French Revolution has been through 
agencies which all presuppose and are determined by the previous exist- 
ence of states. But the Greek states, so far as we know, were a first 
institution of the kind, not a result of propagation from previously exist- 
ing states. But the action, which brought them into being, was only 
effectual for its purpose because the idea of right, though only in the 
form of family or tribal right, was already in in operation. Next term I 
hope further to pursue the subject of the functions of the State: to con- 
sider the rationale of the rights which it maintains or should maintain, 
and its further office (if it turns out to have such an office) in the moral- 
ization of man beyond the enforcement of rights. This will lead us on to 
the consideration of 'social virtues.' 

Principles of Political Obligation/lOS 

H. Has the Citizen Rigiits Against tine State? 

1 37. 1 propose to pursue the inquiry, begun last term, into the nature and 
functions of the state. Last term we were chiefly occupied with criti- 
cism. We have seen that no true conception of the rights of individuals 
against each other or against the state, or of the rights of the state over 
individuals, can be arrived at, while we look upon the state merely as an 
aggregation of individuals under a sovereign power that is able to com- 
pel their obedience, and consider this power of compelling a general 
obedience to be the characteristic thing in a state. So long as this view is 
retained, no satisfactory answer can be given to the question, by what 
right the sovereign compels the obedience of individuals. It can only be 
met either by some device for representing the individuals as so consent- 
ing to the exercise of sovereign power over them that it is no violation of 
their individual rights, or by representing the rights of individuals as 
derived from the sovereign and thus as having no existence against it. 
But it is obviously very often against the will of individuals that sover- 
eign power is exercised over them; indeed if it were not so, its character- 
istic as a power of compulsion would be lost; it would not be a sover- 
eign power; and the fact that the majority of a given multitude may 
consent to its exercise over an unconsenting minority is no justification 
for its exercise over that minority, if its justification is founded on con- 
sent; the representation that the minority virtually consents to be bound 
by the will of the majority being an obvious fiction. On the other hand, 
the theory that all right is derived from a sovereign, that it is a power of 
which the sovereign secures the exercise to the individual, and that there- 
fore there can be no right against that sovereign, conflicts with the pri- 
mary demands of human consciousness. It implies the identification of 
'I ought' with ' I am forced to.' Reducing the 'right' of the sovereign 
simply to a power, it makes it unintelligible that this power should yet 
represent itself, and claim obedience to itself, as a right. No such theory 
indeed admits of consistent statement. To say (with Hobbes) that a law 
may be inequitable or pernicious, though it cannot be unjust, is to admit 
a criticism of laws, a distinction between those enactments of the sover- 
eign which are what they should be and those which are not. And this is 
to recognise the individual's demand for a justification of the laws which 
he obeys; to admit in effect that there is some rule of right, of which the 
individual is conscious and to which law ought to conform. 

1 38. It is equally impossible, then, to hold that the right of the sov- 
ereign power in a state over its members is dependent on their consent. 

104/T.H. Green 

and, on the other hand, that these members have no rights except such 
as are constituted and conferred upon them by the sovereign. The sover- 
eign, and the state itself as distinguished by the existence of a sovereign 
power, presupposes rights and is an institution for their maintenance. 
But these rights do not belong to individuals as they might be in a state 
of nature, or as they might be if each acted irrespectively of others. 
They belong to them as members of a society in which each recognises 
the other as an originator of action in the same sense in which he is 
conscious of being so himself (as an 'ego' as himself the object which 
deter mines the action), and thus regards the free exercise of his own 
powers as dependent upon his allowing an equally free exercise of his 
powers to every other member of the society. There is no harm in saying 
that they belong to individuals as such, if we understand what we mean 
by 'individual,' and if we mean by 'individual' a self-determining sub- 
ject conscious of itself as one among other such subjects, and of its 
relation to them as making it what it is; for then there is no opposition 
between the attachment of rights to the individuals as such and their 
derivation from society. They attach to the individual, but only as a 
member of a society of free agents, as recognising himself and recognised 
by others to be such a member, as doing and done by accordingly. A 
right, then, to act unsocially — to act otherwise than as belonging to a 
society of which each member keeps the exercise of his powers within 
the limits necessary to the like exercise by all the other members is a 
contradiction. No one can say that, unless he has consented to such a 
limitation of his powers, he has a right to resist it. The fact of his not 
consenting would be an extinction of all right on his part. 

139. The state then presupposes rights, and rights of individuals. It 
is a form which society takes in order to maintain them. But rights have 
no being except in a society of men recognising each other as isoi kai 
homoioi [equals]. They are constituted by that mutual recognition. In 
analysing the nature of any right, we may conveniently look at it on two 
sides, and consider it as on the one hand a claim of the individual, aris- 
ing out of his rational nature, to the free exercise of some faculty; on the 
other, as a concession of that claim by society, a power given to the 
individual of putting the claim in force by society. But we must be on 
our guard against supposing that these distinguishable sides have any 
really separate existence. It is only a man's consciousness of having an 
object in common with others, a well-being which is consciously his in 
being theirs and theirs in being his — only the fact that they are recognised 

Principles of Political Obligatioii/105 

by him and he by them as having this object — that gives him the claim 
described. There can be no reciprocal claim on the part of a man and an 
animal each to exercise his powers unimpeded by the other, because 
there is no consciousness common to them. But a claim founded on such 
a common consciousness is already a claim conceded; already a claim 
to which reality is given by social recognition, and thus implicitly a 

140. It is in this sense that a slave has 'natural rights.' They are 
'natural' in the sense of being independent of, and in conflict with, the 
laws of the state in which he lives, but they are not independent of social 
relations. They arise out of the fact that there is a consciousness of 
objects common to the slave with those among whom he lives whether 
other slaves or the family of his owner and that this consciousness con- 
stitutes at once a claim on the part of each of those who share it to 
exercise a free activity conditionally upon his allowing a like activity in 
the others, and a recognition of this claim by the others, through which 
it is realised. The slave thus derives from his social relations a real right 
which the law of the state refuses to admit. The law cannot prevent him 
from acting and being treated, within certain limits, as a member of a 
society of persons freely seeking a common good. And as that capabil- 
ity of living in a certain limited community with a certain limited num- 
ber of human beings, which the slave cannot be prevented from exhibit- 
ing, is in principle a capability of living in a community with any other 
human beings, supposing the necessary training to be allowed; and as 
every such capability constitutes a right, we are entitled to say that the 
slave has a right to citizenship to a recognised equality of freedom with 
any and every one with whom he has to do — and that in refusing him not 
only citizenship but the means of training his capability of citizenship, 
the state is violating a right, founded on that common human conscious- 
ness which is evinced both by language which the slave speaks and by 
actual social relations subsisting between him and others. And on the 
same principle upon which a state is violating natural rights in, it does 
the same in using force, except under maintaining slavery necessity of 
self-defence, against members of another community. Membership of 
any community is so far in principle membership of all communities as 
to constitute a right to be treated as a freeman by all other men, to be 
exempt from subjection to force except for prevention of force. 

141. A man may thus have rights as a member of a family or of 
human society in any other form without being a member of a state at 

106/T.H. Green 

all — rights which remain rights though any particular state or all states 
refuse to recognise them; and a member of a state, on the ground of that 
capability of living as a freeman among freemen which is implied in his 
being a member of a state, has rights as against all other states and their 
members. These latter rights are in fact during peace recognised by all 
civilised states. It is the object of 'private international law' to reduce 
them to a system. But though it follows from this that the state does not 
create rights, it may be still true to say that the members of a state derive 
their rights from the state and have no rights against it. We have already 
seen that a right against society, as such, is an impossibility; that every 
right is derived from some social relation; that a right against any group 
of associated men depends on association, as isos kai homoios [an equal], 
with them and with some other men. Now for the member of a state to 
say that his rights are derived from his social relations, and to say that 
they are derived from his position as member of a state, are the same 
thing. The state is for him the complex of those social relations out of 
which rights arise, so far as those rights have come to be regulated and 
harmonised according to a general law, which is recognised by a certain 
multitude of persons, and which there is sufficient power to secure against 
violation from without and from within. The other forms of community 
which precede and are independent of the formation of the state do not 
continue to exist outside it, nor yet are they superseded by it. They are 
carried on into it. They become its organic members, supporting its life 
and in turn maintained by it in a new harmony with each other. Thus the 
citizen's rights, e.g., as husband or head of a family or a holder of prop- 
erty, though such rights, arising out of other social relations than that of 
citizen to citizen, existed when as yet there was no state, are yet to the 
citizen derived from the state from that more highly developed form of 
society in which the association of the family and that of possessors 
who respect each other's possessions are included as in a fuller whole; 
which secures to the citizen his family rights and his rights as a holder 
of property, but under conditions and limitations which membership of 
the fuller whole the reconciliation of rights arising out of one sort of 
social capability with those arising out of another renders necessary. 
Nor can the citizen have any right against the state, in the sense of a 
right to act otherwise than as a member of the state. For a citizen this is 
as much a contradiction as the right of a man to act otherwise than as a 
member of some society, the state being for its members the society of 
societies the society in which all their claims upon each other are mutu- 

Principles of Political Obligation/lOV 

ally adjusted. 

142. But what exactly is meantby the citizen's acting 'as a member 
of his state'? What does the assertion that he can have no right to act 
otherwise than as a member of his state amount to? Does it mean that he 
has no right to disobey the law of the state to which he belongs, what- 
ever that law may be? that he is not entitled to exercise his powers in any 
way that the law forbids and to refuse to exercise them in any way that 
it commands? This question was virtually dealt with last term in consid- 
ering the justifiability of resistance to an ostensible sovereign. The only 
unqualified answer that can be given to it is one that may seem too 
general to be of much practical use, viz. that so far as the laws any- 
where or at any time in force fulfil the idea of a state, there can be no 
right to disobey them; or, that there can be no right to disobey the law of 
the state except in the interest of the state; i.e., for the purpose of mak- 
ing the state in respect of its actual laws more completely correspond to 
what it is in tendency or idea, viz. the reconciler and sustainer of the 
rights that arise out of the social relations of men. On this principle 
there can be no right to disobey or evade any particular law on the 
ground that it interferes with any freedom of action, any right of manag- 
ing his children or 'doing what he will with his own,' which but for that 
law the individual would possess. Any power which has been allowed to 
the individual up to a certain time, he is apt to regard as permanently, 
his right. It has, indeed, been sofar his right if the exercise of that power 
has been allowed with any reference to social good but it does not, as he 
is apt to think, remain his right when a law has been enacted that inter- 
feres with it. A man, e.g., has been allowed to drive at any pace he likes 
through the streets, to build houses without any reference to sanitary 
conditions, to keep his children at home or send them to work 
'analphabetic,' to buy or sell alcoholic drinks at his pleasure. If laws are 
passed interfering with any or all of these powers, he says that his rights 
are being violated. But he only possessed these powers as rights through 
membership of a society which secured them to him, and of which the 
only permanent bond consists in the reference to the well-being of its 
members as a whole. It has been the social recognition grounded on that 
reference that has rendered certain of his powers rights. If upon new 
conditions arising, or upon elements of social good being taken account 
of which had been overlooked before, or upon persons being taken into 
the reckoning as capable of participating in the social well-being who 
had previously been treated merely as means to its attainment if in any 

108/T.H. Green 

of these ways or otherwise the reference to social well-being suggests 
the necessity of some further regulation of the individual's liberty to do 
as he pleases, he can plead no right against this regulation, for every 
right that he has possessed has been dependent on that social judgment 
of its compatibility with general well-being which in respect to the liber- 
ties in question is now reversed. 

143. 'Is then the general judgment as to the requirements of social 
well-being so absolutely authoritative that no individual right can exist 
against it? What if according to this judgment the institution of slavery 
is so necessary that citizens are prohibited by law from teaching slaves 
to read and from harbouring runaways? or if according to it the mainte- 
nance of a certain form of worship is so necessary that no other worship 
can be allowed and no opinion expressed antagonistic to it? Has the 
individual no rights against enactments founded on such accepted views 
of social well-being?' We may answer: A right against society as such, 
a right to act without reference to the needs or good of society is an 
impossibility since every right depends on some social relation, and a 
right against any group of associated men depends on association upon 
some footing of equality with them or with some other men. We saw 
how the right of the slave really rested on this basis — on a social capac- 
ity shown in the footing on which he actually lives with other men. On 
this principle it would follow, if we regard the state as the sustainer and 
harmoniser of social relations , that the individual can have no right against 
the state; that its law must be to him of absolute authority. But in fact, 
as actual states at best fulfil but partially their ideal function, we cannot 
apply this rule to practice. The general principle that the citizen must 
never act otherwise than as a citizen does not carry with it an obligation 
under all conditions to conform to the law of his state, since those laws 
may be inconsistent with the true end of the state as the sustainer and 
harmoniser of social relations. The assertion by the citizen of any right, 
however, which the state does not recognise must be founded on a refer- 
ence to an acknowledged social good. The fact that the individual would 
like to exercise the power claimed as a right does not render the exercise 
of it a right, nor does the fact that he has been hitherto allowed to exer- 
cise it render it a right, if social requirements have newly arisen under 
changed conditions, or have newly come to be recognised, with which 
its exercise is incompatible. The reason that the assertion of an illegal 
right must be founded on reference to acknowledged social good is that, 
as we have seen, no exercise of a power, however abstractedly desirable 

Principles of Political Obligatioii/109 

for the promotion of human good it might be, can be claimed as a right 
unless there is some common consciousness of utility shared by the per- 
son making the claim and those on whom it is made. It is not a question 
whether or no it ought to be claimed as a right; it simply can not be 
except on this condition. It would have been impossible, e.g., in an an- 
cient state, where the symbol of social union was some local worship, 
for a monotheistic reformer to claim a right to attempt the subversion of 
that worship. If a duty to do so had suggested itself, consciousness of 
the duty could never have expressed itself in the form of a claim of right, 
in the absence of any possible sense of a public interest in the religious 
revolution to which the claim could be addressed. Thus just as it is not 
the exercise of every power, properly claimable as a right, that is a right 
in the full or explicit sense of being legally established, so it is not every 
power, of which the exercise would be desirable in an ideal state of 
things, that is properly claimable as a right. The condition of its being 
so claimable is that its exercise should be contributory to some social 
good which the public conscience is capable of appreciating — not nec- 
essarily one which in the existing prevalence of private interests can 
obtain due acknowledgment, but still one of which men in their actions 
and language show themselves to be aware. 

144. Applying these considerations to the question whether a citi- 
zen of a state which forbade education of slaves could claim a right on 
these points above the law, we may answer, he has no rights against 
them founded on any right to do as he likes. Whatever counter-rights he 
has must be founded on a relation to social well-being, and that a rela- 
tion of which his fellow-citizens are aware. He must be able to point to 
some public interest, generally recognised as such, which is involved in 
the exercise of the power claimed by him as a right to show that it is not 
the general well-being, even as conceived by his fellow -citizens, but 
some special interest of a class that is concerned in preventing the exer- 
cise of the power claimed. In regard to the right of teaching or harbouring 
the slave, he must appeal to the actual capacity of the slave for commu- 
nity with other men as evinced in the manner described above, to the 
recognition of this capacity as shown by the actual behaviour of the 
citizens in many respects towards the slave, on the addition to social 
well-being that results from the realisation of this capacity in all who 
possess it through rights being legally guaranteed to them. In this way 
he must show that the reference to social well-being, on which is founded 
the recognition of powers as rights, if fairly and thoroughly carried out. 

110/T.H. Green 

leads to the exercise of powers in favour of the slave, in the manner 
described, not to prohibition of that exercise as the supposed law pro- 
hibits it. The response which in so doing he elicits from the conscience 
of fellow-citizens shows that in talking of the slave as 'a man and a 
brother' he is exercising what is implicitly his right, though it is a right 
which has not become explicit through legal enactments. This response 
supplies the factor of social recognition which, as we have seen, is nec- 
essary in order to render the exercise of any power a right. To have an 
implicit right, however, to exercise a power which the law disallows is 
not the same thing as having a right to exercise that right. The right may 
be claimed without the power being actually exercised so long as the 
law prohibits its exercise. The question, therefore, would arise whether 
the citizen was doing his duty as such — acting as a member of the state — 
if he not merely did what he could for repeal of the law prohibiting the 
instruction of a slave or the assistance of runaways, but himself in defi- 
ance of the law instructed and assisted them. As a general rule, no doubt, 
even bad laws laws representing the interests of classes or individuals 
as opposed to those of the community — should be obeyed. There can be 
no right to disobey them, even while their repeal is urged on the ground 
that they violate rights, because the public interest, on which all rights 
are founded, is more concerned in the general obedience to law than in 
the exercise of those powers by individuals or classes which the objec- 
tionable laws unfairly withhold. The maintenance of a prohibitory duty 
upon import of certain articles in the interest of certain manufacturers 
would be no justification for smuggling these articles. The smuggler 
acts for his private gain, as does the man who buys of him, and no 
violation of the law for the private gain of the violator, however unfair 
the law violated, can justify itself by reference to a recognised public 
good, or be vindicated as a right. On the other hand, there may be cases 
in which the public interest not merely according to some remote 
philosopher's view of it but according to conceptions which the people 
are able to assimilate is best served by a violation of some actual law. It 
is so in regard to slavery when the public conscience has come to recognise 
a capacity for right (for exercising powers under control of a reference 
to general well-being) in a body of men to whom legal rights have hith- 
erto been refused, but when some powerful class in its own interest 
resists alteration of the law. In such a case a violation of the law on 
behalf of the slave is not only not a violation in the interest of the viola- 
tor; the general sense of right on which general observance of law de- 

Principles of Political Obligation/l 1 1 

pends being represented by it, there is no danger of its making a breach 
in the law-abiding habits of the people. 

145. But this, it will be said, is to assume a condition of things in 
which the real difficulty of the question disappears. What is to be done 
when no recognition of the implicit rights of the slave can be elicited 
from the public conscience; when the legal prohibitions described are 
supported by the only conceptions of general good of which the body of 
citizens is capable? Has the citizen still a right to disregard these legal 
prohibitions? Is the assertion of such a right compatible with the doc- 
trine that social recognition of any mode of action as contributory to the 
common good is necessary to constitute a right so to act, and that no 
member of a state can have a right to act otherwise than according to 
that position? The question, be it observed, is not as to the right of the 
slave, but as to the right of the citizen to treat the slave as having rights 
in a state of which the law forbids his being so treated. The claim of the 
slave to be free, his right implicit to have rights explicit, i.e., to member- 
ship of a society of which each member is treated by the rest as entitled 
to seek his own good in his own way on supposition that he so seeks it as 
not to interfere with the like freedom of quest on the part of others, rests, 
as we have seen, on the fact that the slave is determined by conceptions 
of a good common to himself with others, as shown by the actual social 
relations in which he lives. No state law can neutralise this right. The 
state may refuse him family rights and rights of property but it cannot 
help his living as a member of a family — acting and being treated as a 
father, husband, son, or brother — and therefore cannot extinguish the 
rights which are necessarily involved in his so acting and being so treated. 
Nor can it prevent him from appropriating things and from associating 
with others on the understanding that they respect each other's appro- 
priations, and thus possessing and exercising rights of property. He has 
thus rights which the state neither gives nor can take away, and they 
amount to or constitute a right to freedom in the sense explained. The 
state, under which the slave is a slave, refusing to recognise this right, 
he is not limited in its exercise by membership of the state. He has a 
right to assert his right to such membership in any way compatible with 
that susceptibility to the claims of human fellowship on which the right 
rests. Other men have claims upon him, conditioning his rights, but the 
state, as such, which refuses to recognise his rights, has no claim on 
him. The obligation to observe the law, because it is the law, does not 
exist for him. 

112/T.H. Green 

146. It is otherwise with the citizen. The slave has a claim upon him 
to be treated in a certain way, the claim which is properly described as 
that of a common humanity. But the state which forbids him so to treat 
the slave has also a claim upon him, a claim which embodies many of 
the claims that arise out of a common humanity in a form that reconciles 
them with each other. Now it may be argued that the claim of the state is 
only absolutely paramount on supposition that in its commands and 
prohibitions it takes account of all the claims that arise out of human 
fellowship; that its authority over the individual is in principle the au- 
thority of those claims, taken as a whole; that if, as in the case sup- 
posed, its ordinances conflict with those claims as possessed by a cer- 
tain class of persons, their authority, which is essentially a conditional 
or derived authority, disappears; that a disregard of them in the interest 
of the claims which they disregard is really conformity to the require- 
ments of the state according to its true end or idea, since it interferes 
with none of the claims or interests which the state has its value in 
maintaining or protecting, but, on the contrary, forces on the attention 
of members of the state claims which they hitherto disregarded; and that 
if the conscience of the citizens is so far mastered by the special private 
interests which the institution of slavery breeds that it cannot be brought 
to recognize action on the slave's behalf as contributory to a common 
good, yet there is no ground under such conditions for considering a 
man's fellow-citizens to be the sole organs of the recognition which is 
needed to render his power of action a right; that the needful recognition 
is at any rate forthcoming from the slaves and from all those acquainted 
with the action in whom the idea of a good common to each man with 
others operates freely. 

147. This may be truly urged, but it does not therefore follow that 
the duty of befriending the slave is necessarily paramount to the duty of 
obeying the law which forbids his being befriended: and if it is possible 
for the latter duty to be paramount, it will follow, on the principle that 
there is no right to violate a duty, that under certain conditions the right 
of helping the slave may be cancelled by the duty of obeying the pro- 
hibitory law. It would be so if the violation of law in the interest of the 
slave were liable to result in general anarchy in the destruction of the 
state, not merely in the sense of the dissolution of this or that form of 
civil combination, but of the disappearance of conditions under which 
any civil combination is possible; for such a destruction of the state 
would mean a general loss of freedom a general substitution of force for 

Principles of Political Obligation/l 1 3 

mutual good-will in men's dealings with each other — that would out- 
weigh the evil of any slavery under such limitations and regulations as 
an organised state imposes on it. 

I. Private Rights, tine Rigiit to Life and Liberty 

148. In order then to understand the nature of the state, we must under- 
stand the nature of those rights which do not come into being with it but 
arise out of social relations that may exist where a state is not; it being 
the first, though not the only, office of the state to maintain those rights. 
They depend for their existence, indeed, on society a society of men who 
recognise each other as isoi kai homoioi [equals], as capable of a com- 
mon well-being — but not on society's having assumed the form of a 
state. They may therefore be treated as claims of the individual without 
reference to the form of the society which concedes or recognises them, 
and on whose recognition, as we have seen, their nature as rights de- 
pends. Only it must be borne in mind that the form in which these claims 
are admitted and acted on by men in their dealings with each other var- 
ies with the form of society — that the actual form, e.g., in which the 
individual's right of property is admitted under a patriarchal r gime is 
very different from that in which it is admitted in a state — and that 
though the principle of each right is throughout the same, it is a prin- 
ciple which only comes to be fully recognised and acted on when the 
state has not only been formed, but fully developed according to its 

149. The rights which may be treated as independent of the state in 
the sense explained are of course those which are commonly distin- 
guished as private, in opposition to public rights. ' [I]f rights be analysed, 
they will be found to consist of several kinds. For first they are such as 
regard a man's own person; secondly such as regard his dominion over 
the external and sensible things by which he is surrounded; thirdly, such 
as regard his private relations, as a member of a family; fourthly such 
as regard his social state or condition, as a member of the community; 
the first of which classes may be designated as personal rights, the sec- 
ond, as rights of property, the third, as rights in private relations, and 
the fourth, as public rights.' 

150. An objection might fairly be made to distinguishing one class 
of rights as personal, on the ground that all rights are so — not merely in 
the legal sense of 'person,' according to which the proposition is a tru- 
ism, since every right implies a person as its subject, but in the moral 

114/T.H. Green 

sense, since all rights depend on that capacity in the individual for being 
determined by a conception of well-being, as an object at once for him- 
self and for others, which constitutes personality in the moral sense. By 
personal rights in the above classification are meant rights of life and 
liberty — i.e., of preserving one's body from the violence of other men, 
and of using it as an instrument only of one's own will — if of another's, 
still only through one's own. The reason why these come to be spoken of 
as 'personal' is probably the same with the reason why we talk of a 
man's 'person' in the sense simply of his body. They may however, be 
reckoned in a special sense personal even by, those who consider all 
rights personal because the person's possession of a body and its exclu- 
sive determination by his own will is the condition of his exercising any 
other rights indeed, of all manifestation of personality. Prevent a man 
from possessing property (in the ordinary sense), and his personality 
may still remain. Prevent him (if it were possible) from using his body 
to express a will, and the will itself could not become a reality; he would 
not be really a person. 

151. If there are such things as rights at all, then, there must be a 
right to life and liberty, or, to put it more properly to free life. No dis- 
tinction can be made between the right to life and the right to liberty, for 
there can be no right to mere life — no right to life on the part of a being 
that has not also the right to direct the life according to the motions of its 
own will. What is the foundation of this right? The answer is, capacity 
on the part of the subject for membership of a society — for determina- 
tion of the will, and through it of the bodily organisation, by the concep- 
tion of a well-being as common to self with others. This capacity is the 
foundation of the right, or the right potentially, which becomes actual 
through recognition of the capacity by a and through the power which 
the society in society, consequence secures to the individual of acting 
according to the capacity. In principle, or intrinsically, or in respect of 
that which it has it in itself to become, the right is one that belongs to 
every man in virtue of his human nature (of the qualities which render 
him capable of any fellowship with any other men), and is a right as 
between him and all men; because, as we have seen, the qualities which 
enable him to act as a member of any one society having the general 
well-being of its members for its object (as distinct from any special 
object requiring special talent for its accomplishment) form a capacity 
for member ship of any other such society. But actually, or as recognised, 
it only gradually becomes a right of a man, as man, and against all men. 

Principles of Political Obligation/l 15 

1 52. At first it is only a right of the man as a member of some one 
particular society, and a right as between him and the other members of 
that society, the society being naturally a family or tribe. Then, as sev- 
eral such societies come to recognise, in some limited way, a common 
well-being and thus to associate on settled terms, it comes to be a right 
not merely between the members of any one of the societies but between 
members of the several families or tribes in their dealings with each 
other not, however, as men, but only as belonging to this or that particu- 
lar family. This is the state of things in which, if one man is damaged or 
killed, compensation is made according to the terms of some customary 
law by the family or tribe of the offender to that of the man damaged or 
killed, the compensation varying according to the rank of the family. 
Upon this system — generally through some fusion of family demarca- 
tions and privileges, whether through pressure upward of a population 
hitherto inferior, or through a levelling effected by some external power — 
there supervenes one in which the relation between citizen and citizen, 
as such, is substituted for that between family and family, as such. This 
substitution is one of the essential processes in the formation of the 
state. It is compatible, however, with the closest limitation of the privi- 
leges of citizenship and implies no acknowledgment in man as man of 
the right to free life ascribed to the citizen as citizen. In the ancient 
world, the companion of citizenship is everywhere slavery, and it was 
only actual citizenship, not any such capacity for becoming a citizen as 
might naturally be held to be implied in civil birth, that was considered 
to give a right to live; for the exposure of children was everywhere 
practised (and with the approval of the philosophers), a practice in strong 
contrast with the principle of modern law that even a child in the womb 
has a right to live. 

153. The influences commonly pointed out as instrumental in bring- 
ing about the recognition of rights in the man, as independent of particu- 
lar citizenship, are: (1) adjudication by Roman praetors of questions at 
issue between citizens and those who were not so, which led to the for- 
mation of the system of 'equity,' independent of the old civil law and 
tending gradually to be substituted for it. The existence of such a sys- 
tem, however, presupposes the recognition of rights so far independent 
of citizenship in a particular state as to obtain between citizens of differ- 
ent states. (2) The doctrine of a 'law of nature,' applicable to dealings 
of all men, popularised by the Stoics. (3) The Christian conception of 
the universal redemption of a brotherhood, of which all could become 

116/T.H. Green 

members through a mental act within the power of all. 

154. The admission of a right to free life on the part of every man, 
as man, does in fact logically imply the conception of all men as form- 
ing one society in which each individual has some service to render, one 
organism in which each has a function to fulfil. There can be no claim 
on society, such as constitutes a right, except in respect of a capacity 
freely (i.e., under determination by conception of the good) to contrib- 
ute to its good. If the claim is made on behalf of any and every human 
being, it must be a claim on human society as a whole, and there must be 
a possible common good of human society as a whole, conceivable as 
independent of the special conditions of particular societies, to render 
such a claim possible. We often find, however, that men assimilate a 
practical idea in respect of one of its implications without doing so in 
respect of the rest. Thus the idea of the individual's right to free life has 
been strongly laid hold of in Christendom in what may be called an 
abstract or negative way but little notice has been taken of what it in- 
volves. Slavery is everywhere condemned. It is established that no one 
has a right to prevent the individual from determining the conditions of 
his own life. We treat life as sacred even in the human embryo, and even 
in hopeless idiots and lunatics recognise a right to live — a recognition 
which can only be rationally explained on either or both of two grounds : 
(1) that we do not consider either their lives or the society which a man 
may freely serve to be limited to this earth, and thus ascribe to them a 
right to live on the strength of a social capacity which under other con- 
ditions may become what it is not here; or (2) that the distinction be- 
tween curable and incurable, between complete and incomplete, social 
incapacity is so indefinite that we cannot in any case safely assume it to 
be such as to extinguish the right to live. Or perhaps it may be argued 
that even in cases where the incapacity is ascertainably incurable, the 
patient has still a social function (as undoubtedly those who are incur- 
ably ill in other ways have) a passive function as the object of affection- 
ate ministrations arising out of family instincts and memories and that 
the right to have life protected corresponds to this passive social func- 
tion. The fact, however, that we have almost to cast about in certain 
cases for an explanation of the established belief in the sacredness of 
human life shows how deeply rooted that belief is unless where some 
counter-belief interferes with it. 

155. On the other hand, it is equally noticeable that there are counter- 
beliefs which, under conditions, do neutralise it, and that certain other 

Principles of Political Obligation/l 17 

beliefs, which form its proper complement, have very slight hold on the 
mind of modern Christendom. It is taken for granted that the exigencies 
of the state in war, whether the war be necessary or not for saving the 
state from dissolution, absolutely neutralise the right to live. We are 
little influenced by the idea of the universal brotherhood of men of man- 
kind as forming one society with a common good, of which the concep- 
tion may determine the action of its members. In international dealings 
we are apt to suppose that it can have no place at all. Yet, as has been 
pointed out, it is the proper correlative of the admission of a right to free 
life as belonging to man in virtue simply of his human nature. And 
though this right can only be grounded on the capacity, which belongs to 
the human nature, for freely fulfilling some function in the social organ- 
ism, we do very little to give reality to the capacity or to enable it to 
realise itself. 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 no he shall be qualified to 
fulfil any social function to contribute anything to the common good — 
and to do so freely (i.e., under the conception of a common good). The 
only reason why a man should not be used by other men simply as a 
means to their ends is that he should use himself as a means to an end 
which is really his and theirs at once. But while we say that he shall not 
be used as a means, we often leave him without the chance of using 
himself for any social end at all. 

156. Four questions then arise: (1) With what right do the necessi- 
ties of war override the individual's right of life? (2) In what relation do 
the rights of states to act for their own interest stand to that right of 
human society as such, of which the existence is implied in the posses- 
sion of right by the individual as a member of that society, irrespectively 
of the laws of particular states? (3) On what principle is it to be as- 
sumed that the individual by a certain conduct of his own forfeits the 
right of free life, so that the state (at any rate for a time) is entitled to 
subject him to force — to treat him as an animal or a thing? Is this forfei- 
ture ever so absolute and final that the state is justified in taking away 
his life? (4) What is the nature and extent of the individual's claim to be 
enabled to realise that capacity for contributing to a social good, which 
is the foundation of his right to free life? 

118/T.H. Green 

K. The Right of the State Over the Individual in 

157. It may be admitted that to describe war as 'multitudinous murder' 
is a figure of speech. The essence of murder does not lie in the fact that 
one man takes away the life of another, but that he does this to 'gain his 
private ends' and with 'malice' against the person killed. I am not here 
speaking of the legal definition of murder, but of murder as a term of 
moral reprobation, in which sense it must be used, by those who speak 
of war as ' multitudinous murder. ' They cannot mean murder in the legal 
sense, because in that sense only 'unlawful killing,' which killing in war 
is not, is murder. When I speak of 'malice,' therefore, I am not using 
'malice' in the legal sense. In that sense 'malice' is understood to be the 
attribute of every 'wrongful act, and is ascribed to done intentionally 
without just or lawful excuse, acts (such as killing an officer of justice, 
knowing him to be such, while resisting him in a riot) in which there is 
no ill-will of the kind which we suppose in murder, when we apply the 
term in its natural sense as one of moral disapprobation. Of murder in 
the moral sense the characteristics are those stated and these are not 
present in the case of a soldier who kills one on the other side in battle. 
He has no ill-will to that particular person or to any particular person. 
He incurs an equal risk with the person whom he kills, and incurs that 
risk not for the sake of killing him. His object in undergoing it is not 
private to himself but a service (or what he supposes to be a service) to 
his country — a good which is his own, no doubt (that is implied in his 
desiring it), but which he presents to himself as common to him with 
others. Indeed, those who might speak of war as 'multitudinous murder' 
would not look upon the soldier as a murderer. If reminded that there 
cannot be a murder without a murderer, and pressed to say who, when a 
bloody battle takes place, the murderer or murderers are, they would 
probably point to the authors of the war. It may be questioned, by the 
way, whether there has ever been a war of which the origination could 
be truly said to rest with a definite person or persons, in the same way in 
which the origination of an act which would be called murder in the 
ordinary sense rests with a particular person. No doubt there have been 
wars for which certain assignable individuals were specially blameable — 
wars which they specially helped to bring about or had special means of 
preventing — and the more the wickedness of such persons is kept in 
mind the better; but even in these cases the cause of the war can scarcely 
be held to be gathered up within the will of any individual, or the com- 

Principles of Political Obligation/l 19 

bined will of certain individuals, in the same way as is the cause of 
murder or other punishable acts. When A.B . is murdered, the sole cause 
lies in some definite volition of CD. or others, however that volition 
may have been caused. But when a war 'breaks out,' though it is not to 
be considered, as we are too apt to consider it, a natural calamity which 
could not be prevented, it would be hard to maintain that the sole cause 
lies in some definite volition on the part of some assignable person or 
persons, even of those who are most to blame. Passing over this point, 
however, if the acts of killing in war are not murders (in the moral sense, 
the legal being out of the question) because they lack those characteris- 
tics on the part of the agent's state of mind which are necessary to con- 
stitute a murder, the persons who cause those acts to be committed, if 
such persons can be pointed out, are not the authors of murder, multitu- 
dinous or other. They would only be so if the characteristic of 'malice,' 
which is absent on the part of the immediate agent of the act, were 
present on their part as its ultimate agents. But this is not the case. 
However selfish their motives, they cannot fairly be construed into ill- 
will towards the persons who happened to be killed in the war; and 
therefore, whatever wickedness the persons responsible for the war are 
guilty of, they are not guilty of 'murder' in any natural sense of the 
term, nor is there any murder in the case at all. 

158. It does not follow from this, however, that war is ever other 
than a great wrong, as a violation on a multitudinous scale of the 
individual's right to life. Whether it is so or not must be discussed on 
other grounds. If there is such a thing as a right to life, on the part of the 
individual man as such, is there any reason to doubt that this right is 
violated in the case of every man killed in war? It is not to the purpose to 
allege that in order to a violation of right there must be not only a suffer- 
ing of some kind on the part of the subject of a right but an intentional 
act causing it on the part of a human agent. There is of course no viola- 
tion of right when a man is killed by a wild beast or a stroke of lightning, 
because there is no right as between a man and a beast or between a man 
and natural force. But the deaths in a battle are caused distinctly by 
human agency, agent and patient being alike members of the human 
society between whom the relation of right subsists, and intentional 
agency. The individual soldier may not have any very distinct intention 
when he fires his rifle except to obey orders, but the commanders of the 
army and the statesmen who send it into the field intend the death of as 
many men as may be necessary for their purpose. It is true they do not 

120/T.H. Green 

intend the death of this or that particular person, but no more did the 
Irishman who fired into a body of police guarding the Fenian prisoners. 
It might fairly be held that this circumstance exempted the Irishman 
from the special moral guilt of murder, though according to our law it 
did not exempt him from the legal guilt expressed, by that term; but no 
one would argue that it made the act other than a violation of the right to 
life on the part of the policeman killed. No more can the absence, on the 
part of those who cause men to be killed in battle, of an intention to kill 
this or that specific person, save their act from being a violation of the 
right to life. 

159. Is there then any condition on the part of the persons killed that 
saves the act from having this character? It may be urged that when the 
war is conducted according to usages that obtain between civilised na- 
tions (not when it is a village -burning war like that between English and 
Afghans) the persons killed are voluntary combatants, and oudeis 
adikeitai ekon [no one does wrong willingly]. Soldiers, it may be said, 
are in the position of men who voluntarily undertake a dangerous em- 
ployment. If some of them are killed, this is not more a violation of the 
human right to life than is the death of men who have engaged to work 
in a dangerous coal-pit. To this it must be answered that if soldiers did 
in fact voluntarily incur the special risk of death incidental to their call- 
ing, it would not follow that the right to life was not violated in their 
being killed. It is not a right which it rests with a man to retain or give up 
at his pleasure. It is not the less a wrong that a man should be a slave 
because he has sold himself into slavery. The individual's right to live is 
but the other side of the right which society has in his living. The indi- 
vidual can no more voluntarily rid himself of it than he can of the social 
capacity, the human nature, on which it is founded. Thus, however ready 
men may be for high wages to work in a dangerous pit, a wrong is held 
to be done if they are killed in it. If provisions which might have made it 
safe have been neglected, someone is held responsible. If nothing could 
make it safe, the working of the pit would not be allowed. The reason 
for not more generally applying the power of the state to prevent volun- 
tary noxious employments, is not that there is no wrong in the death of 
the individual through the incidents of an employment which he has 
voluntarily undertaken, but that the wrong is more effectually prevented 
by training and trusting individuals to protect themselves than by the 
state protecting them. Thus the waste of life in war would not be the less 
a wrong — not the less a violation of the right, which subsists between 

Principles of Political Obligatioii/121 

all members of society, and which none can alienate, that each should 
have his life respected by society — if it were the fact that those whose 
lives are wasted voluntarily incurred the risk of losing them. But it can 
scarcely be held to be the fact. Not only is it impossible, even when war 
is conducted on the most civilised methods, to prevent great incidental 
loss of life (to say nothing of other injury) among non-combatants; the 
waste of the life of the combatants is one which the power of the state 
compels. This is equally true whether the army is raised by voluntary 
enlistment or by conscription. It is obviously so in the case of conscrip- 
tion, but under a system of voluntary enlistment, though the individual 
soldier cannot say that he in particular has been compelled by the gov- 
ernment to risk his life, it is still the case that the state compels the risk 
of a certain number of lives. It decrees that an army of such a size shall 
be raised, though if it can get the men by voluntary hiring it does not 
exercise compulsion on the men of a particular age, and it sends the 
army into the field. Its compulsive agency causes the death of the sol- 
diers killed, not any voluntary action on the part of the soldiers them- 
selves. The action of the soldiers no doubt contributes to the result, for 
if they all refused to fight there would be no killing, but it is an action 
put in motion and directed by the power of the state, which is compul- 
sive in the sense that it operates on the individual in the last resort through 
fear of death. 

160. We have then in war a destruction of human life inflicted on 
the sufferers intentionally by voluntary human agency. It is true, as we 
saw, that it is not easy to say in any case by whose agency in particular. 
We may say indeed that it is by the agency of the state, but what exactly 
does that mean? The 'state' here must = the sovereign power in the 
state, but it is always difficult to say by whom that power is wielded, 
and if we could in any case specify its present holders, the further ques- 
tion will arise whether their course of action has not been shaped for 
them by previous holders of power. But however widely distributed the 
agency, may be which causes the destruction of life in war, it is still 
intentional human agency. The destruction is not the work of accident or 
of nature. If then it is to be other than a wrong, because a violation of 
the right to mutual protection of life involved in membership of human 
society, it can only be because there is exercised in war some right that 
is paramount to this. It may be argued that this is the case; that there is 
no right to the preservation of life at the cost of losing the necessary 
conditions of 'living well' ; that war is in some cases the only means of 

122/T.H. Green 

maintaining these conditions, and that where this is so, the wrong of 
causing the destruction of physical hfe disappears in the paramount 
right of preserving the conditions under which alone moral life is pos- 

161. This argument, however, seems to be only available for shift- 
ing the quarter in which we might be at first disposed to lay the blame of 
the wrong involved in war, not for changing the character of that wrong. 
It goes to show that the wrong involved in the death of certain soldiers 
does not necessarily lie with the government which sends those soldiers 
into the field, because this may be the only means by which that govern- 
ment can prevent more serious wrong; it does not show that there is no 
wrong in their death. If the integrity of any state can only be maintained 
at the cost of war, and if that state is more than what many so-called 
states have been — more than an aggregation of individuals or commu- 
nities under one ruling power — if it so far fulfils the idea of a state, that 
its maintenance is necessary to the free development of the people be- 
longing to it; then by the authorities or people of that state no wrong is 
done by the destruction of life which war involves, except so far as they 
are responsible for the state of things which renders the maintenance of 
the integrity of the state impossible by other means. But how does it 
come about that the integrity of such a state is endangered? Not by 
accident or by forces of nature, but by intentional human agency in 
some form or other, however complicated; and with that agency lies the 
wrong -doing. To determine it (as we might be able to do if a horde of 
barbarians broke in on a civilised state, compelling it to resort to war 
for its defence) is a matter of small importance: what is important to 
bear in mind (being one of those obvious truths out of which we may 
allow ourselves to be sophisticated) is that the destruction of life in war 
is always wrong -doing , whoever be the wrong -doer, and that in the wars , 
most strictly defensive of political freedom, the wrong-doing is only 
removed from the defenders of political freedom to be transferred else- 
where. If it is difficult in any case to say precisely where, that is only a 
reason for more general self-reproach — as the preachers would say — 
for a more humbling sense of complicity in that radical (but conquerable 
because moral) evil of mankind which renders such a means of main- 
taining political freedom necessary. The language, indeed, which we 
hear from the pulpit about war being a punishment for the sins of man- 
kind, is perfectly true, but it needs to be accompanied by the reminder 
that this punishment of sin is simply a consequence of the sin and itself 

Principles of Political Obligatioii/123 

a further sin, brought about by the action of the sinner, not an external 
infliction brought about by agencies to which man is not a party. 

162. In fact, however, if most wars had been wars for the mainte- 
nance or acquisition of political freedom, the difficulty of fixing the 
blame of them, or at any rate of freeing one of the parties in each case 
from blame, would be much less than it really is. Of the European wars 
of the last four hundred years, how many could be fairly said to have 
been wars in which either or any of the parties were fighting for this 
end? Perhaps the wars in which the Dutch Republics defended them- 
selves against Spain and against Louis XIV, and that in which Germany 
shook off the dominion of Napoleon. Perhaps the more recent struggles 
of Italy and Hungary against Austrian government. Perhaps in the first 
outset of the war of 1792 the French may be fairly held to have been 
defending institutions necessary for the development of social freedom 
and equality. In this war, however, the issue very soon ceased to be one 
between the defenders of such institutions on the one side, and their 
assailants on the other, and in most modern wars the issue has not been 
of this kind at all. The wars have arisen primarily out of the rival ambi- 
tion of kings and dynasties for territorial aggrandisement, with national 
antipathies and ecclesiastical ambitions, and the passions arising out of 
religious partisanship, as complicating influences. As nations have come 
more and more to distinguish and solidify themselves, and a national 
consciousness has come definitely to be formed in each, the rival ambi- 
tions of nations have tended more and more first to support, then per- 
haps to supersede, the ambitions of dynasties as causes of war. The 
delusion has been practically dominant that the gain of one nation must 
mean the loss of another. Hence national jealousies in regard to colonial 
extensions, hostile tariffs and the effort of each nation to exclude others 
from its markets. The explosion of this idea in the region of political 
economy has had little effect in weakening its hold on men's minds. The 
people of one nation still hear with jealousy of another nation's advance 
in commerce, as if it meant some decay of their own. And if the com- 
mercial jealousy of nations is very slow in disappearing, their vanity, 
their desire apart from trade each to become or to seem stronger than the 
other, has very much increased. A hundred and fifty years ago national 
vanity could scarcely be said to be an influence in politics. The people 
under one ruler were not homogeneous enough, had not enough of a 
corporate consciousness, to develop a national vanity Now (under the 
name of patriotism) it has become a more serious disturber of peace 

124/T.H. Green 

than dynastic ambition. Where the latter is dangerous, it is because it 
has national vanity to work upon. 

163. Our conclusion then is that the destruction of life in war (to 
say nothing of other evils incidental to it with which we are not here 
concerned) is always wrong-doing, with whomsoever the guilt of the 
wrong-doing may lie; that only those parties to a war are exempt from a 
share in the guilt who can truly plead that to them war is the only means 
of maintaining the social conditions of the moral development of man, 
and that there have been very few cases in which this plea could be truly 
made. In saying this it is not forgotten either that many virtues are called 
into exercise by war, or that wars have been a means by which the 
movement of mankind, which there is reason for considering a progress 
to higher good, has been carried on. These facts do not make the wrong- 
doing involved in war any less so. If nothing is to be accounted wrong- 
doing through which final good is wrought, we must give up either the 
idea of there being such a thing as wrongdoing, or the idea of there 
being such a thing as final good. If final good results from the world of 
our experience, it results from processes in which wrong-doing is an 
inseparable element. Wrong-doing is voluntary action, either (in the 
deeper moral sense) proceeding from a will uninfluenced by the desire 
to be good on the part of the agent (which may be taken to include action 
tending to produce such action) or (in the sense contemplated by the jm^ 
naturae [law of nature]) it is action that interferes with the conditions 
necessary to the free-play and development of a good will on the part of 
others. It may be that, according to the divine scheme of the world, such 
wrong-doing is an element in a process by which men gradually ap- 
proximate more nearly to good (in the sense of a good will). We cannot 
think of God as a moral being without supposing this to be the case. But 
this makes no difference to wrong-doing in those relations in which it is 
wrong-doing, and with which alone we are concerned, viz., in relation 
to the will of human agents and to the results which those agents can 
foresee and intend to produce. If an action, so far as any results go 
which the agent can have in view or over which he has control, inter- 
feres with conditions necessary to the free-play and development of a 
good will on the part of others, it is not the less wrongdoing because, 
through some agency which is not his, the effects which he intended and 
which rendered it wrong-doing, come to contribute to an ulterior good. 
Nor, if it issues from bad will (in the sense explained), is it less wrong 
(in the moral sense) because this will is itself, in the view of some higher 

Principles of Political Obligatioii/125 

being, contributory to a moral good which is not, in whole or part, within 
the view of the agent. If then war is wrong-doing in both the above 
senses (as it is always at any rate on the part of those with whom the 
ultimate responsibility for it lies), it does not cease to be so on account 
of any good resulting from it in a scheme of providence. 

164. 'But,' it may be asked, 'are we justified in saying that it is 
always wrong-doing on the part of those with whom the ultimate re- 
sponsibility lies? It is admitted that certain virtues may be evoked by 
war; that it may have results contributory to the moral progress of man- 
kind; may not the eliciting of these virtues, the production of these re- 
sults, be contemplated by the originators of war, and does not the origina- 
tion of war, so far as influenced by such motives, cease to be wrong- 
doing? It must be admitted that Caesar's wars in Gaul were unprovoked 
wars of conquest, but their effect was the establishment of Roman 
civilisation with its equal law over a great part of western Europe in 
such a way that it was never wholly swept away, and that a permanent 
influence in the progress of the European polity can be traced to it. May 
he not be credited with having had, however indefinitely, such an effect 
as this in view? Even if his wish to extend Roman civilisation was sec- 
ondary to a plan for raising an army by which he might master the 
Republic, is he to have no credit for the beneficent results which are 
admitted to have ensued from the success of that plan? May not a simi- 
lar justification be urged for English wars in India? Of, again, the estab- 
lishment of the civil unity of Germany, and the liberation of Christian 
populations in Turkey are, admitted to have been gains to mankind, is 
not that a justification of such persons concerned in the origination of 
the wars that brought about those results as can be supposed to have 
been influenced by a desire for them?' 

165. These objections might be to the purpose if we were attempt- 
ing the task (generally, if not always, an impossible one) of determining 
the moral desert, good or ill, of those who have been concerned in bring- 
ing this or that war about. Their tendency merely is to distribute the 
blame of the wrong-doing involved in war, to show how widely ramified 
is the agency in that wrong -doing, not to affect its character as wrong- 
doing. If the only way of civilising Gaul was to kill all the people whom 
Caesar's wars caused to be killed, and if the desire for civilising it was 
a prevailing motive in Caesar's mind, so much the better for Caesar but 
so much the worse for the other unassignable and innumerable human 
agents who brought it about that such an object could only be attained 

126/T.H. Green 

in such a way. We are not, indeed, entitled to say that it could have been 
brought about in any other way It is true to say (if we know what we are 
about in saving it) that nothing which happens in the world could have 
happened other wise than it has. The question for us is whether that 
condition of things which rendered e.g., Caesar's Gallic wars, with the 
violation of human rights which they involved the interference in the 
case of innumerable persons with the conditions under which man can 
be helpful to man, physical life being the first of these — the sine qua non 
in the promotion of ulterior human welfare, was or was not the work of 
human agency. If it was and there is no doubt that it was, for to what 
merely natural agency could the necessity be ascribed? — then in that 
ordinary sense of the word 'could' in which it expresses our responsibil- 
ity for our actions, men could have brought about the good result with- 
out the evil means. They could have done so if they had been better. It 
was owing to human wickedness — if less on Caesar's part, then so much 
the more on the part of innumerable others — that the wrong -doing of 
those wars was the appropriate means to this ulterior good. So in regard 
to the other cases instanced. It is idle to speculate on other means by 
which the permanent pacification of India, or unification of Germany or 
liberation of Christians in European Turkey might have been brought 
about than those by which each result respectively has been brought 
about; but it is important to bear in mind that the innumerable wrong 
acts involved in achieving them acts wrong because violations of the 
rights of those directly affected by them did not cease to be wrong acts 
because under the given condition of things the results specified would 
not have been obtained without them. This given condition of things 
was not like that (e.g.) which compels the castaways from a shipwreck, 
so many days from shore and with only so much provision in their boat, 
to draw lots which shall be thrown overboard. It was a condition of 
things which human wickedness, through traceable and untraceable chan- 
nels, brought about. If the individual promoters of wars, which through 
the medium of multitudinous wrong-doing have yielded good to man- 
kind, have been really influenced by desire for any such good — and 
much scepticism is justified in regard to such a supposition — then so 
much less of the guilt of the wrong-doing has been theirs. No nation, at 
any rate, that has taken part in such wars can fairly take credit for 
having been governed by such a motive. It has been either a passive 
instrument in the hands of its rulers or has been animated by less worthy 
motives, very mixed but of which perhaps a diffused desire for excite- 

Principles of Political Obligatioii/127 

ment has been the most innocent. On what reasonable ground can En- 
glishmen or Germans or Russians claim that their several nations took 
part in the wars by which India was pacified, Germany unified, Bul- 
garia liberated, under the dominant influence of a desire for human good? 
Rather, if the action of a national conscience in such matters is possible 
at all, they should take shame for their share in that general human 
selfishness which rendered certain conditions of human development 
only attainable by such means. 

166. Reverting then to the questions which arose out of the asser- 
tion of a right to free life on the part of the individual man as such 
(§156), it appears that the first must be answered in the negative. No 
state of war can make the destruction of man's life by man other than a 
wrong, though the wrong is not always chargeable upon all the parties 
to a war. The second question is virtually answered by what has been 
said about the first. In regard to the state according to its idea the ques- 
tion could not arise, for according to its idea the state is an institution in 
which all rights are harmoniously maintained, in which all the capaci- 
ties that give rise to rights have free play given to them. No action in its 
own interest of a state that fulfilled this idea could conflict with any true 
interest or right of general society, of the men not subject to its law 
taken as a whole. There is no such thing as an inevitable conflict be- 
tween states. There is nothing in the nature of the state that, given a 
multiplicity of states, should make the gain of the one the loss of the 
other. The more perfectly each one of them attains its proper object of 
giving free scope to the capacities of all persons living on a certain 
range of territory, the easier it is for others to do so; and in proportion as 
they all do so the danger of conflict disappears. 

167. On the other hand, the imperfect realisation of civil equality in 
the full sense of the term in certain states is in greater or less degree a 
source of danger to all. The presence in states either of a prerogatived 
class or of a body of people who, whether by open denial of civil rights 
or by restrictive laws, are thwarted in the free development of their 
capacities, or of an ecclesiastical organisation which disputes the au- 
thority of the state on matters of right and thus prevents the perfect civil 
fusion of its members with other citizens, always breeds an imagination 
of there being some competition of interests between states. The privi- 
leged class involuntarily believes and spreads the belief that the interest 
of the state lies in some extension without, not in an improvement of 
organisation within. A suffering class attracts sympathy from without 

128/T.H. Green 

and invites interference with the state which contains it; and that state 
responds not by heahng the sore but by defending what it conceives to 
be its special interests, but which are only special on account of its bad 
organisation, against aggression. Or perhaps the suffering population 
overflows into another state, as the Irish into America, and there be- 
comes a source not only of internal difficulty but of hostile feeling be- 
tween it and the state where the suffering population still survives. People, 
again, who take their direction in matters which the state treats as be- 
longing to itself from an ecclesiastical power external to the state under 
which they live, are necessarily in certain relations alien to that state, 
and may at any time prove a source of apparently conflicting interests 
between it and some other state which under the influence of the hostile 
ecclesiastical power espouses their cause. Remove from European states, 
as they are and have been during the last hundred years, the occasions 
of conflict, the sources of apparently competing interests, which arise in 
one or other of the ways mentioned either from the mistaken view of 
state interests which a privileged class inevitably takes or from the pres- 
ence in them of oppressed populations, or from what we improperly call 
the antagonism of religious confessions and there would not be or have 
been anything to disturb the peace between them. And this is to say that 
the source of war between states lies in their incomplete fulfilment of 
their function; in the fact that there is some defect in the maintenance or 
reconciliation of rights among their subjects. 

168. This is equally true in regard to those causes of conflict which 
are loosely called 'religious.' These do not arise out of any differences 
between the convictions of different people in regard to the nature of 
God or their relations to Him, or the right way of worshipping Him, but 
either out of some aggression upon the religious freedom of certain people, 
made or allowed by the powers of the state, which thus puts these people 
in the position of an alien or unenfranchised class, or else out of an 
aggression on the rights of the state by some corporation calling itself 
spiritual but really claiming sovereignty over men's actions in the same 
relations in which the state claims to determine them. There would be 
nothing tending to international disturbance in the fact that bodies of 
people who worship God in the Catholic manner live in a state where the 
majority worship in the Greek or Protestant manner and alongside of 
another state where the majority is Catholic but for one or other or both 
of these circumstances, viz. if the Catholic worship and teaching is in- 
terfered with by the Protestant or Greek state, and that Catholics are 

Principles of Political Obligatioii/129 

liable to a direction by a power which claims to regulate men's transac- 
tions with each other by a law of its own, and which may see fit (e.g.) to 
forbid the Catholic subjects in the Greek or Protestant state from being 
married, or having their parents buried, or their children taught the nec- 
essary acts, in the manner which the state directs. This reciprocal inva- 
sion of right — the invasion of the rights of the state by the church on one 
side, and on the other the restriction placed by the sovereign upon the 
subject's freedom, not of conscience (for that is impossible), but of ex- 
pressing his conscience in word and act — has sometimes caused a state 
of things in which certain of the subjects of a state have been better 
affected to another state than to their own, and in such a case there is an 
element of natural hostility between the states. An obvious instance to 
give of this relation between states would have been that between Rus- 
sia and Turkey if Turkey could be considered to have been constituted 
as a state at all. Perhaps a better instance would be the position of Ire- 
land in the past — its disaffection to England and gravitation, first to 
France, then to the United States, caused chiefly by Protestant penal 
laws which in turn were at least provoked by the aggressive attitude of 
the church towards the English state. Whenever a like invasion of rights 
still takes place, e.g., in the treatment of the Catholic subjects of Russia 
in Poland, in the ultramontane movement of resistance to certain re- 
quirements of the state among the Catholic subjects of Germany, it tends 
to international conflict. And what is now a somewhat remote tendency 
has in the past been a formidable stimulant to war. 

169. It is nothing then in the necessary organisation of the state, but 
rather some defect of that organisation in relation to its proper function 
of maintaining and reconciling rights, of giving scope to capacities, that 
leads to a conflict of apparent interests between one state and another. 
The wrong, therefore, which results to human society from conflicts 
between states cannot be condoned on the ground that it is a necessary 
incident of the existence of states. The lost in a higher right, which 
attaches to wrong cannot be held to be the maintenance of the state as 
the institution through which alone the freedom of man is realised. It is 
not the state, as such, but this or that particular state, which by no 
means fulfils its purpose, and might perhaps be swept away and super- 
seded by another with advantage to the ends for which the true state 
exists, that needs to defend its interests by action injurious to those out- 
side it. Hence there is no holding that a state is justified in doing what- 
ever its ground for interests seem to require, irrespectively of effects on 

130/T.H. Green 

other men. If those effects are bad, involving either a direct violation of 
personal rights or obstruction to the moral development of society any- 
where in the world, then there is no ultimate justification for the politi- 
cal action that gives rise to them. The question can only be (as we have 
seen generally in regard to the wrong-doing of war) where in particular 
the blame lies. Whether there is any justification for a particular state 
which in defence of its interests inflicts an injury on some portion of 
mankind (e.g., the Germans in holding Metz, on the supposition that 
their tenure of such a thoroughly French town necessarily thwarts in 
many ways the healthy activity of the inhabitants, or the English in 
carrying fire and sword in Afghanistan for the sake of acquiring a scien- 
tific frontier;) must depend (1) on the nature of the interests thus de- 
fended, (2) on the impossibility of otherwise defending them, (3) on the 
question how they came to be endangered. If they are interests of which 
the maintenance is essential to those ends as a means to which the state 
has its value, if the state which defends them has not itself been a joint- 
cause of their being endangered, and if they cannot be defended except 
at the cost of injury to some portion of mankind, then the state which 
defends them is clear of the guilt of that injury. But the guilt is removed 
from it only to lie somewhere else, however wide its distribution may 
be. It may be doubted, however, whether the second question could ever 
be answered altogether in favour of a state which finds it necessary to 
protect its interests at the cost of inflicting an injury on mankind. 

170. It will be said, perhaps, that these formal arguments in proof 
of the wrong-doing involved in war, and of the unjustifiability of the 
policy which nations constantly adopt in defence of their apparent inter- 
ests, carry very little conviction; that a state is not an abstract complex 
of institutions for maintenance of rights, but a nation, a people, possess- 
ing such institutions; that the nation has its passions which inevitably 
lead it to judge all questions of international right from its own point of 
view, and to consider its apparent national interests as justifying any- 
thing; that if it were otherwise, if the cosmopolitan point of view could 
be adopted by nations, patriotism would be at an end: that whether this 
be desirable or no, such an extinction of national passions is impossible; 
that while they continue, wars are as inevitable between nations as they 
would be between individuals, if individuals were living in what phi- 
losophers have imagined to be the state of nature, without recognition of 
a common superior; that nations in short are in the position of men 
judging their own causes, which it is admitted that no one can do impar- 

Principles of Political Obligation/lSl 

tially; and that this state of things cannot be altered without the estab- 
lishment of a common constraining power, which would mean the ex- 
tinction of the life of independent states a result as undesirable as it is 
unattainable. Projects of perpetual peace, to be logical, must be projects 
of all-embracing empire. 

171. There is some cogency in language of this kind. It is true that 
when we speak of a state as a living agency, we mean,not an institution 
or complex of institutions, but a nation organised in a certain way; and 
that members of the nation in their corporate or associated action are 
animated by certain passions, arising out of their association, which, 
though not egoistic relatively to the individual subjects of them (for they 
are motives to self-sacrifice), may, in their influence on the dealings of 
one nation with another, have an effect analogous to that which egoistic 
passions, properly so called, have upon the dealings of individuals with 
each other. On the other hand, it must be remembered that the national 
passion, which in any good sense is simply the public spirit of the good 
citizen, may take and every day is taking, directions which lead to no 
collision between one nation and another; (or, to say the same thing 
negatively, that it is utterly false to speak as if the desire for one's own 
nation to show more military strength than others were the only or the 
right form of patriotism); and that though a nation, with national feeling 
of its own, must everywhere underlie a state, properly so called, yet 
still, just so far as the perfect organisation of rights within each nation, 
which entitles it to be called a state, is attained, the occasions of conflict 
between nations disappear; and again, that by the same process, just so 
far as it is satisfactorily carried out, an organ of expression and action is 
established for each nation in dealing with other nations, which is not 
really liable to be influenced by the same egoistic passions in dealing 
with the government of another nation as embroil individuals with each 
other. The love of mankind, no doubt, needs to be particularised in order 
to have any power over life and action. Just as there can be no true 
friendship except towards this or that individual, so there can be no true 
public spirit which is not localised in some way. The man whose desire 
to serve his kind is not centred primarily in some home, radiating from 
it to a commune, a municipality, and a nation, presumably has no effec- 
tual desire to serve his kind at all. But there is no reason why this localised 
or nationalised philanthropy should take the form of a jealousy of other 
nations or a desire to fight them, personally or by proxy. Those in whom 
it is strongest are every day expressing it in without interfering good 

132/T.H. Green 

works which benefit their fellow-citizens with the men of other nations. 
Those who from time to time talk of the need of a great war to bring 
unselfish impulses into play give us reason to suspect that they are too 
selfish themselves to recognise the unselfish activity that is going on all 
round them. Till all the methods have been exhausted by which nature 
can be brought into the service of man, till society is so organised that 
everyone's capacities have free scope for their development, there is no 
need to resort to war for a field in which patriotism may display itself. 

172. And in fact, just so far as states are thoroughly formed, the 
diversion of patriotism into the military channel tends to come to an end. 
It is a survival from a condition of things in which, as yet, the state, in 
the full sense, was not; in the sense, namely, that in each territory con- 
trolled by a single independent government the rights of all persons, as 
founded on their capacities for contributing to a common good, are 
equally established by one system of law. If each separately governed 
territory were inhabited by a people so organised within itself, there 
would be nothing to lead to the association of the public spirit of the 
good citizen with military aggressiveness — an association which be- 
longs properly not to the politeia [constitutional state], but to the 
dynasteia [arbitrary oligarchy]. The Greek states, however complete 
might be the equality of their citizens among themselves, were all 
dynasteiai in relation to some subject populations, and, as such, jealous 
of each other. The Peloponnesian war was eminently a war of rival 
dynasteia. And those habits and institutions and modes of feeling in 
Europe of the present day which tend to international conflict, are either 
survivals from the dynasteiai of the past, or arise out of the very incom- 
plete manner in which as yet, over most of Europe the potiteia has su- 
perseded the dynasteia. Patriotism, in that special military sense in which 
it is distinguished from public spirit, is not the temper of the citizen 
dealing with fellow-citizens, or with men who are themselves citizens of 
their several states, but that of the follower of the feudal chief, or of the 
member of a privileged class conscious of a power, resting ultimately on 
force, over an inferior population, or of a nation holding empire over 
other nations. 

173. Standing armies, again, though existing on a larger scale now 
than ever before, are not products of the civilisation of Europe, but of 
the predominance over that civilisation of the old dynasteiai. The influ- 
ences which have given rise to and keep up those armies essentially 
belong to a state of things in which mankind — even European mankind 

Principles of Political Obligatioii/133 

is not yet thoroughly organised into political life. Roughly summarised, 
they are these: (1) The temporary confiscation by Napoleon to his own 
account of the products of the French Revolution, which thus, though 
founded on a true idea of a citizenship in which not the few only, but all 
men, should partake, for the time issued in a dynasteia over the coun- 
tries which most directly felt the effects of the revolution. (2) The conse- 
quent revival in dynastic forms, under the influence of antagonism to 
France, of national life in Germany. (3) The aspiration after national 
unity elsewhere in Europe — a movement which must precede the 
organisation of states on a sound basis, and for the time readily yields 
itself to direction by a dynasteia. (4) The existence over all the Slavonic 
side of Europe of populations which are only just beginning to make 
any approach to political life the life of the politeia, or civitas and still 
offer a tempting field to the ambition of rival dynasteiai, Austrian, Rus- 
sian, and Turkish (which, indeed, are by no means to be put on a level, 
but are alike as not resting on a basis of citizenship). (5) The tenure of a 
great Indian empire by England, which not only gives it a military char- 
acter which would not belong to it simply as a state, but brings it into 
outward relations with the dynasteiai just spoken of. This is no doubt a 
very incomplete account of the influences which have combined to 'turn 
Europe into a great camp' (a very exaggerated expression), but it may 
serve to show what a fuller account would show more clearly that the 
military system of Europe is no necessary incident of the relations be- 
tween independent states, but arises from the fact that the organisation 
of state-life, even with those peoples that have been brought under its 
influence at all, is still so incomplete. 

174. The more complete it becomes, the more the motives and occa- 
sions of international conflict tend to disappear, while the bonds of unity 
become stronger. The latter is the case, if for no other reason, yet for 
this; that the better organisation of the state means freer scope to the 
individual (not necessarily to do as he likes, e.g. in the buying and sell- 
ing of alcohol, but in such development of activity as is good on the 
whole). This again means freer intercourse between members of one 
state and those of another, and in particular more freedom of trade. All 
restrictions on freedom of wholesome trade are really based on special 
class interests, and must disappear with the realisation of that idea of 
individual right, founded on the capacity of every man for free contribu- 
tion to social good, which is the true idea of the state. And as trade 
between members of different states becomes freer and more full, the 

134/T.H. Green 

sense of common interests between them, which war would infringe, 
becomes stronger. The bond of peace thus established is sometimes de- 
preciated as a selfish one, but it need be no more selfish than that which 
keeps the peace between members of the same state, who have no ac- 
quaintance with each other. In one case as in the other it may be said 
that the individual tries to prevent a breach of the peace because he 
knows that he has more to gain than to lose by it. In the latter case, 
however, this account of the matter would be, to say the least, insuffi- 
cient. The good citizen observes the law in letter and in spirit, not from 
any fear of consequences to himself if he did not, but from an idea of the 
mutual respect by men for each other's rights as that which should be, 
which has become habitual with him and regulates his conduct without 
his asking any questions about it. There was a time, however, when this 
idea only thus acted spontaneously in regulating a man's action towards 
his family or immediate neighbours or friends. Considerations of inter- 
est were the medium through which a wider range of persons came to be 
brought within its range. And thus, although considerations of an iden- 
tity of interests, arising out of trade, may be the occasion of men's 
recognising in men of other nations those rights which war violates, 
there is no reason why upon that occasion and through the familiarity 
which trade brings about an idea of justice, as a relation which should 
subsist between all mankind as well as between members of the same 
state, may not come to act on men's minds as independently of all calcu- 
lation of their several interests as does the idea which regulates the con- 
duct of the good citizen. 

175. If the restraining or impelling power of the idea of what is due 
from members of different nations to each other is weak, it must be 
observed on the other hand that the individual members of a nation have 
no such apparent interest in their government's dealing unfairly with 
another nation as one individual may have in getting the advantage of 
another. Thus, so far as this idea comes to form part of the habit of 
men's minds, there ceases to be anything in the passions of the people 
which a government represents to stimulate the government to that un- 
fairness in deahng with another government to which an individual might 
be moved by self-seeking passions in dealing with another individual, in 
the absence of an impartial authority having power over both. If at the 
same time the several governments are purely representative of the sev- 
eral peoples, as they should become with the due organisation of the 
state, and thus have no dynastic interests of their own in embroiling one 

Principles of Political Obligation/l 35 

nation with another, there seems to be no reason why they should not 
arrive at a passionless impartiality in dealing with each other, which 
would be beyond the reach of the individual in defending his own cause 
against another. At any rate, if no government can ever get rid of some 
bias in its own favour, there remains the possibility of mediation in 
cases of dispute by disinterested governments. With the abatement of 
national jealousies and the removal of those more deeply-seated causes 
of war which, as we have seen, are connected with the deficient 
organisation of states, the dream of an international court with authority 
resting on the consent of independent states may come to be realised. 
Such a result may be very remote, but it is important to bear in mind 
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 into states in the sense explained is a step to- 
wards it. 

L. The Right of the State to Punish 

176. We come now to the third of the questions raised [§156] in regard 
to the individual's right to free life the question under what conditions 
that right may be forfeited; the question, in other words, of the state's 
right of punishment. The right (power secured by social recognition) of 
free life in every man rests on the assumed capacity in every man of free 
action contributory to social good ('free' in the sense of determined by 
the idea of a common good. Animals may and do contribute to the good 
of man, but not thus 'freely' ). This right on the part of associated men 
implies the right on their part to prevent such action as interferes with 
the possibility of free action contributory to social good. This consti- 
tutes the right of punishment the right so far to use force upon a person 
(treat him as an animal or a thing) as may be necessary to save others 
from this interference. 

177. Under what conditions a person needs to be thus dealt with 
what particular actions on his part constitute such an interference is a 
question which can only be answered when we have considered what 
powers in particular need to be secured to individuals or to officials in 
order to the possibility of free action of the kind described. Every such 
power is a right of which the violation — if intended as a violation of a 
right requires a punishment, of which the kind and amount must depend 
on the relative importance of the right and of the extent to which its 
general exercise is threatened. Thus every theory of rights in detail must 

136/T.H. Green 

be followed by, or indeed implies, a corresponding theory of punish- 
ment in detail a theory which considers what particular acts are punish- 
able, and how they should be punished. The latter cannot precede the 
former. All that can be done here is further to consider what general 
rules of punishment are implied in the principle on which we hold all 
right of punishment to rest, and how far in the actual practice of punish- 
ment that principle has been realised. 

178. It is commonly asked whether punishment according to its 
proper nature is retributive or preventive or reformatory The true an- 
swer is that it is and should be all three. The statement, however, that 
the punishment of the criminal by the state is retributive, though true in 
a sense that will be explained directly, yet so readily lends best avoided. 
It is not itself to a misunderstanding, that it is perhaps true in the sense 
that in legal punishment as it should be there survives any element of 
private vengeance, of the desire on the part of the individual who has 
received a hurt from another to inflict an equivalent hurt in return. It is 
true that the beginning of punishment by the state first appears in the 
form of a regulation of private vengeance, but it is not therefore to be 
supposed that punishment by the state is in any way a continuation of 
private vengeance. It is the essence of the former to suppress and super- 
sede the latter, but it only does so gradually, just as rights in actuality 
are only formed gradually. Private vengeance belongs to the state of 
things in which rights are not as yet actualised in the sense that the 
powers which it is for the social good that a man should be allowed to 
exercise, are not yet secured to him by society. In proportion as they are 
actualised, the exercise of private vengeance must cease. A right of pri- 
vate vengeance is an impossibility for just so far as the vengeance is 
private, the individual in executing it is exercising a power not derived 
from society nor regulated by reference to social good, and such a power 
is not a right. Hence the view commonly taken by writers of the seven- 
teenth and eighteenth centuries, implies an entire misconception of the 
nature of a right, the view, viz., that there first existed rights of self- 
defence and self- vindication on the part of individuals in a state of na- 
ture and that these came to be devolved on a power representing all 
individuals, so that the state's right of using force against those men 
who use or threaten force against other men, is merely the sum or equiva- 
lent of the private rights which individuals would severally possess if 
there were no public equivalent for them. It is to suppose that to have 
been a right which in truth, under the supposed conditions, would merely 

Principles of Political Obligation/l 37 

have been animal impulse and power and public right (which is a pleo- 
nasm, for all right is public) to have resulted from the combination of 
these animal impulses and powers — to suppose that from a state of things 
in which 'homo homini lupus' ['man is no man, but a wolf, to a stranger'], 
by mere combination of wolfish impulses there could result the state of 
things in which 'homo homini deus' ['man is but a god to a stranger']. 

179. In a state of things in which private vengeance for hurt in- 
flicted was the universal practice, there could be no rights at all. In the 
most primitive society in which rights can exist, it must at least within 
the limits of the family be suppressed by that authority of the family or 
its head which first constitutes rights. In such a society it is only on the 
members of another family that a man may retaliate at pleasure a wrong 
done to him, and then the vengeance is not strictly speaking taken by 
individual upon individual, though individuals may be severally the agent 
and patient of it, but by family upon family. Just because there is as yet 
no idea of a state independent of ties of birth, much less of a universal 
society from relation to which a man derives rights, there is no idea of 
rights attaching to him as a citizen or as a man but only as a member of 
a family. That social right, which is at once a right of society over the 
individual, and a right which society communicates and secures the in- 
dividual, appears so far only as a control exercised by the family over 
its members in their dealings with each other, as an authorisation which 
it gives them in prosecuting their quarrels with members of another family, 
and at the same time to a certain extent as a limitation on the manner in 
which feuds between families may be carried on — a limitation generally 
dependent on some religious authority equally recognised by the fami- 
lies at feud. 

1 80. From this state of things it is a long step to the regime of law in 
a duly constituted state. Under it the arm of the state alone is the organ 
through which force may be exercised on the individual; the individual 
is prohibited from averting violence by violence, except so far as is 
necessary for the immediate protection of life, and altogether from aveng- 
ing wrong done to him, on the understanding that the society, of which 
he is an organ and from which he derives his rights, being injured in 
every injury to him, duly protects him against injury, and when it fails to 
prevent such injury from being done, inflicts such punishment on the 
offender as is necessary for future protection. But the process from the 
one state of things to the other, though a long one, consists in the further 
development of that social right which properly speaking was the only 

138/T.H. Green 

right the individual ever had, and from the first, or ever since a perma- 
nent family tie existed, was present as a qualifying and restraining ele- 
ment in the exercise of private vengeance so far as that exercise partook 
at all in the nature of a right. The process is not a continuance of private 
vengeance under altered forms, but a gradual suppression of it by the 
fuller realisation of the higher principle which all along controlled it. 

1 8 1 . But it will be asked, how upon this view of the nature of pun- 
ishment as inflicted by the state it can be considered retributory. If no 
private vengeance — no vengeance of the injured individual — is involved 
in punishment, there can be no vengeance in it at all. The conception of 
vengeance is quite inappropriate to the action of society or the state on 
the criminal. The state cannot be supposed capable of vindictive pas- 
sion. Nor, if the essence of crime is a wrong done to society, does it 
admit of retaliation upon the person committing it. A hurt done to an 
individual can be requited by the infliction of a like hurt upon the person 
who has done it; but no equivalent of wrong done to society can be paid 
back to the doer of it. 

182. It is true that there is such a thing as a national desire for 
revenge (France and Germany): and, if a state = a nation organised in a 
certain way why should it not be 'capable of vindictive passion'? No 
doubt there is a unity of feeling among the members of a nation which 
makes them feel any loss of strength, real or apparent, sustained by the 
nation in its corporate character, as a hurt or disgrace to themselves, 
which they instinctively desire to revenge. The corporate feeling is so 
strong that individuals feel themselves severally hurt in the supposed 
hurt of the nation. But when it is said that a crime is an offence against 
the state, it is not meant that the body of persons forming the nation feel 
any hurt in the sense in which the person robbed or wounded does such 
a hurt as excites a natural desire for revenge. What is meant is that there 
is a violation of a system of rights which the nation has, no doubt, an 
interest in maintaining, but a purely social interest, quite different from 
the egoistic interest of the individual of which the desire for vengeance 
is a form. A nation is capable of vindictive feeling, but not so a nation as 
acting through the medium of a settled, impartial, general law for the 
maintenance of rights, and that is what we mean when we talk of the 
state as that against which crimes are committed and which punishes 

183. It is true that when a crime of a certain sort, e.g., a cold- 
blooded murder, has been committed, a popular sympathy with the suf- 

Principles of Political Obligation/l 39 

ferer is excited, which expresses itself in the wish to 'serve out' the 
murderer. This has some resemblance to the desire for personal revenge, 
but is really quite different, because not egoistic. Indignation against 
wrong done to another has nothing in common with desire to revenge a 
wrong done to oneself. It borrows the language of private revenge, just 
as the love of God borrows the language of sensuous affection. Such 
indignation is inseparable from the interest in social well-being, and 
along with it is the chief agent in the establishment and maintenance of 
legal punishment. Law indeed is necessarily general while indignation is 
particular in its reference; and accordingly the treatment of any particu- 
lar crime, so far as determined by law, cannot correspond with the in- 
dignation which the crime excites, but the law merely determines the 
general category under which the crime falls, and fixes certain limits to 
the punishment that may be inflicted under that category. Within those 
limits discretion is left to the judge as to the sentence that he passes, and 
his sentence is in part influenced by the sort of indignation which, in the 
given state of public sentiment, the crime is calculated to excite; though 
generally much more by his opinion as to the amount of terror required 
for the prevention of prevalent crime. Now what is it in punishment that 
this indignation demands? If not the sole foundation of public punish- 
ment, it is yet inseparable from that public interest on which the system 
of rights, with the corresponding system of punishments protective of 
rights, depends. In whatever sense then this indignation demands retri- 
bution in punishment, in that sense retribution would seem to be a nec- 
essary element in punishment. It demands retribution in the sense of 
demanding that the criminal should have his due, should be dealt with 
according to his deserts, should be punished justly. 

1 84. This is quite a different thing from an equivalence between the 
amount of suffering inflicted by the criminal and that which he sustains 
in punishment. The amount of suffering which is caused by any crime is 
really as incalculable as that which the criminal endures in punishment, 
whatever the punishment. It is only in the case of death for murder that 
there is any appearance of equivalence between the two sufferings, and 
in this case the appearance is quite superficial. The suffering involved 
in death depends almost entirely on the circumstances, which are abso- 
lutely different in the case of the murdered man and in that of the man 
executed for murder. When a man is imprisoned with hard labour for 
robbery there is not even an appearance of equivalence of suffering 
between the crime and the punishment. In what then does the justice of 

140/T.H. Green 

a punishment, or its correspondence with the criminal's deserts consist? 
It will not do to say that these terms merely represent the result of an 
association of ideas between a crime and the penalty which we are ac- 
customed to see inflicted on it; that society has come to attach certain 
penalties to certain actions as a result of the experience ( 1 ) of suffering 
and loss caused by those acts, and (2) of the kind of suffering of which 
the expectation will deter men from doing them; and that these penalties 
having become customary, the onlookers and the criminal himself, when 
one of them is inflicted, feel that he has got what was to be expected, 
and call it his due or desert or a just punishment. If this were the true 
account of the matter, there would be nothing to explain the difference 
between the emotion excited by the spectacle of a just punishment in- 
flicted or the demand that it should be inflicted, on the one side, and on 
the other that excited by the sight of physical suffering following ac- 
cording to the usual course of things upon a physical combination of 
circumstances or the expectation that such suffering will follow. If it is 
said that the difference is explained by the fact that in one case both the 
antecedent (the criminal act) and the consequent represent voluntary 
human agency, while in the other they do not, we reply. Just so, but for 
that reason the conception of a punishment as just differs wholly from 
any conception of it that could result either from its being customary or 
from the infliction of such punishment having been commonly found a 
means for protecting us against hurt. 

185. The idea of punishment implies on the side of the person pun- 
ished at once a capacity for determination by conception of a common 
or public good, or in other words a practical understanding of the nature 
of rights as founded on relations to such public good, and an actual 
violation of a right or omission to fulfil an obligation, the right or obli- 
gation being one of which the agent might have been aware and the 
violation or omission one which he might have prevented. On the side of 
the authority punishing, it implies equally a conception of right founded 
on relation to public good, and one which, unlike that on the part of the 
criminal, is realised in act; a conception of which the punitive act, as 
founded on a consideration of what is necessary for the maintenance of 
rights, is the logical expression. A punishment is unjust if either element 
is absent; if either the act punished is not a violation of known rights or 
omission to fulfil known obligations of a kind which the agent might 
have prevented, or the punishment is one that is not required for the 
maintenance of rights, or (which comes to the same thing) if the osten- 

Principles of Political Obligatioii/141 

sible rights for the maintenance of which the punishment is required are 
not real rights — not liberties of action or acquisition which there is any 
real public interest in maintaining. 

1 86. When the specified conditions of just punishment are fulfilled, 
the person punished himself recognises it as just, as his due or desert, 
and it is so recognised by the onlooker who thinks himself into the situ- 
ation. The criminal, being susceptible to the idea of public good, and 
through it of rights, though this idea has not been strong enough to 
regulate his actions, sees in the punishment its natural expression. He 
sees that the punishment is his own act returning on himself, in the sense 
that it is the necessary outcome of his act in a society governed by the 
conception of rights — a conception which he appreciates and to which 
he does involuntary reverence. 

It is the outcome of his act or his act returning upon himself in a 
different way from that in which a man's act returns on himself when, 
having misused his body, he is visited according to physical necessity 
by painful consequences. The cause of the suffering which the act en- 
tails in the one case is the relation of the act to a society governed by the 
conception of rights, in the other it is not. For that reason, the painful 
consequence of the act to the doer in the one case is, in the other is not, 
properly a punishment. We do indeed commonly speak of the painful 
consequences of imprudent or immoral acts (immoral as distinct from 
illegal) as a punishment of them, but this is either metaphorically or 
because we think of the course of the world as regulated by a divine 
sovereign, whom we conceive as a maintainer of rights like the sover- 
eign of a state. We may. think of it as divinely regulated, and so regu- 
lated with a view to the realisation of moral good, but we shall still not 
be warranted in speaking of the sufferings which follow in the course of 
nature upon certain kinds of conduct as punishments, according to the 
distinctive sense in which crime is punished, unless we suppose the 
maintenance of rights to be the object of the moral government of the 
world — which is to put the cart before the horse for, as we have seen, 
rights are relative to morality, not morality to rights (the ground on 
which certain liberties of action and acquisition should be guaranteed as 
rights being that they are conditions of the moral perfection of society). 

While there would be reason, then, as against those who say that the 
punishment of crime is merely preventive, in saying that it is also re- 
tributive, if the needed correction of the 'merely preventive' doctrine 
could not be more accurately stated, it would seem that the truth can be 

142/T.H. Green 

more accurately stated by the proposition that punishment is not justi- 
fied unless it is just, and that it is not just unless the act punished is an 
intentional violation of real right or neglect of real obligation which the 
agent could have avoided i.e., unless the agent knowingly and by inten- 
tional act interferes with some freedom of action or acquisition which 
there is a public interest in maintaining and unless the future mainte- 
nance of rights requires that the criminal be dealt with as he is in the 

187. It is clear, however, that this requirement that punishment of 
crime should be just may be covered by the statement that in its proper 
nature it is preventive if the nature of that which is to be prevented by it 
is sufficiently defined. Its proper function is in the interest of rights that 
are genuine (in the sense explained), to prevent actions of the kind de- 
scribed by associating in the mind of every possible doer of them a 
certain terror with the contemplation of the act such terror as is neces- 
sary on the whole to protect the rights threatened by such action. The 
whipping of an ill-behaved dog is preventive, but not preventive in the 
sense in which the punishment of crime is so because (1) the dog's ill 
conduct is not an intentional violation of a right or neglect of a known 
obligation, the dog having no conception of right or obligation, and (2) 
for the same reason the whipping does not lead to the association of 
terror in the minds of other dogs with the violation of rights and neglect 
of obligations. To shoot men down who resist a successful coup d' tat 
may be effectually preventive of further resistance to the government 
established by the coup d' tat, but it does not satisfy the true idea of 
punishment because the terror produced by the massacre is not neces- 
sary for the protection of genuine rights — rights founded on public in- 
terest. To hang men for sheep-stealing, again, does not satisfy the idea; 
because, though it is a genuine right that sheep-stealing violates, in a 
society where there was any decent reconciliation of rights no such ter- 
ror as is caused by the punishment of death would be required for pro- 
tection of the right. It is because the theory that punishment is 'merely 
preventive' favours the notion that the repetition of any action which 
any sufficient body of men find inconvenient may justifiably be pre- 
vented by any sort of terror that may be convenient for the purpose, that 
it requires to be guarded by substituting for the qualifying 'merely' a 
statement of what it is which the justifiable punishment prevents and 
why it prevents it. 

188. But does our theory, after all has been said about the wrong- 

Principles of Political Obligatioii/143 

ness of punishment that is not just, afford any standard for the appor- 
tionment of just punishment, any criterion of the amount of interference 
with a criminal's personal rights that is appropriate to his crime, except 
such as is afforded by a prevalent impression among men as to what is 
necessary for their security? Can we construe it so as to afford such a 
criterion without at the same time condemning a great deal of punish- 
ment which yet society could be never brought to dispense with? Does it 
really admit of being applied at all in the presence of the admitted im- 
possibility of ascertaining the degree of moral guilt of criminals (as 
depending on their state of character or habitual motives)? How, ac- 
cording to it, can we justify punishments inflicted in the case of 'cul- 
pable negligence,' e.g. when an engine-driver by careless driving, for 
which we think very little the worse of him, is the occasion of a bad 
accident, and is heavily punished in consequence? 

189. It is true that there can be no a priori criterion of just punish- 
ment, except of an abstract and negative kind. We may say that no pun- 
ishment is just, unless the rights which it serves to protect are powers on 
the part of individuals or corporations of which the general maintenance 
is necessary to the well-being of society on the whole and unless the 
terror which the punishment is calculated to inspire is necessary for 
their maintenance. For a positive and detailed criterion of just punish- 
ment we must wait till a system of rights has been established in which 
the claims of all men, as founded on their capacities for contributing to 
social well-being, are perfectly harmonised, and till experience has shown 
the degree and kind of terror with which men must be affected in order 
to the suppression of the antisocial tendencies which might lead to the 
violation of such a system of rights. And this is perhaps equivalent to 
saying that no complete criterion of just punishment can be arrived, at 
till punishment is no longer necessary, for the state of things supposed 
could scarcely be realised without bringing with it an extinction of the 
tendencies which state-punishment is needed to suppress. Meanwhile 
there is no method of approximation to justice in punishment but that 
which consists in gradually making the system of established rights just, 
i.e., in harmonising the true claims of all men, and in discovering by 
experience the really efficient means of restraining tendencies to viola- 
tion of rights. An intentional violation of a right must be punished, whether 
the right violated is one that should be a right or no, on the principle that 
social well-being suffers more from violation of any established right, 
whatever the nature of the right, than from the establishment as a right 

144/T.H. Green 

of a power which should not be so established; and it can only be pun- 
ished in the way which for the time is thought most efficient by the 
maintainers of law for protecting the right in question by associating 
terror with its violation. This, however, does not alter the moral duty, on 
the part of the society authorising the punishment, to make its punish- 
ments just by making the system of rights which it maintains just. The 
justice of the punishment depends on the justice of the general system of 
rights not merely on the propriety with reference to social well-being of 
maintaining this or that particular right which the crime punished vio- 
lates, but on the question whether the social organisation in which a 
criminal has lived and acted is one that has given him a fair chance of 
not being a criminal. 

190. We are apt to think that the justice of a punishment depends on 
some sort of equality between its magnitude and that of the crime pun- 
ished, but this notion arises from a confusion of punishment as inflicted 
by the state for a wrong done to society with compensation to the indi- 
vidual for damage done him. Neither a crime nor its punishment admits 
of strictly quantitative measurement. It may be said, indeed, that the 
greater the crime the heavier should be its punishment, but this is only 
true if by the 'heavier punishment' is understood that with which most 
terror is associated in the popular imagination, and if the conception of 
the 'greater crime' is taken on the one hand to exclude any estimation of 
the degree of moral guilt, and, on the other hand, to be determined by an 
estimate not only of the importance in the social system of the right 
violated by the crime but of the amount of terror that needs to be asso- 
ciated with the crime in the general apprehension in order to its preven- 
tion. But when its terms are thus understood, the statement that the 
greater the crime the heavier should be its punishment, becomes an iden- 
tical proposition. It amounts to this that the crime which requires most 
terror to be associated with it in order to its prevention should have most 
terror thus associated with it. 

191. But why do the terms 'heavier punishment' and 'greater crime' 
need to be thus understood? Why should not the 'greater crime' be un- 
derstood to mean the crime implying most moral wickedness, or partly 
this, partly the crime which violates the more important kind of right? 
Why should a consideration of the amount of terror that needs to be 
associated with it in order to its prevention enter into the determination 
of the 'greater crime' at all? Why again should not the 'heavier punish- 
ment' mean simply that in which the person punished actually suffers 

Principles of Political Obligatioii/145 

most pain? Why should it be taken to mean that with which most terror 
is associated upon the contemplation? In short, is not the proposition in 
question at once true and significant in the sense that the crime which 
implies most moral depravity, or violates the most important right (such 
as the right to life), or which does both, should be visited with the pun- 
ishment that involves most pain to the sufferer? 

192. The answer is: As regards heaviness of punishment, itis not in 
the power of the state to regulate the amount of pain which it causes to 
the person whom it punishes. If it could only punish justly by making 
this pain proportionate in each case to the depravity implied in the crime, 
it could not punish justly at all. The amount of pain which any kind of 
punishment causes to the particular person depends on his temperament 
and circumstances, which neither the state nor its agent, the judge, can 
ascertain. But if it could be ascertained, and if (which is equally impos- 
sible) the amount of depravity implied in each particular crime could be 
ascertained likewise, in order to make the pain of the punishment pro- 
portionate to the depravity, a different punishment would have to be 
inflicted in each case according to the temperament and circumstances 
of the criminal. There would be an end to all general rules of punish- 

193. In truth, however, the state in its capacity as the sustainer of 
rights and it is in this capacity that it punishes — has nothing to do with 
the amount of moral depravity in the criminal, and the primary refer- 
ence in punishment, as inflicted by the state, is not to the effect of the 
punishment on the person punished but to its effect on others. The con- 
siderations determining its amount should be prospective rather than 
retrospective. In the crime a right has been violated. No punishment can 
undo what has been done, or make good the wrong to the person who 
has suffered. What it can do is to make less likely the doing of a similar 
wrong in other cases. Its object, therefore, is not to cause pain to the 
criminal for the sake of causing it, nor chiefly for the sake of preventing 
him, individually, from committing the crime again, but to associate 
terror with the contemplation of the crime in the mind of others who 
might be tempted to commit it. And this object, unlike that of making 
the pain of the punishment commensurate with the guilt of the criminal, 
is in the main attainable. The effect of the spectacle of punishment on 
the onlooker is independent of any minute inquiry into the degree to 
which it affects the particular criminal. The attachment of equal penal- 
ties to offences that are alike in respect of the importance of the rights 

146/T.H. Green 

which they violate, and in respect of the ordinary temptations to them, 
will on the whole lead to the association of an equal amount of terror 
with the prospect of committing the like offences in the public mind. 
When the circumstances indeed of two criminals guilty of offences alike 
in both the above respects are very greatly and obviously different so 
different as to make the operation of the same penalty upon them very 
conspicuously different — then the penalty may be varied without inter- 
fering with its terrific effect on the public mind. We will suppose, e.g., 
that a fraud on the part of a respectable banker is equivalent, both in 
respect of the rights which it violates and of the terror needed to prevent 
the recurrence of like offences, to a burglary. It will not follow because 
the burglary is punished by imprisonment with hard labour that hard 
labour should be inflicted on the fraudulent banker likewise. The inflic- 
tion of hard labour is in everyone's apprehension so different to the 
banker from what it is to the burglar, that its infliction is not needed in 
order to equalise the terror which the popular imagination associates 
with the punishment in the two cases. 

194. On the same principle may be justified the consideration of 
extenuating circumstances in the infliction of punishment. In fact, whether 
under that name or another, they are taken account of in the administra- 
tion of criminal law among all civilised nations. 'Extenuating circum- 
stances' is not a phrase in use among our lawyers, but in fact consider- 
ation of them does constantly, with the approval of the judge, convert 
what would otherwise have been conviction for murder into conviction 
for manslaughter, and, when there has been conviction for murder, leads 
to commutation of the sentence. This fact is often taken to show that the 
degree of moral depravity on the part of the criminal, the question of his 
character and motive, is and must be considered in determining the pun- 
ishment due to him. In truth, however, 'extenuating circumstances' may 
very well make a difference in the kind of terror which needs to be 
associated with a crime in order to the future protection of rights, and 
under certain conditions the consideration of them may be sufficiently 
justified on this ground. Suppose a theft by a starving man, or a hare 
shot by an angry farmer whose corn it is devouring. These are crimes, 
but crimes under such extenuating circumstances that there is no need 
to associate very serious terror with them in order to the protection of 
essential rights of property. In the latter case the right which the farmer 
violates is one which perhaps might be disallowed altogether without 
interference with any right which society is interested in maintaining. In 

Principles of Political Obligatioii/147 

the former case the right violated is a primary and essential one. one 
which, where there are many starving people, is in fact pretty sure to be 
protected by the most stringent penalties. And it might be argued that on 
the principle stated this is as it should be that so far from the hunger of 
the thief being a reason for lightening his punishment, it is a reason for 
increasing it, in order that the special temptation to steal when far gone 
in hunger may, if possible, be neutralised by a special terror associated 
with the commission of the crime under those conditions. But this would 
be a one-sided application of the principle. It is not the business of the 
state to protect one order of rights specially,, but all rights equally. It 
ought not therefore to protect a certain order of rights by associating 
special terror with the violation of them when the special temptation to 
their violation itself implies a violation of right in the persons of those 
who are so tempted, as is the case when a general danger to property 
arises from the fact that many people are on the edge of starvation. The 
attempt to do so is at once ineffectual and diverts attention from the true 
way of protecting the endangered right, which is to prevent people from 
falling into a state of starvation. In any tolerably organised society the 
condition of a man, ordinarily honest and industrious, who is driven to 
theft by hunger, will be so abnormal that very little terror needs to be 
associated with the crime as so committed in order to maintain the sanc- 
tity of property in the general imagination. Suppose again a man to be 
killed in a quarrel arising out of his having tampered with the fidelity of 
his neighbour's wife. In such a case 'extenuating circumstances' may 
fairly be pleaded against the infliction of the extremest penalty because 
the extremest terror does not need to be associated with homicide, as 
committed under such conditions, in order to the general protection of 
human life, and because the attempt so to associate it would tend, so far 
as successful, to weaken the general sense of the wrong the breach of 
family, right — involved in the act which, in the case supposed, provokes 
the homicide. 

195. 'After all,' it may be said, 'this is a far-fetched way of explain- 
ing the admission of extenuating circumstances as modifying the pun- 
ishment of crime. Why so strenuously avoid the simpler explanation, 
that extenuating circumstances are taken into account because they are 
held to modify the moral guilt of the crime? Is not their recognition a 
practical proof that punishment of a crime by the state represents the 
moral disapproval of the community? Does it not show that, however 
imperfectly the amount of punishment inflicted on a crime may in fact 

148/T.H. Green 

correspond to its moral wickedness, it is generally felt that it ought to do 

196. Answer: The reasons for holding that the state neither can nor 
should attempt to adjust the amount of punishment which it inflicts on a 
crime to the degree of moral depravity which the crime implies are (1). 
That the degree of moral depravity, implied in any crime is unascertain- 
able. It depends on the motive of the crime, and on this as part of the 
general character of the agent; on the relation in which the habitual set 
of his character stands to the character habitually set on the pursuit of 
goodness. No one can ascertain this in regard to himself. He may know 
that he is always far from being what he ought to be ; that one particular 
action of his represents on the whole, with much admixture of inferior 
motives, the better tendency; another, with some admixture of better 
motives, the worse. But any question in regard to the degree of moral 
goodness or badness in any action of his own or of his most intimate 
friend is quite unanswerable. Much less can a judge or jury answer such 
a question in regard to an unknown criminal. We may be sure indeed 
that every ordinary crime — nay, perhaps even that of the 'disinterested 
rebel' — implies the operation of some motive which is morally bad — 
for though it is not necessarily the worst men who come into conflict 
with established rights, it probably never can be the best but the degree 
of badness implied in such a conflict in any particular case is quite 
beyond our ken, and it is this degree that must be ascertained if the 
amount of punishment which the state inflicts is to be proportionate to 
the moral badness implied in the crime. (2) The notion that the state 
should, if it could, adjust the amount of punishment which it inflicts on 
a crime to the moral wickedness of the crime rests on a false view of the 
relation of the state to morality. It implies that it is the business of the 
state to punish wickedness as such. But it has no such business. It can- 
not undertake to punish wickedness, as such, without vitiating the dis- 
interestedness of the effort to escape wickedness and thus checking the 
growth of a true goodness of the heart in the attempt to promote a good- 
ness which is merely on the surface. This, however, is not to be under- 
stood as meaning that the punishment of crime serves no moral purpose. 
It does serve such a purpose, and has its value in doing so, but only in 
the sense that the protection of rights, and the association of terror with 
their violation, is the condition antecedent of any general advance in 
moral well-being. 

197. The punishment of crime, then, neither is, nor can, nor should 

Principles of Political Obligatioii/149 

be adjusted to the degree of moral depravity, properly so called, implied 
in the crime. But it does not therefore follow that it does not represent 
the disapproval which the community feels for the crime. On the whole, 
making allowance for the fact that law and judicial custom vary more 
slowly than popular feeling, it does represent such disapproval. And the 
disapproval may fitly be called moral, so far as that merely means that 
it is a disapproval relating to voluntarily action. But it is disapproval 
founded on a sense of what is necessary for the protection of rights, not 
on a judgment of moral good and evil of that kind which we call con- 
science when it is applied to our own actions, and which is founded on 
an ideal of moral goodness with which we compare our inward conduct 
(inward, as representing motives and character). It is founded essen- 
tially on the outward aspect of a man's conduct, on the view of it as 
related to the security and freedom in action and acquisition of other 
members of society. It is true that this distinction between the outward 
and inward aspects of conduct is not present to the popular mind. It has 
not been recognised by those who have been the agents in establishing 
the existing law of crimes in civilised nations. As the state came to 
control the individual or family in revenging hurts, and to substitute its 
penalties for private vengeance, rules of punishment came to be enacted 
expressive of general disapproval, without any clear consciousness of 
what was the ground of the disapproval. But in fact it was by what have 
been just described as the outward consequences of conduct that a gen- 
eral disapproval of it was ordinarily excited. Its morality in the stricter 
or inward sense was not matter of general social consideration. Thus in 
the main it has been on the ground of its interference with the general 
security and freedom in action and acquisition, and in proportion to the 
apprehension excited by it in this respect, that conduct has been pun- 
ished by the state. Thus the actual practice of criminal law has on the 
whole corresponded to its true principle. So far as this principle has 
been departed from, it has not been because the moral badness of con- 
duct, in the true or inward sense, has been taken account of in its treat- 
ment as a crime for this has not been generally contemplated at all, but 
because 'religious' considerations have interfered. Conduct which did 
not call for punishment by the state as interfering with any true rights 
(rights that should be rights) has been punished as 'irreligious.' This, 
however, did not mean that it was punished on the ground of moral 
badness, properly so called. It meant that its consequences were feared 
either as likely to weaken the belief in some divine authority on which 

150/T.H. Green 

the established system of rights was supposed to rest, or as likely to 
bring evil on the community through provoking the wrath of some un- 
seen power. 

198. This account of the considerations which have regulated the 
punishment of crimes explains the severity with which 'criminal negli- 
gence, is in some cases punished, and that severity is justified by the 
account given of the true principle of criminal law, the principle, viz., 
that crime should be punished according to the importance of the right 
which it violates and to the degree of terror which in a well-organised 
society needs to be associated with the crime in order to the protection 
of the right. It cannot be held that the carelessness of an engine-driver 
who overlooks a signal and causes a fatal accident implies more moral 
depravity than is implied in such negligence as all of us are constantly 
guilty of. Considered with reference to the state of mind of the agent, it 
is on a level with multitudes of actions and omissions which are not 
punished at all. Yet the engine-driver would be found, guilty of man- 
slaughter and sentenced to penal servitude. The justification is not to be 
found in distinctions between different kinds of negligence on the part of 
different agents but in the effect of the negligence in different cases upon 
the rights of others. In the case supposed, the most important of all 
rights, the right to life, on the part of railway passengers depends for its 
maintenance on the vigilance of the drivers. Any preventible failure in 
such vigilance requires to have sufficient terror associated with it in the 
mind of other engine-drivers to prevent the recurrence of a like failure in 
vigilance. Such punishment is just, however generally virtuous the vic- 
tim of it, because necessary to the protection of rights of which the 
protection is necessary to social well-being; and the victim of it, in pro- 
portion to his sense of justice, which means his habit of practically 
recognising true rights, will recognise it as just. 

199. On this principle crimes committed in drunkenness must be 
dealt with. Not only is all consideration of depravity of motive specially 
inapplicable to them — since the motives actuating a drunken man often 
seem to have little connection with his habitual character; it is not al- 
ways the case that a crime committed in drunkenness is even inten- 
tional. When a man in a drunken rage kills another, he no doubt intends 
to kill him, or at any rate to do him 'grievous bodily harm,' and perhaps 
the association of great penal terror with such an offence may tend to 
restrain men from committing it even when drunk; but when a drunken 
mother lies on her child and smothers it, the hurt is not intentional but 

Principles of Political Obligatioii/151 

accidental. The drunkenness, however, is not accidental, but preventible 
by the influence of adequate motives. Itis therefore proper to treat such 
a violation of right, though committed unknowingly, as a crime, and to 
associate terror with it in the popular imagination, in order to the pro- 
tection of rights, by making people more careful about getting drunk, 
about allowing or promoting drunkenness, and about looking after 
drunken people. It is unreasonable, however, to do this and at the same 
time to associate so little terror, as in practice we do, with the promotion 
of dangerous drunkenness. The case of a crime committed by a drunk- 
ard is plainly distinguishable from that of a crime committed by a luna- 
tic, for the association of penal terror with the latter would tend neither 
to prevent a lunatic from committing a crime nor people from becoming 

200. The principle above stated, as that according to which punish- 
ment by the state should be inflicted and regulated, also justifies a dis- 
tinction between crimes and civil injuries, i.e., between breaches of right 
for which the state inflicts punishment without redress to the person 
injured, and those for which it procures or seeks to procure redress to 
the person injured without punishment of the person causing the injury. 
We are not here concerned with the history of this distinction, nor with 
the question whether many breaches of right now among us treated as 
civil injuries ought not to be treated as crimes, but with the justification 
that exists for treating certain kinds of breach of right as cases in which 
the state should interfere to procure redress for the person injured, but 
not in the way of inflicting punishment on the injurer until he wilfully 
resists the order to make redress. The principle of the distinction as 
ordinarily laid down, viz. that civil injuries 'are violations of public or 
private rights, when considered in reference to the injury sustained by 
the individual,' while crimes are 'violations of public or private rights, 
when considered in reference to their evil tendency as regards the com- 
munity at large, is misleading because if the well-being of the commu- 
nity did not suffer in the hurt done to the individual, that hurt would not 
be a violation of a right in the true sense at all, nor would the community 
have any ground for insisting that the hurt shall be redressed, and for 
determining the mode in which it shall be redressed. A violation of right 
cannot in truth be considered merely in relation to injury sustained by an 
individual, for thus considered it would not be a violation of right. It 
may be said that the state is only concerned in procuring redress for 
civil injuries because if it left an individual to procure redress in his own 

152/T.H. Green 

way, there would be no public peace. But there are other and easier 
ways of preventing fighting than by procuring redress of wrongs. We 
prevent our dogs from fighting, not by redressing wrongs which they 
sustain from each other (of wrongs as of rights they are in the proper 
sense incapable), but by beating them or tying them up. The community 
would not keep the peace by procuring redress for hurt or damage sus- 
tained by individuals unless it conceived itself as having interest in the 
security of individuals from hurt and damage, unless it considered the 
hurt done to individuals as done to itself. The true justification for treat- 
ing some breaches of right as cases merely for redress, others as cases 
for punishment, is that, in order to the general protection of rights, with 
some it is necessary to associate a certain terror, with others it is not. 

201. What then is the general ground of distinction between those 
with which terror does, and those with which it does not, need to be 
associated? Clearly it is purposeless to seek to associate terror with 
breaches of right in the case where the breaker does not know that he is 
violating a right, and is not responsible for not knowing it. No associa- 
tion of terror with such a breach of right can prevent men from similar 
breaches under like conditions. In any case, therefore, in which it is, to 
begin with, open to dispute whether a breach of right has been commit- 
ted at all — e.g., when it is a question whether a contract has been really 
broken owing to some doubt as to the interpretation of the contract or its 
application to a particular set of circumstances, or whether a commod- 
ity of which someone is in possession properly belongs to another in 
such a case, though the judge finally decides that there has been a breach 
of right, there is no ground for treating it as a crime or punishing it. If in 
the course of judicial inquiry it turns out that there has been fraud by 
one or other of the parties to the litigation, a criminal prosecution, hav- 
ing punishment, not redress, for its object, should properly supervene 
upon the civil suit, unless the consequences of the civil suit are inciden- 
tally such as to amount to a sufficient punishment of the fraudulent 
party. Again, it is purposeless to associate terror with a breach of obli- 
gation which the person committing it knows to be so, but of an obliga- 
tion which he has no means of fulfilling, e.g., non-payment of an ac- 
knowledged debt by a man who, through no fault of his own, is without 
means of paying it. It is only incases of one or other of the above kinds 
cases in which the breach of right, supposing it to have been committed, 
has presumably arisen either from inability to prevent it or from igno- 
rance of the existence of the right that it can be held as an absolute rule 

Principles of Political Obligatioii/153 

to be no business of the state to interfere penally but only in the way of 
restoring, so far as possible, the broken right. 

202. But there are many cases of breach of right which can neither 
be definitely reduced to one of the above kinds nor distinguished from 
them by any broad demarcation; cases in which the breaker of a right 
has been ignorant of it because he has not cared to know, or in which his 
inability to fulfil it is the result of negligence or extravagance. Whether 
these should be treated penally or no will depend partly on the serious- 
ness of the wrong done through avoidable ignorance or negligence, partly 
on the sufficiency of the deterrent effect incidentally involved in the civil 
remedy. In the case e.g., of inability to pay a debt through extravagance 
or recklessness, it may be unnecessary and inadvisable to treat the breach 
of right penally, in consideration that it is indirectly punished by poverty 
and loss of reputation incidental to bankruptcy, and that creditors should 
not look to the state to protect them from the consequences of lending on 
bad security. The negligence of a trustee, again, may be indirectly pun- 
ished by his being obliged to make good the property lost through his 
neglect to the utmost of his means. This may serve as a sufficiently 
deterrent example without the negligence being proceeded against crimi- 
nally Again, damage done to property, by negligence is in England dealt 
with civilly, not criminally; and it may be held that in. this case the 
liability to civil action is a sufficient deterrent. On the other hand, neg- 
ligence which, as negligence, is not really distinguishable from the above, 
when its consequences are more serious — e.g., that of the railway ser- 
vant whose negligence results in a fatal accident, that of the bank-direc- 
tor who allows a misleading statement of accounts to be published, 
fraudulently perhaps in the eve of the law, but in fact negligently is 
rightly treated criminally. As a matter of principle, no doubt, if inten- 
tional violation of the right of property is treated as penal equally with 
the violation of the right of life, the negligent violation should be treated 
as penal in the one case as much as in the other. But as the consequences 
of an action for damages may be virtually though not ostensibly penal to 
the person proceeded against, it may be convenient to leave those 
negligences which do not, like the negligence of a railway-servant, af- 
fect the most important rights, or do not affect rights on a very large 
scale as does that of a bank-director, to be dealt with by the civil pro- 

203. The actual distinction between crimes and civil injuries in En- 
glish law is no doubt largely accidental. As the historians of law point 

154/T.H. Green 

out, the civil process, having compensation, not punishment, for its ob- 
ject, is the form which the interference of the community for the mainte- 
nance of rights originally takes. The community restraining private ven- 
geance, helps the injured person to redress, and regulates the way in 
which redress shall be obtained. This procedure no doubt implies the 
conviction that the community is concerned in the injury done to an 
individual, but it is only by degrees that this conviction becomes ex- 
plicit, and that the community comes to treat all preventible breaches of 
right as offences against itself or its sovereign representative, i.e., as 
crimes or penal; in the language of English law, 'as breaches of the 
king's peace.' Those offences are first so treated which happen to excite 
most public alarm — most fear for general safety (hence, among others, 
anything thought sacrilegious). In a country like England, where no code 
has been drawn up on general principles, the class of injuries that are 
treated penally is gradually enlarged as public alarm happens to be ex- 
cited in particular directions, but it is largely a matter of accident how 
the classification of crimes on one side and civil injuries on the other 
happens to stand at any particular time. 

204. According to the view here taken, then, there is no direct refer- 
ence in punishment by the state, either retrospective or prospective, to 
moral good or evil. The state in its judicial action does not look to the 
moral guilt of the criminal whom it punishes, or to the promotion of 
moral good by means of his punishment in him or others. It looks not to 
virtue and vice but to rights and wrongs. It looks back to the wrong done 
in the crime which it punishes ; not, however, in order to avenge it but in 
order to the consideration of the sort of terror which needs to be associ- 
ated with such wrong -doing in order to the future maintenance of rights. 
If the character of the criminal comes into account at all, it can only be 
properly as an incident of this consideration. Thus punishment of crime 
is preventive in its object; not, however, preventive of any or every evil 
or by any and every means, but (according to its idea or as it should be) 
justly preventive of injustice; preventive of interference with those pow- 
ers of action and acquisition which it is for the general well-being that 
individuals should possess, and according to laws which allow those 
powers equally to all men. But in order effectually to attain its preven- 
tive object and to attain it justly, it should be reformatory When the 
reformatory office of punishment is insisted on, the reference may be, 
and from the judicial point of view must be, not to the moral good of the 
criminal as an ultimate end, but to his recovery from criminal habits as 

Principles of Political Obligatioii/155 

a means to that which is the proper and direct object of state-punish- 
ment, viz., the general protection of rights. The reformatory function of 
punishment is from this point of view an incident of its preventive func- 
tion, as regulated by consideration of what is just to the criminal as well 
as to others. For the fulfilment of this latter function, the great thing, as 
we have seen, is by the punishment of an actual criminal to deter other 
possible criminals, but for the same purpose, unless the actual criminal 
is to be put out of the way or locked up for life, it must be desirable to 
reform him so that he may not be dangerous in future. Now when it is 
asked why he should not be put out of the way it must not be forgotten 
that among the rights which the state has to maintain are included rights 
of the criminal himself. These indeed are for the time suspended by his 
action in violation of rights, but founded as they are on the capacity for 
contributing to social good, they could only be held to be finally for- 
feited on the ground that this capacity was absolutely extinct. 

205. This consideration limits the kind of punishment which the 
state may justly inflict. It ought not in punishing unnecessarily to sacri- 
fice to the maintenance of rights in general what may be called the re- 
versionary rights of the criminal — rights which, if properly treated, he 
might ultimately become capable of exercising for the general good. 
Punishment therefore either by death or by perpetual imprisonment is 
justifiable only on one of two grounds; either that association of the 
extremest terror with certain actions is under certain conditions neces- 
sary to preserve the possibility of a social life based on observance of 
rights, or that the crime punished affords a presumption of a permanent 
incapacity for rights on the part of the criminal. The first justification 
may be pleaded for the executions of men concerned in treasonable out- 
breaks, or guilty of certain breaches of discipline in war (on supposition 
that the war is necessary for the safety of the state and that such punish- 
ments are a necessary incident of war). Whether the capital punishment 
is really just in such cases must depend, not only on its necessity as an 
incident in defence of a certain state, but on the question whether that 
state itself is fulfilling its function as a sustainer of true rights. For the 
penalty of death for murder both justifications may be urged. It cannot 
be defended on any other ground, but it may be doubted whether the 
presumption of permanent incapacity for rights is one which in our ig- 
norance we can ever be entitled to make. As to the other plea, the ques- 
tion is whether, with a proper police system and sufficient certainty of 
detection and conviction, the association of this extremest terror with 

156/T.H. Green 

the murderer is necessary to the security of life. Where the death-pen- 
alty, however, is unjustifiable, so must be that of really permanent im- 
prisonment; one as much as the other is an absolute deprivation of free 
social life, and of the possibilities of moral development which that life 
affords. The only justification for a sentence of permanent imprison- 
ment in a case where there would be none for capital punishment would 
be that, though inflicted as permanent, the imprisonment might be brought 
to an end in the event of any sufficient proof appearing of the criminal ' s 
amendment. But such proof could only be afforded if the imprisonment 
were so modified as to allow the prisoner a certain amount of liberty. 

206. If punishment then is to be just, in the sense that in its infliction 
due account is taken of all rights, including the suspended rights of the 
criminal himself, it must be, so far as public safety allows, reformatory. 
It must tend to qualify the criminal for the resumption of rights. As 
reformatory, however, punishment has for its direct object the qualifica- 
tion for the exercise of rights, and is only concerned with true moralisation 
of the criminal indirectly so far as it may result from the exercise of 
rights. But even where it cannot be reformatory in this sense, and over 
and above its reformatory function in cases where it has one, punish- 
ment has a moral end. Just because punishment by the state has for its 
direct object the maintenance of rights, it has, like every other function 
of the state, indirectly a moral object, because true rights according to 
our definition, are powers which it is for the general well-being that the 
individual (or association) should possess, and that well-being is essen- 
tially amoral well-being. Ultimately, therefore, the just punishment of 
crime is for the moral good of the community. It is also for the moral 
good of the criminal himself, unless and it is a supposition which we 
ought not to make — he is beyond the reach of moral influences. Though 
not inflicted for that purpose, and though it would not the less have to be 
inflicted if no moral effect on the criminal could be discerned, it is mor- 
ally the best thing that can happen to him. It is so, even if a true social 
necessity requires that he be punished with death. The fact that society 
is obliged so to deal with him affords the best chance of bringing home 
to him the anti-social nature of his act. It is true that the last utterances 
of murderers generally convey the impression that they consider them- 
selves interesting persons, quite sure of going to heaven, but these are 
probably conventional. At any rate if the solemn infliction of punish- 
ment on behalf of human society, and without any sign of vindictive- 
ness, will not breed the shame, which is the moral new birth, presum- 

Principles of Political Obligatioii/157 
ably nothing else within human reach will. 

M. The Right of the State to Promote Morality 

207. The right of the individual man, as such, to free life on its negative 
side is constantly gaining more general recognition. It is the basis of the 
growing scrupulosity in regard to punishments which are not reforma- 
tory, which put rights finally out of the reach of a criminal instead of 
qualifying him for their renewed exercise. But the only rational founda- 
tion for the ascription of this right is ascription of capacity for free 
contribution to social good. Is it then reasonable for us as a community 
to treat this capacity in the man whose crime has given proof of its 
having been overcome by anti-social tendencies, as yet giving him a title 
to a further chance of its development; on the other hand, to act as if it 
conferred no title on its possessors, before a crime has been committed, 
to be placed under conditions in which its realisation would be possible? 
Are not all modern states so acting allowing their ostensible members to 
grow up under conditions which render the development of social ca- 
pacity, practically impossible? Was it no more reasonable, as in the 
ancient states, to deny the right to life in the human subject as such, than 
to admit it under conditions which prevent the realisation of the capac- 
ity that forms the ground of its admission? This brings us to the fourth 
of the questions that arose i out of the assertion of the individual's right 
to free life. What is the nature and extent of the individual's claim to be 
enabled positively to realise that capacity for freely contributing to so- 
cial good which is the foundation of his right to free life? 

208. In dealing with this question, it is important to bear in mind 
that the capacity we are considering is essentially a free or (what is the 
same) a moral capacity. It is a capacity, not for action determined by 
relation to a certain end, but for action determined by a conception of 
the end to which it is relative. Only thus is it a foundation of rights. The 
action of an animal or plant may be made contributory to social good, 
but it is not therefore a foundation of rights on the part of an animal or 
plant, because they are not affected by the conception of the good to 
which they contribute. A right is a power (of acting for his own ends for 
what he conceives to be his good) secured to an individual by the com- 
munity, on the supposition that its exercise contributes to the good of 
the community. But the exercise of such a power cannot be so contribu- 
tory unless the individual, in acting for his own ends, is at least affected 
by the conception of a good as common to himself with others. The 

158/T.H. Green 

condition of making the animal contributory to human good is that we 
do not leave him free to determine the exercise of his powers — that we 
determine them for him, that we use him merely as an instrument; and 
this means that we do not, because we cannot, endow him with rights. 
We cannot endow him with rights because there is no conception of a 
good common to him with us which we can treat as a motive to him to 
do to us as he would have us do to him. It is not indeed necessary, to a 
capacity for rights, as it is to true moral goodness, that interest in a good 
conceived as common to himself with others should be a man's domi- 
nant motive. It is enough if that which he presents to himself from time 
to time as his good, and which accordingly determines his action, is so 
far affected by consideration of the position in which he stands to others 
of the way in which this or that possible action of his would affect them, 
and of what he would have to expect from them in return as to result 
habitually without force or fear of force, in action not incompatible with 
conditions necessary to the pursuit of a common good on the part of 
others. In other words, it is the presumption that a man in his general 
course of conduct will of his own motion have respect to the common 
good, which entitles him to rights at the hands of the community. The 
question of the moral value of the motive which may induce this re- 
spect — whether an unselfish interest in common good or the wish for 
personal pleasure and fear of personal pain does not come into the ac- 
count at all. An agent, indeed, who could only be induced by fear of 
death or bodily harm to behave conformably to the requirements of the 
community would not be a subject of rights, because this influence could 
never be brought to bear on him so constantly, if he were free to regulate 
his own life, as to secure the public safety. But a man's desire for plea- 
sure to himself and aversion from pain to himself, though dissociated 
from any desire for a higher object for any object that is desired because 
good for others may constitute a capacity for rights, if his imagination 
of pleasure and pain is so far affected by sympathy with the feeling of 
others about him as to make him, independently of force or fear of pun- 
ishment, observant of established rights. In such a case the fear of pun- 
ishment may be needed to neutralise anti-social impulses under circum- 
stances of special temptation, but by itself it could never be a suffi- 
ciently, uniform motive to qualify a man, in the absence of more sponta- 
neously social feelings, for the. life of a free citizen. The qualification 
for such a life is a spontaneous habit of acting with reference to a com- 
mon good, whether that habit be founded on an imagination of pleasures 

Principles of Political Obligatioii/159 

and pains or on a conception of what ought to be. In either case the habit 
implies at least an understanding that there is such a thing as a common 
good, and a regulation of egoistic hopes and fears, if not an inducing of 
more 'disinterested' motives, in consequence of that understanding. 

209. The capacity for rights, then, being a capacity for spontaneous 
action regulated by a conception of a common good — either so regu- 
lated through an interest which flows directly from that conception or 
through hopes and fears which are affected by it through more complex 
channels of habit and association is a capacity which cannot be gener- 
ated which on the contrary is neutralised by any influences that interfere 
with the spontaneous action of social interests. Now any direct enforce- 
ment of the outward conduct, which ought to flow from social interests, 
by means of threatened penalties and a law requiring such conduct nec- 
essarily implies penalties for disobedience to it — does interfere with the 
spontaneous action of those interests, and consequently checks the growth 
of the capacity which is the condition of the beneficial exercise of rights. 
For this reason the effectual action of the state, i.e., the community as 
acting through law, for the promotion of habits of true citizenship, seems 
necessarily to be confined to the removal of obstacles. Under this head, 
however, there may and should be included much that most states have 
hitherto neglected, and much that at first sight may have the appearance 
of an enforcement of moral duties, e.g., the requirement that parents 
have their children taught the elementary arts. To educate one's children 
is no doubt a moral duty, and it is not one of those duties, like that of 
paving debts, of which the neglect directly interferes with the rights of 
someone else. It might seem, therefore, to be a duty with which positive 
law should have nothing to do, any more than with the duty of striving 
after a noble life. On the other hand, the neglect of it does tend to pre- 
vent the growth of the capacity for beneficially exercising rights on the 
part of those whose education is neglected, and it is on this account not 
as a purely moral duty on the part of a parent, but as the prevention of 
a hindrance to the capacity for rights on the part of children that educa- 
tion should be enforced by the state. It may be objected, indeed, that in 
enforcing it we are departing in regard to the parents from the principle 
above laid down that we are interfering with the spontaneous action of 
social interests, though we are doing so with a view to promoting this 
spontaneous action in another generation. But the answer to this objec- 
tion is, that a law of compulsory education, if the preferences, ecclesias- 
tical or other, of those parents who show any practical sense of their 

160/T.H. Green 

responsibility are duly respected, is from the in whom, so far as this 
beginning only felt as compulsion by those social function is concerned, 
there is no spontaneity to be interfered with, and that in the second gen- 
eration, though the law with its penal sanctions still continues, it is not 
felt as a law, as an enforcement of action by penalties, at all. 

210. On the same principle the freedom of contract ought probably 
to be more restricted in certain directions than is at present the case. The 
freedom to do as they like on the part of one set of men may involve the 
ultimate disqualification of many others, or of a succeeding generation, 
for the exercise of rights. This applies most obviously to such kinds of 
contract or traffic as affect the health and housing of the people, the 
growth of population relatively to the means of subsistence, and the 
accumulation or distribution of landed property. In the hurry of remov- 
ing those restraints on free dealing between man and man, which have 
arisen partly perhaps from some confused idea of maintaining morality 
but much more from the power of class -interests, we have been apt to 
take too narrow a view of the range of persons not one generation merely 
but succeeding generations whose freedom ought to be taken into ac- 
count, and of the conditions necessary to their freedom ('freedom' here 
meaning their qualification for the exercise of rights). Hence the mass- 
ing of population without regard to conditions of health; unrestrained 
traffic in deleterious commodities; unlimited upgrowth of the class of 
hired labourers in particular industries which circumstances have sud- 
denly stimulated, without any provision against the dangers of an im- 
poverished proletariate in following generations. Meanwhile, under pre- 
tence of allowing freedom of bequest and settlement, a system has grown 
up which prevents the landlords of each generation from being free ei- 
ther in the government of their families or in the disposal of their land, 
and aggravates the tendency to crowd into towns, as well as the difficul- 
ties of providing healthy house-room, by keeping land in a few hands. It 
would be out of place here to consider in detail the remedies for these 
evils, or to discuss the question how far it is well to trust to the initiative 
of the state or individuals in dealing with them. It is enough to point out 
the directions in which the state may remove obstacles to the realisation 
of the capacity for beneficial exercise of rights without defeating its 
own object, by vitiating the spontaneous character of that capacity. 

Principles of Political Obligatioii/161 

N. The Right of the State in Regard to Property 

211. We have now considered the ground of the right to free life, and 
what is the justification, if any, for the apparent disregard of that right 
(a) in war, (b) in the infliction of punishment. We have also dealt with 
the question of the general office of the state in regard to the develop- 
ment of that capacity, in individuals which is the foundation of the right, 
pointing out on the one hand the necessary limitation of its office in this 
respect, on the other hand the directions in which it may remove ob- 
stacles to that development. We next have to consider the rationale of 
the rights of property. 

In discussions on the 'origin of property' two questions are apt to 
be mixed up which, though connected, ought to be kept distinct. One is 
the question how men have come to appropriate; the other the question 
how the idea of right has come to be associated with their appropria- 
tions. As the term 'property' not only implies a permanent possession of 
something, or a possession which can only be given up with the good 
will of the possessor, but also a possession recognised as a right, an 
inquiry into the origin of property must involve both these questions, 
but it is not the less important that the distinction between them should 
be observed. Each of them again has both its analytical and its historical 
side. In regard to the first question it is important to learn all that can be 
learnt as to the kind of things that were first, and afterwards at succes- 
sive periods, appropriated; as to the mode in which, and the sort of 
persons or societies by whom, they were appropriated. This is an his- 
torical inquiry. But it cannot take the place of a metaphysical or psycho- 
logical analysis of the conditions on the part of the appropriating sub- 
ject implied in the fact that he does such a thing as appropriate. So too, 
in regard to the second question, it is important to investigate histori- 
cally the forms in which the right of men in their appropriations has 
been recognised; the parties, whether individuals or societies, to whom 
the right has been allowed; and the sort of objects, capable of appro- 
priation, to which it has been considered to extend. But neither can these 
inquiries help us to understand, in the absence of a metaphysical or 
moral analysis, either what is implied in the ascription of a right to 
certain appropriations, or why there should be a right to them. 

212. We have then two questions, as above stated, each requiring 
two different methods of treatment. But neither have the questions them- 
selves, nor the different methods of dealing with them, been duly distin- 
guished. It is owing to confusion between them that the right of property 

162/T.H. Green 

in things has been supposed to originate in the first occupancy of them. 
This supposition, in truth, merely disguises the identical proposition 
that in order to property, there must to begin with have been some ap- 
propriation. The truism that there could be no property in anything which 
had not been at some time and in some manner appropriated tells us 
nothing as to how or why property in it, as a right, came to be recognised, 
or why that right should be recognised. But owing to the confusion be- 
tween the origin of appropriation and the origin of property, as a right, 
an identical proposition as to the beginning of appropriation seemed to 
be an instructive statement as to the basis of the rights of property. Of 
late, in a revulsion from theories founded on identical propositions, 'his- 
torical' inquiries into the 'origin of property' have come into vogue. 
The right method of dealing with the question has been taken to lie in an 
investigation of the earliest forms in which property has existed. But 
such investigation, however valuable in itself, leaves untouched the ques- 
tions, ( 1 ) what it is in the nature of men that makes it possible for them, 
and moves them, to appropriate; (2) why it is that they conceive of 
themselves and each other as having a right in their appropriations; (3) 
on what ground is this conception treated as of moral authority — as one 
that should be acted on. 

213. (1) Appropriation is an expression of will; of the individual's 
effort to give reality to a conception of his own good; of his conscious- 
ness of a possible self-satisfaction as an object to be attained. It is dif- 
ferent from mere provision to supply a future want. Such provision 
appears to be made by. certain animals, e.g. ants. It can scarcely be 
made under the influence of the imagination of pain incidental to future 
want derived from previous experience, for the ant lays up for the win- 
ter though it has not previously lived through the winter. It may be sug- 
gested that it does so from inherited habit, but that this habit has origi- 
nally arisen from an experience of pain on the part of ants in the past. 
Whether this is the true account of the matter we have not, I think, — 
perhaps from the nature of the case, cannot have the means of deciding. 
We conceal our ignorance by saying that the ant acts instinctively, which 
is in effect a merely negative statement, that the ant is not moved to 
make provision for winter either by imagination of the pain which will 
be felt in winter if it does not, or by knowledge of the fact (conception of 
the fact) that such pain will be felt. In fact, we know nothing of the 
action of the ant from the inside, or as an expression of consciousness. 
If we are not entitled to deny dogmatically, that it expresses conscious- 

Principles of Political Obligatioii/163 

ness at all, neither are we entitled to say that it does express conscious- 
ness, still less what consciousness it expresses. On the other hand we 
are able to interpret the acts of ourselves, and of those with whom we 
can communicate by means of signs to which we and they attach the 
same meaning, as expressions of consciousness of a certain kind, and 
thus by reflective analysis to assure ourselves that acts of appropriation 
in particular express a will of the kind stated; that they are not merely a 
passing employment of such materials as can be laid hands on to satisfy 
this or that want, present or future, felt or imagined, but reflect the 
consciousness of a subject which distinguishes itself from its wants; 
which presents itself to itself as still there and demanding satisfaction 
when this or that want, or any number of wants, have been satisfied; 
which thus not merely uses a thing to fill a want, and in so doing at once 
destroys the thing and for the time removes the want, but says to itself, 
'this shall be mine to do as I like with, to satisfy my wants and express 
my emotions as they arise.' 

214. One condition of the existence of property, then, is appropria- 
tion, and that implies the conception of himself on the part of the appro- 
priator as a permanent subject for whose use, as instruments of satis- 
faction and expression, he takes and fashions certain external things 
certain things external to his bodily members. These things, so taken 
and fashioned, cease to be external as they were before. They become a 
sort of extension of the man's organs — the constant apparatus through 
which he gives reality to his ideas and wishes. But another condition 
must be fulfilled in order to constitute property, even of the most simple 
and primitive sort. This is the recognition by others of a man's appro- 
priations as something which they will treat as his, not theirs, and the 
guarantee to him of his appropriations by means of that recognition. 
What then is the ground of the recognition? The writers of the seven- 
teenth and eighteenth centuries, who discussed the basis of the rights of 
property, took it for granted, and in so doing begged the question. Grotius 
makes the right of property rest on contract, but clearly until there is a 
recognised meum [mine] and tuum [yours] there can be no contract. 
Contract presupposes property. The property in a particular thing may 
be derived from a contract through which it has been obtained in ex- 
change for another thing or for some service rendered, but that implies 
that it was previously the property of another, and that the person ob- 
taining it had a property in something else if only in the labour of his 
hands, which he could exchange for it. 'At the same time we learn how 

164/T.H. Green 

things became subject to private ownership... by a kind of agreement, 
either expressed, as by a decision, or implied, as by occupation. In fact, 
as soon as community ownership was abandoned, and as yet no division 
had been made it is supposed that, all agreed, that whatever each one 
had taken possession of should be his property. ' But he supposes a pre- 
vious process by which things had been appropriated ( 4), owing to the 
necessity, of spending labour on them in order to satisfy desire for a 
more refined kind of living than could be supplied by spontaneous prod- 
ucts of the earth. 'The reason was that men were not content to feed on 
the spontaneous products of the earth, to dwell in caves... but chose a 
more refined mode of life; this gave rise to industry which some applied 
to one thing, others to another.' The 'communis rerum' [common own- 
ership], thus departed from when labour came to be expended on things, 
Grotius had previously described ( 1) as a state of things in which ev- 
eryone had a right to whatever he could lay hands on., "All things", as 
Justin says, "were the undivided possession of all men, as if all pos- 
sessed a common inheritance." In consequence, each man could at once 
take whatever he wished for his own needs, and could consume what- 
ever was capable of being consumed. The enjoyment of this universal 
right then served the purpose of private ownership; for whatever each 
had thus taken for his own needs another could not take from him except 
by an unjust act.' Here then a virtual right of property, though not so 
called, seems to be supposed in two forms previous to the establishment 
of what Grotius calls the right of property by contract. There is (1) a 
right of property in which each can 'take to his use and consume' out of 
the raw material supplied by nature; (2) a further right of each man in 
that on which he has extended labour. Grotius does not expressly call 
this a right, but if there is a right, as he says there is, on the part of each 
man to that which he is able 'to take to his use and consume,' much 
more must there be a right to that which he has not only taken but 
fashioned by his labour. On the nature and rationale of this right Grotius 
throws no light, but it is clearly presupposed by that right of property 
which he supposes to be derived from contract, and must be recognised 
before any such contract could be possible. Hobbes is so far more logi- 
cal that he does not derive property from contract, but treats property 
and 'the validity of covenants, as coordinately dependent on the exist- 
ence of a sovereignpower of compulsion. But his account of this, as of 
all other forms of right, is open to the objection (before dwelt on) that if 
the sovereign power is merely a strongest force it cannot be a source of 

Principles of Political Obligation/l 65 

rights; and that if it is other than this — if it is a representative and main- 
tainer of rights — its existence presupposes rights, which remain to be 
accounted for. As previously shown, Hobbes, while professing to make 
all rights dependent on the sovereign power, presupposes rights in his 
account of the institution of this power. The validity of contracts 'be- 
gins not but with its constitution, yet its own right is derived from an 
irrevocable, contract of all with all in which each devolves his persona — 
the body of his rights — upon it. Without pressing his particular forms of 
expression unfairly against him, it is clear that he could not really suc- 
ceed in thinking of rights as derived simply from supreme force; that he 
could not associate the idea of absolute right with the sovereign without 
supposing prior rights which it was made the business of the sovereign 
to enforce, and in particular such a recognised distinction between meum 
and tuum as is necessary to a covenant. Nor when we have dropped 
Hobbes, notion of government or law-making power, as having origi- 
nated in a covenant of all with all, shall we succeed any better in deriv- 
ing rights of property, any more than other rights, from law or a sover- 
eign which makes law, unless we regard the law or sovereign as the 
organ or sustainer of a general social recognition of certain powers, as 
powers which should be exercised. 

215. Locke treats property — fairly enough so long as only its sim- 
plest forms are in question — as derived from labour. By the same law of 
nature and reason by which a man has 'a Property in his own Person,' 
'the Labour of his Body, and the Work of his Hands... are properly his' 
too. Now that the right to free life, which we have already dwelt on, 
carries with it a certain right to property to a certain permanent appara- 
tus beyond the bodily organs — for the maintenance and expression of 
that life, is quite true. But apart from the difficulty of tracing some 
kinds of property in which men are in fact held to have a right, to the 
labour of anyone even of someone from whom it has been derived by 
inheritance or bequest (a difficulty to be considered presently) — to say 
that it is a 'law of nature and reason' that a man should have a property 
in the work of his hands is no more than saying that that on which a man 
has impressed his labour is recognised by others as something which 
should be his , just as he himself is recognised by them as one that should 
be his own master. The ground of the recognition is the same in both 
cases and it is Locke's merit to have pointed this out, but what the 
ground is he does not consider, shelving the question by appealing to a 
law of nature or reason. 

166/T.H. Green 

216. The ground of the right to free life — the reason why a man is 
secured in the free exercise of his powers through recognition of that 
exercise by others as something that should be — lay, as we saw, in the 
conception on the part of everyone who concedes the right to others and 
to whom it is conceded, of an identity of good for himself and others. It 
is only as within a society as a relation between its members, though the 
society be that of all men, that there can be such a thing as a right; and 
the right to free life rests on the common will of the society, in the sense 
that each member of the society within which the right subsists in seek- 
ing to satisfy himself contributes to satisfy the others, and that each is 
aware that the other does so; whence there results a common interest in 
the free play of the powers of all. And just as the recognised interest of 
a society constitutes for each member of it the right to free life — ^just as 
it makes each conceive of such life on the part of himself and his neighbour 
as what should be, and thus forms the basis of a restraining custom 
which secures it for each so it constitutes the right to the instruments of 
such life, making each regard the possession of them by the other as for 
the common good, and thus through the medium first of custom, then of 
law, securing them to each. 

217. Thus the doctrine that the foundation of the right of property 
lies in the will that property is 'realised Will' — is true enough if we 
attach a certain meaning to 'Will,' if we understand by it, not the mo- 
mentary spring of any and every spontaneous action, but a constant 
principle, operative in all men qualified for any form of society, how- 
ever frequently overborne by passing impulses, in virtue of which each 
seeks to give reality to the conception of a well-being which he neces- 
sarily, regards as common to himself with others. A Will of this kind at 
once explains the effort to appropriate, and the restraint placed on each 
in his appropriations by a customary recognition of the interest which 
each has in the success of the like effort on the part of the other members 
of a society with which he shares a common well-being. This customary 
recognition, founded on a moral or rational will, requires indeed to be 
represented by some adequate force before it can result in a real mainte- 
nance of rights of property. The wild beast in man will not otherwise 
yield obedience to the rational will. And from the operation of this com- 
pulsive force, very imperfectly controlled by the moral tendencies which 
need its co-operation in other words from the historical incidents of 
conquest and government — there result many characteristics of the in- 
stitution of property, as it actually exists, which cannot be derived from 

Principles of Political Obligation/l 67 

the spiritual principle which we have assigned as its foundation. Still, 
without that principle it could not have come into existence, nor would 
it have any moral justification at all. 

21 8. It accords with the account given of this principle that the right 
of property, like every other form of right, should first appear within 
societies founded on kinship, these being naturally the societies within 
which the restraining conception of a common wellbeing is first opera- 
tive. We are apt indeed to think of the state of things in which the mem- 
bers of a family or clan hold land and stock in common, as the antithesis 
of one in which rights of property exist. In truth it is the earliest stage of 
their existence, because the most primitive form of society in which the 
fruit of his labour is secured to the individual by the society under the 
influence of the conception of a common well-being. The characteristic 
of primitive communities is not the absence of distinction between meum 
and tuum, without which no society of intelligent as opposed to instinc- 
tive agents would be possible at all, but the common possession of cer- 
tain materials, in particular land, on which labour may be expended. It 
is the same common interest which prevents separate appropriation of 
these materials and which secures the individual in the enjoyment and 
use of that which his labour can extract from them. 

219. From the moral point of view, however, the clan-system is 
defective because under it the restraint imposed upon the individual by 
his membership of a society is not, and has not the opportunity of be- 
coming, a self-imposed restraint a free obedience to which the individual 
submits, though the alternative course is left open to him, because he 
conceives it as his true good. The area within which he can shape his 
own circumstances is not sufficient to allow of the opposite possibilities 
of right and wrong being presented to him, and thus of his learning to 
love right for its own sake. And the other side of this moral tutelage of 
the individual — this withholding from him of the opportunity of being 
freely determined by recognition of his moral relations — is the confine- 
ment of those relations themselves, which under the clan-system have 
no actual existence except as between members of the same clan. A 
necessary condition at once of the growth of a free morality, i.e., a cer- 
tain behaviour of men determined by an understanding of moral rela- 
tions and by the value which they set on them as understood, and of the 
conception of those relations as relations between all men, is that free 
play should be given to every man's powers of appropriation. Moral 
freedom is not the same thing as a control over the outward circum- 

168/T.H. Green 

stances and appliances of life. It is the end to which such control is a 
generally necessary means and which gives it its value. In order to ob- 
tain this control men must cease to be limited in their activities by the 
customs of the clan. The range of their appropriations must be extended 
they must include more of the permanent material on which labour may 
be expended, and not merely the passing products of labour spent on 
unappropriated material — and they must be at once secured and con- 
trolled in it by the good-will, by the sense of common interest, of a wider 
society, of a society to which any and every one may belong who will 
observe its conditions, and not merely those of a particular parentage ; in 
other words by the law, written or unwritten, of a free state. 

220. It is too long a business here to attempt an account of the 
process by which the organisation of rights in the state has superseded 
that of the clan, and at the same time the restriction of the powers of 
appropriation implied in the latter has been removed. It is important to 
observe, however, that this process has by no means contributed 
unmixedly to the end to which, from the moral point of view, it should 
have contributed. That end is at once the emancipation of the individual 
from all restrictions upon, and his provision with means for, the free 
moral life. But the actual result of the development of rights of property 
in Europe, as part of its general political development, has so far been a 
state of things in which all indeed may have property, but great numbers 
in fact cannot have it in that sense in which alone it is of value, viz. as a 
permanent apparatus for carrying out a plan of life, for expressing ideas 
of what is beautiful, or giving effect to benevolent wishes. In the eye of 
the law they have rights of appropriation, but in fact they have not the 
chance of providing means for a free moral life, of developing and giv- 
ing reality or expression to a good will, an interest in social well-being. 
A man who possesses nothing but his powers of labour and who has to 
sell these to a capitalist for bare daily maintenance, might as well, in 
respect of the ethical purposes which the possession of property should 
serve, be denied rights of property altogether. Is the existence of so 
many men in this position, and the apparent liability of many more to be 
brought to it by a general fall of wages, if increase of population goes 
along with decrease in the productiveness of the earth, a necessary re- 
sult of the emancipation of the individual and the free play given to 
powers of appropriation? or is it an evil incident, which may yet be 
remedied, of that historical process by which the development of the 
rights of property has been brought about, but in which the agents have 

Principles of Political Obligation/l 69 

for the most part had no moral objects in view at all? 

221 . Let us first be clear about the points in which the conditions of 
property, as it actually exists, are at variance with property according to 
its idea or as it should be. The rationale of property as we have seen, is 
that everyone should be secured by society in the power of. getting and 
keeping the means of realising a will, which in possibility is a will di- 
rected to social good. Whether anyone's will is actually and positively 
so directed, does not affect his claim to the power. This power should be 
secured to the individual irrespectively of the use which he actually 
makes of it, so long as he does not use it in a way that interferes with the 
exercise of like power by another, on the ground that its uncontrolled 
exercise is the condition of attainment by man of that free morality which 
is his highest good. It is not then a valid objection to the manner in 
which property is possessed among us, that its holders constantly use it 
in a way demoralising to themselves and others, any more than such 
misuse of any other liberties is an objection to securing men in their 
possession. Only then is property held in a way inconsistent with its 
idea, and which should, if possible, be got rid of, when the possession of 
property by one man interferes with the possession of property by an- 
other, when one set of men are secured in the power of getting and 
keeping the means of realising their will, in such a way that others are 
practically denied the power. In that case it may truly be said that 'prop- 
erty is theft.' The rationale of property, in short, requires that everyone 
who will conform to the positive condition of possessing it, viz. labour, 
and the negative condition, viz. respect for it as possessed by others, 
should, so far as social arrangements can make him so, be a possessor 
of property himself — and of such property as will at least enable him to 
develop a sense of responsibility, as distinct from mere property in the 
immediate necessaries of life. 

222. But then the question arises, whether the rationale of property, 
as thus stated, is not inconsistent with the unchecked freedom of appro- 
priation, or freedom of appropriation checked only by the requirement 
that the thing appropriated shall not have previously been appropriated 
by another. Is the requirement that every honest man should be a propri- 
etor to the extent stated, compatible with any great inequalities of pos- 
session? In order to give effect to it, must we not remove those two great 
sources of the inequality of fortunes, (1) freedom of bequest, and the 
other arrangements by which the profits of the labour of several genera- 
tions are accumulated on persons who do not labour at all; (2) freedom 

170/T.H. Green 

of trade, of buying in the cheapest market and selling in the dearest, by 
which accumulated profits of labour become suddenly multiplied in the 
hands of a particular proprietor? Now clearly, if an inequality of for- 
tunes, of the kind which naturally arises from the admission of these 
two forms of freedom, necessarily results in the existence of a proletari- 
ate, practically excluded from such ownership as is needed to moralise 
a man, there would be a contradiction between our theory of the right of 
property and the actual consequence of admitting the right according to 
the theory; for the theory logically necessitates freedom both in trading 
and in the disposition of his property by the owner, so long as he does 
not interfere with the like freedom on the part of others; and in other 
ways as well its realisation implies inequality. 

223. Once admit as the idea of property that nature should be pro- 
gressively adapted to the service of man by a process in which each, 
while working freely or for himself, i.e., as determined by a conception 
of his own good, at the same time contributes to the social good, and it 
will follow that property must be unequal. If we leave a man free to 
realise the conception of a possible well-being, it is impossible to limit 
the effect upon him of his desire to provide for his future wellbeing, as 
including that of the persons in whom he is interested, or the success 
with which at the prompting of that desire he turns resources of nature 
to account. Considered as representing the conquest of nature by the 
effort of free and variously gifted individuals, property must be un- 
equal; and no less must it be so if considered as a means by which 
individuals fulfil social functions. As we may learn from Aristotle, those 
functions are various and the means required for their fulfilment are 
various. The artist and man of letters require different equipment and 
apparatus from the tiller of land and the smith. Either then the various 
apparatus needed for various functions must be provided for individu- 
als by society, which would imply a complete regulation of life, incom- 
patible with that highest object of human attainment, a free morality; or 
we must trust for its provision to individual effort, which will imply 
inequality between the property of different persons. 

224. The admission of freedom of trade follows from the same prin- 
ciple. It is a condition of the more complete adaptation of nature to the 
service of man by the free effort of individuals. 'To buy in the cheapest 
and sell in the dearest market' is a phrase which may no doubt be used 
to cover objectionable transactions, in which advantage is taken of the 
position of sellers who from circumstances are not properly free to make 

Principles of Political Obligation/lVl 

a bargain. It is so employed when the cheapness of buying arises from 
the presence of labourers who have no alternative but to work for 'star- 
vation wages.' But in itself it merely describes transactions in which 
commodities are bought where they are of least use and sold where they 
are of most use. The trader who profits by the transaction is profiting by 
what is at the same time a contribution to social well-being. 

In regard to the freedom which a man should be allowed in dispos- 
ing of his property by will or gift, the question is not so simple. The 
same principle which forbids us to limit the degree to which a man may 
provide for his future, forbids us to limit the degree to which he may 
provide for his children, these being included in his forecast of his fu- 
ture. It follows that the amount which children may inherit may not 
rightly be limited; and in this way. inequalities of property, and accumu- 
lations of it to which possessors have contributed nothing by their own 
labour, must arise. Of course the possessor of an estate, who has con- 
tributed nothing by his own labour to its acquisition, may yet by his 
labour contribute largely to the social good, and a well-organised state 
will in various ways elicit such labour from possessors of inherited wealth. 
Nor will it trust merely to encouraging the voluntary fulfilment of social 
functions, but will by taxation make sure of some positive return for the 
security which it gives to inherited wealth. But while the mere permis- 
sion of inheritance, which seems implied in the permission to a man to 
provide unlimitedly for his future, will lead to accumulations of wealth, 
on the other hand, if the inheritance is to be equal among all children, 
and, failing children, is to pass to the next of kin, the accumulation will 
be checked. It is not therefore the right of inheritance, but the right of 
bequest, that is most likely to lead to accumulation of wealth, and that 
has most seriously been questioned by those who hold that universal 
ownership is a condition of moral well-being. Is a proprietor to be al- 
lowed to dispose of his property as he likes among his children (or, if he 
has none, among others), making one very rich as compared with the 
others, or is he to be checked, by a law requiring approximately equal 

225. As to this, consider that on the same principle on which we 
hold that a man should be allowed to accumulate as he best can for his 
children, he should have discretion in distributing among his children. 
He should be allowed to accumulate, because in so doing he at once 
expresses and develops the sense of family responsibility which natu- 
rally breeds a recognition of duties in many other directions. But if the 

172/T.H. Green 

sense of family responsibility is to have free play, the man must have 
due control over his family, and this he can scarcely have if all his chil- 
dren as a matter of necessity inherit equally, however undutiful or idle 
or extravagant they may be. For this reason the true theory of property 
would seem to favour freedom of bequest, at any rate in regard to wealth 
generally There may be special reasons, to be considered presently, for 
limiting it in regard to land. But as a general rule, the father of a family, 
if left to himself and not biassed by any special institutions of his coun- 
try, is most likely to make that distribution among his children which is 
most for the public good. If family pride moves him to endow one son 
more largely than the rest, in order to maintain the honour of his name, 
family affection will keep this tendency within limits in the interest of 
the other children, unless the institutions of his country favour the one 
tendency as against the other. And this they will do if they maintain 
great dignities, e.g. peerages, of which the possession of large heredi- 
tary wealth is virtually the condition, and if they make it easy, when the 
other sons have been impoverished for the sake of endowing the eldest, 
to maintain the former at the public expense by means of appointments 
in the church or state. 

It must be borne in mind, further, that the freedom of bequest which 
is to be justified on the above principles must not be one which limits 
that freedom in a subsequent generation. It must therefore be distin- 
guished from the power of settlement allowed by English law and con- 
stantly exercised in dealing with landed estate; for this power, as exer- 
cised by the landowning head of a family in one generation, prevents the 
succeeding head of the family from being free to make what disposition 
he thinks best among his children and ties up the succession to the estate 
to his eldest son. The practice of settlement in England, in short, as 
applied to landed estate, cancels the freedom of bequest in the case of 
most landowners and neutralises all the dispersive tendency of family 
affection, while it maintains in full force all the accumulative tendency 
of family pride. This, however, is no essential incident of a system in 
which the rights of individual ownership are fully developed, but just 
the contrary. 

226. The question then remains, whether the full development of 
those rights, as including that of unlimited accumulation of wealth by 
the individual and of complete freedom of bequest on his part, necessar- 
ily carries with it the existence of a proletariate, nominal owners of their 
powers of labour, but in fact obliged to sell these on such terms that they 

Principles of Political Obligatioii/173 

are in fact owners of nothing beyond what is necessary from day to day 
for the support of life, and may at any time lose even that, so that, as 
regards the moral functions of property, they may be held to be not 
proprietors at all; or whether the existence of such a class is due to 
causes only accidentally connected with the development of rights of 
individual property. We must bear in mind ( 1 ) that the increased wealth 
of one man does not naturally mean the diminished wealth of another. 

We must not think of wealth as a given stock of commodities of 
which a larger share cannot fall to one without taking from the share 
that falls to another. The wealth of the world is constantly increasing in 
proportion as the constant production of new wealth by labour exceeds 
the constant consumption of what is already produced. There is no natural 
limit to its increase except such as arises from the fact that the supply of 
the food necessary to sustain labour becomes more difficult as more 
comes to be required owing to the increase in the number of labourers, 
and from the possible ultimate exhaustion of the raw materials of labour 
in the world. Therefore in the accumulation of wealth, so far as it arises 
from the saving by anyone of the products of his labour, from his be- 
quest of this capital to another who farther adds to it by saving some of 
the profit which the capital yields, as employed in. the payment for labour 
or in trade either by the capitalist himself or someone to whom he lends 
it, and from the continuation of this process through generations, there 
is nothing which tends to lessen for anyone else the possibilities of own- 
ership. On the contrary, supposing trade and labour to be free, wealth 
must be constantly distributed throughout the process in the shape of 
wages to labourers and of profits to those who mediate in the business 
of exchange. 

227. It is true that the accumulation of capital naturally leads to the 
employment of large masses of hired labourers. But there is nothing in 
the nature of the case to keep these labourers in the condition of living 
from hand to mouth, to exclude them from that education of the sense of 
responsibility which depends on the possibility of permanent owner- 
ship. There is nothing in the fact that their labour is hired in great masses 
by great capitalists to prevent them from being on a small scale capital- 
ists themselves. In their position they have not indeed the same stimulus 
to saving, or the same constant opening for the investment of savings, as 
a man who is autourgos [self-employed] ; but their combination in work 
gives them every opportunity if they have the needful education and 
self-discipline, for forming societies for the investment of savings. In 

174/T.H. Green 

fact, as we know, in the well-paid industries of England the better sort 
of labourers do become capitalists, to the extent often of owning their 
houses and agood deal of furniture, of having aninterestin stores, and 
of belonging to benefit-societies through which they make provision for 
the future. It is not then to the accumulation of capital, but to the condi- 
tion, due to antecedent circumstances unconnected with that accumula- 
tion, of the men with whom the capitalist deals and whose labour he 
buys on the cheapest terms, that we must ascribe the multiplication in 
recent times of an impoverished and reckless proletariate. 

228. It is difficult to summarise the influences to which is due the 
fact that in all the chief seats of population in Europe the labour market 
is constantly thronged with men who are too badly reared and fed to be 
efficient labourers; who for this reason, and from the competition for 
employment with each other, have to sell their labour very cheap; who 
have thus seldom the means to save, and whose standard of living and 
social expectation is so low that, if they, have the opportunity of saving, 
they do not use it, and keep bringing children into the world at a rate 
which perpetuates the evil. It is certain, however, that these influences 
have no necessary connection with the maintenance of the right of indi- 
vidual property and consequent unlimited accumulation of capital, though 
they no doubt are connected with that r gime of force and conquest by 
which existing governments have been established — governments which 
do not indeed create the rights of individual property, any more than 
other rights, but which serve to maintain them. It must always be borne 
in mind that the appropriation of land by individuals has in most coun- 
tries probably in all where it approaches completeness been originally 
effected, not by the expenditure of labour or the results of labour on the 
land, but by force. The original landlords have been conquerors. 

229. This has affected the condition of the industrial classes in at 
least two ways: (1) When the application of accumulated capital to any 
work in the way of mining or manufacture has created a demand for 
labour, the supply has been forthcoming from men whose ancestors, if 
not themselves, were trained in habits of serfdom men whose life has 
been one of virtually forced labour, relieved by church-charities or the 
poor law (which in part took the place of these charities) who were thus 
in no condition to contract freely for the sale of their labour, and had 
nothing of that sense of family responsibility which might have made 
them insist on having the chance of saving. Landless countrymen, whose 
ancestors were serfs, are the parents of the proletariate of great towns. 

Principles of Political Obligatioii/175 

(2) Rights have been allowed to landlords, incompatible with the true 
principle on which rights of property rest, and tending to interfere with 
the development of the proprietorial capacity in others. The right to 
freedom in unlimited acquisition of wealth, by means of labour and. by 
means of the saving and successful application of the results of labour, 
does not imply the right of anyone to do as he likes with those gifts of 
nature, without which there would be nothing to spend labour upon. 
The earth is just as much an original natural material necessary to pro- 
ductive industry as are air, light, and water, but while the latter from the 
nature of the case cannot be appropriated, the earth can be and has 
been. The only justification for this appropriation, as for any other, is 
that it contributes on the whole to social well-being; that the earth as 
appropriated by individuals under certain conditions becomes more ser- 
viceable to society, as a whole, including those who are not proprietors 
of the soil, than if it were held in common. The justification disappears 
if these conditions are not observed; and from government having been 
chiefly in the hands of appropriators of the soil, they have not been duly 
observed. Landlords have been allowed to do what they would with 
their own,' as if land were merely like so much capital, admitting of 
indefinite extension. The capital gained by one is not taken from an- 
other, but one man cannot acquire more land without others having less ; 
and though a growing reduction in the number of landlords is not neces- 
sarily a social evil, if it is compensated by the acquisition of other wealth 
on the part of those extruded from the soil, it is only not an evil if the 
landlord is prevented from so using his land as to make it unserviceable 
to the wants of men (e.g. by turning fertile land into a forest), and from 
taking liberties with it incompatible with the conditions of general free- 
dom and health; e.g. by clearing out a village and leaving the people to 
pick up house-room as they can elsewhere a practice common under the 
old poor-law, when the distinction between close and open villages grew 
up — or, on the other hand, by building houses in unhealthy places or of 
unhealthy structure, by stopping up means of communication, or for- 
bidding the erection of dissenting chapels. In fact the restraints which 
the public interest requires to be placed on the use of land if individual 
property in it is to be allowed at all, have been pretty much ignored, 
while on the other hand, that full development of its resources, which 
individual ownership would naturally favour, has been interfered with 
by laws or customs which, in securing estates to certain families, have 
taken away the interest, and tied the hands, of the nominal owner the 

176/T.H. Green 

tenant for life — in making the most of his property. 

230. Thus the whole history of the ownership of land in Europe has 
been of a kind to lead to the agglomeration of a proletariate, neither 
holding nor seeking property, wherever a sudden demand has arisen for 
labour in mines or manufactures. This at any rate was the case down to 
the epoch of the French Revolution; and this, which brought to other 
countries deliverance from feudalism, left England, where feudalism 
had previously passed into unrestrained landlordism, almost untouched. 
And while those influences of feudalism and landlordism which tend to 
throw a shiftless population upon the centres of industry have been left 
unchecked, nothing till quite lately was done to give such a population a 
chance of bettering itself, when it had been brought together. Their health, 
housing, and schooling were unprovided for. They were left to be freely 
victimised by deleterious employments, foul air, and consequent crav- 
ing for deleterious drinks. When we consider all this, we shall see the 
unfairness of laying on capitalism or the free development of individual 
wealth the blame which is really due to the arbitrary and violent manner 
in which rights over land have been acquired and exercised, and to the 
failure of the state to fulfil those functions which under a system of 
unlimited private ownership are necessary to maintain the conditions of 
a free life. 

231. Whether, when those functions have been more fully recognised 
and executed, and when the needful control has been established in the 
public interest over the liberties which landlords may take in the use of 
their land, it would still be advisable to limit the right of bequest in 
regard to land, and establish a system of something like equal inherit- 
ance, is a question which cannot be answered on any absolute principle. 
It depends on circumstances. Probably the question should be answered 
differently in a country like France or Ireland, where the most important 
industries are connected directly with the soil, and in one like England 
where they are not so. The reasons must be cogent which could justify 
that interference with the control of the parent over his family, which 
seems to be implied in the limitation of the power of bequeathing land 
when the parent's wealth lies solely in land, and which arises, be it 
remembered, in a still more mischievous way from the present English 
practice of settling estates. But it is important to bear in mind that the 
question in regard to land stands on a different footing from that in 
regard to wealth generally, owing to the fact that land is a particular 
commodity limited in extent, from which alone can be derived the mate- 

Principles of Political Obligatioii/177 

rials necessary to any industry whatever, on which men must find house- 
room if they are to find it at all, and over which they must pass in 
communicating with each other, however much water or even air may 
be used for that purpose. These are indeed not reasons for preventing 
private property in land or even free bequest of land, but they necessi- 
tate a social control over the exercise of rights of property in land, and 
it remains to be seen whether that control can be sufficiently established 
in a country where the power of great estates has not first been broken, 
as in France, by a law of equal inheritance. 

232. To the proposal that 'unearned increment' in the value of the 
soil, as distinct from value produced by expenditure of labour and capi- 
tal, should be appropriated by the state, though fair enough in itself, the 
great objection is that the relation between earned and unearned incre- 
ment is so complicated, that a system of appropriating the latter to the 
state could scarcely be established without lessening the stimulus to the 
individual to make the most of the land, and thus ultimately lessening its 
serviceableness to society. 

O. The Right of the State in Regard to the Family 

233. In the consideration of those rights which do not arise out of the 
existence of the state, but which are antecedent to it (though of course, 
implying society in some form), and which it is its office to enforce, we 
now come to family or household rights — also called, though not very 
distinctively, 'rights in private relations,' — of which the mostimportant 
are the reciprocal rights of husband and wife, parent and child. The 
distinctive thing about these is that they are not merely rights of one 
person as against all or some other persons over some thing, or to the 
performance of or abstention from some action; they are rights of one 
person as against all other persons to require or prevent a certain 
behaviour on the part of another. Right to free life is a right on the part 
of any and every person to claim from all other persons that course of 
action or forbearance which is necessary to his free life. It is a right 
against all the world, but not a right over any particular thing or person. 
A right of property, on the other hand, is a right against all the world, 
and also over a particular thing; a right to claim from any and every one 
certain actions and forbearances in respect of a particular thing (hence 
called 'jus in rem'). A right arising from contract, unlike the right of 
property or the right of free life, is not a right as against all the world, 
but a right as against a particular person or persons contracted with to 

178/T.H. Green 

claim a certain performance or forbearance. It may or may not be a 
right over a particular thing, but as it is not necessarily so, while it is a 
right against a particular person or persons in distinction from all the 
world, it is called 'jus in personam' as distinct from 'in rem.' The right 
of husband over wife and that of parent over children (or vice versa) 
differs from the right arising out of contract, inasmuch as it is not merely 
a right against the particular person contracted with, but a right against 
all the world. In this respect it corresponds to the right of property; but 
differs again from this, since it is not a right over a thing but over a 
person. It is a right to claim certain acts or forbearances from all other 
persons in respect of a particular person: or (more precisely) to claim a 
certain behaviour from a certain person, and at the same time to exclude 
all others from claiming it. Just because this kind of right is a right over 
a person, it is always reciprocal as between the person exercising it and 
the person over whom it is exercised. All rights are reciprocal as be- 
tween the person exercising them and the person against whom they are 
exercised. My claim to the right of free life implies a like claim upon me 
on the part of those from whom I claim acts and forbearances necessary 
to my free life. My claim upon others in respect of the right of property, 
or upon a particular person in respect of an action which he has con- 
tracted to perform, implies the recognition of a corresponding claim 
upon me on the part of all persons or the particular party to the contract 
But the right of a husband in regard to his wife not merely implies that 
all those as against whom he claims the right have a like claim against 
him, but that the wife over whom he asserts the right has a right, though 
not a precisely like right, over him. The same applies to the right of a 
father over a son, and of a master over a servant. 

234. A German would express the peculiarity of the rights now 
under consideration by saying that, not only are persons the subjects of 
them, but persons are the objects of them. By the 'subject' of rights he 
would mean the person exercising them or to whom they belong; by 
'object' that in respect of which the rights are exercised. The piece of 
land or goods which I own is the 'object' of the right of property, the 
particular action which one person contracts to perform for another is 
the 'object' of a right of contract; and in like manner the person from 
whom I have a right to claim certain behaviour, which excludes any 
right on the part of anyone else to claim such behaviour from him or her, 
is the 'object' of the right. But English writers commonly call that the 
subject of a right which the Germans would call the object. By the sub- 

Principles of Political Obligation/179 

ject of a right of property they would not mean the person to whom the 
right belongs, but the thing over which, or in respect of which, the right 
exists. And in like manner, when a right is exercised over, or in respect 
of a person, such as a wife or a child, they would call that person, and 
not the person exercising the right, the subject of it. By the object of a 
right, on the other hand, they mean the action or forbearance which 
someone has a right to claim. The object of a right arising out of con- 
tract would be the action which the person contracting agrees to per- 
form. The object of a connubial right would not be, as according to 
German usage, the person in regard to, or over, whom the right is exer- 
cised — that person would be the subject of the right — but either the 
behaviour which the person possessing the right is entitled to claim from 
that person, or the forbearances in respect to that person, which he is 
entitled to claim from others. Either usage is justifiable in itself. The 
only matter of importance is not to confuse them. There is a conve- 
nience in expressing the peculiarity of family rights by saying, accord- 
ing to the sense of the terms adopted by German writers, that not only 
are persons subjects of them but persons are objects of them. It is in this 
sense that I shall use these terms, if at all. 

235. So much for the peculiarity of family rights, as distinct from 
other rights. The distinction is not merely a formal one. From the fact 
that these rights have persons for their objects, there follow important 
results, as will appear, in regard to the true nature of the right, to the 
manner in which it should be exercised. The analytical, as distinct from 
the historical, questions which have to be raised with reference to family 
rights correspond to those raised with reference to rights of property. As 
we asked what in the nature of man made appropriation possible for 
him, so now we ask (1) what it is in the nature of man that makes him 
capable of family life. As we asked next how appropriations came to be 
so sanctioned by social recognition as to give rise to rights of property, 
so now we have to ask (2) how certain powers exercised by a man, 
certain exemptions which he enjoys from the interference of others, in 
his family life, come to be recognised as rights. And as we inquired 
further how far the actual institutions of property correspond with the 
idea of property as a right which for social good should be exercised, so 
now we have to inquire (3) into the proper adjustment of family rights, 
as determined by their idea; in what form these rights should be main- 
tained; bearing in mind (a) that, like all rights, their value depends on 
their being conditions of which the general observance is necessary to a 

180/T.H. Green 

free morality, and (b) their distinctive character as rights of which, in 
the sense explained, persons are the objects. 

236. (1) We saw that appropriation of that kind which, when se- 
cured by a social power, becomes property, supposes an effort on the 
part of the individual to give reality to a conception of his own good, as 
a whole or as something permanent, in distinction from the mere effort 
to satisfy a want as it arises. The formation of family life supposes that 
in the conception of his own good to which a man seeks to give reality 
there is included a conception of the well-being of others, connected 
with him by sexual relations or by relations which arise out of these. He 
must conceive of the well-being of these others as a permanent object 
bound up with his own, and the interest in it as thus conceived must be 
a motive to him over and above any succession of passing desires to 
obtain pleasure from, or give pleasure to, the others; otherwise there 
would be nothing to lead to the establishment of a household, in which 
the wants of the wife or wives are permanently provided for, in the 
management of which a more or less definite share is given to them 
(more definite, indeed, as approach is made to a monogamistic system, 
but not wholly absent anywhere where the wife is distinguished from the 
female), and upon which the children have a recognised claim for shel- 
ter and sustenance. 

237. No doubt family life as we know it is an institution of gradual 
growth. It may be found in forms where it is easy to ignore the distinc- 
tion between it and the life of beasts. It is possible that the human beings 
with whom it first began — beings 'human' because capable of it may 
have been 'descended' from animals not capable of it, they may have 
been connected with such animals by certain processes of generation. 
But this makes no difference in the nature of the capacity itself, which is 
determined not by a past history but by its results, its functions, that of 
which it is a capacity. As the foundation of any family life, in the form 
in which we know it, implies that upon the mere sexual impulse there 
has supervened on the part of the man a permanent interest in a woman 
as a person with whom his own well-being is united, and a consequent 
interest in the children born of her, so in regard to every less perfect 
form out of which we can be entitled to say that the family life, as we 
know it, has developed, we must be also entitled to say that it expresses 
some interest which is in principle identical with that described, how- 
ever incompletely it has emerged from lower influences. 

238. (2) Such an interest being the basis of family relations, it is 

Principles of Political Obligation/lSl 

quite intelligible that everyone actuated by the interest should recognise, 
and be recognised by, everyone else to whom he ascribes an interest like 
his own, as entitled to behave towards the objects of the interest towards 
his wife and children — in a manner from which everyone else is ex- 
cluded; that there should thus come to be rights in family relations to a 
certain privacy in dealing with them; to deal with them as his alone and 
not another's; claims, ratified by the general sense of their admission 
being for the common good, to exercise certain powers and demand 
certain forbearances from others, in regard to wife and children. It is 
only indeed at an advanced stage of reflection that men learn to ascribe 
to other men, simply as men, the interests which they experience them- 
selves; and hence it is at first only within narrow societies that men 
secure to each other the due privileges and privacies of family life. In 
others of the same kin or tribe they can habitually imagine an interest 
hke that of which each feels his own family life to be the expression, and 
hence in them they spontaneously respect family rights; but they cannot 
thus practically think themselves into the position of a stranger, and 
hence towards him they do not observe the same restraints. They do not 
regard the women of another nation as sacred to the husbands and fami- 
lies of that nation. But that power of making another's good one's own, 
which in the more intense and individualised form is the basis of family 
relations, must always at the same time exist in that more diffused form 
in which it serves as the basis of a society held together by the recogni- 
tion of a common good. Wherever, therefore, the family relations exist, 
there is sure to exist also a wider society which by its authority gives to 
the powers exercised in those relations the character of rights. By what 
process the relations of husband and wife and the institution of the house- 
hold may have come to be formed among descendants of a single pair, it 
is impossible to conceive or to discover, but in fact we find no trace in 
primitive history of households except as constituents of a clan 
recognising a common origin; and it is by the customs of the clan, founded 
in the conception of a common good, that those forbearances on the part 
of members of one household in dealing with another, which are neces- 
sary to the privacy of the several households, are secured. 

239. The history of the development of family life is the history of 
the process (a) by which family rights have come to be regarded as 
independent of the special custom of a clan and the special laws of a 
state, as rights which all men and women, as such, are entitled to. This, 
however, characterises the history of all rights alike. It is a history far- 

182/T.H. Green 

ther (b) of the process by which the true nature of these rights has come 
to be recognised, as rights over persons; rights of which persons are the 
objects, and which therefore imply reciprocal claims on the part of those 
over whom they are exercised and of those who exercise them. The 
establishment of monogamy, the abolition of 'patria potestas' ['pater- 
nal authority'] in its various forms, the, emancipation of women' (in the 
proper sense of the phrase), are involved in these two processes. The 
principles ( 1 ) that all men and all women are entitled to marry and form 
households, (2) that within the household the claims of the husband and 
wife are throughout reciprocal, cannot be realised without carrying with 
them not merely monogamy, but the removal of those faulty relations 
between men and women which survive in countries where monogamy 
is established by law. 

240. Under a system of polygamy, just so far as it is carried out, 
there must be men who are debarred from marrying. It can only exist, 
indeed, alongside of a slavery, which excludes masses of men from the 
right of forming a family. Nor does the wife, under a polygamous sys- 
tem, though she ostensibly marries, form a household, or become the 
co-ordinate head of a family, at all. The husband alone is head of the 
family and has authority over the children. The wife, indeed, who for 
the time is the favourite, may practically share the authority, but even 
she has no equal and assured position. The 'consortium omnis vitae' 
['sharing of an entire life'], the 'individua vitae consuetudo' ['indivis- 
ible common life' ] , which according to the definition in the Digest is an 
essential element in marriage, is not hers. 

And further as the polygamous husband requires a self-restraint 
from his wife which he does not put on himself, he is treating here un- 
equally. He demands a continence from her which, unless she is kept in 
the confinement of slavery, can only rest on the attachment of a person 
to a person and on a personal sense of duty and at the same time is 
practically ignoring the demand, which this personal attachment on her 
part necessarily carries with it, that he should keep himself for her as 
she keeps herself for him. The recognition of children as having claims 
upon their parents reciprocal to those of the parents over them, equally 
involves the condemnation of polygamy. For these claims can only be 
duly satisfied the responsibilities of father and mother towards the chil- 
dren (potentially persons) whom they have brought into the world can 
only be fulfilled if father and mother jointly take part in the education of 
the children; if the children learn to love and obey father and mother as 

Principles of Political Obligatioii/183 

one authority. Butif there is no permanent 'consortium vitae' ['sharing 
of life'] of one husband with one wife, this joint authority over the chil- 
dren becomes impossible. The child, when its physical dependence on 
the mother is over, ceases to stand in any special relation to her. She has 
no recognised duties to him, or he to her. These lie between him and his 
father only, and just because the father's interests are divided between 
the children of many wives, and because these render their filial offices 
to the father separately not to father and mother jointly, the true domes- 
tic training is lost. 

241. Monogamy, however, may be established, and an advance so 
far made towards the establishment of a due reciprocity between hus- 
band and wife, as well as towards a fulfilment of the responsibilities 
incurred in bringing children into the world, while yet the true claims of 
men in respect of women, and of women in respect of men, and of chil- 
dren upon their parents, are far from being generally realised. Wherever 
slavery exists alongside of monogamy on the one side, people of the 
slave class are prevented from forming family ties, and on the other 
those who are privileged to marry, though they are confined to one wife, 
are constantly tempted to be false to the true monogamistic idea by the 
opportunity of using women as chattels to minister to their pleasures. 
The wife is thus no more than an institution, invested with certain digni- 
ties and privileges, for the continuation of the family; a continuation, 
which under pagan religions is considered necessary for the mainte- 
nance of certain ceremonies, and to which among ourselves an impor- 
tance is attached wholly unconnected with the personal affection of the 
man for the wife. When slavery is abolished, and the title of all men and 
women equally to form families is established by law, the conception of 
the position of the wife necessarily rises. The etaira [courtesan] and 
pallake [concubine] cease at any rate to be recognised accompaniments 
of married life, and the claim of the wife upon the husband's fidelity, as 
reciprocal to his claim upon hers, becomes established by law. 

242. Thus that marriage should only be lawful with one wife, that it 
should be for life, that it should be terminable by the infidelity of either 
husband or wife, are rules of right; not of morality, as such, but of right. 
Without such rules the rights of the married persons are not maintained. 
Those outward conditions of family life would not be secured to them, 
which are necessary on the whole for the development of a free morality. 
Polygamy is a violation of the rights, (1) of those who through it are 
indirectly excluded from regular marriage, and thus from the moral edu- 

184/T.H. Green 

cation which results from this; (2) of the wife, who is morally lowered 
by exclusion from her proper position in the household and by being 
used, more or less, as the mere instrument of the husband's pleasure; (3) 
of the children, who lose the chance of that full moral training which 
depends on the connected action of father and mother. The terminability 
of marriage at the pleasure of one of the parties to it (of its terminability 
at the desire of both we will speak presently) is a violation of the rights 
at any rate of the unconsenting party, on the grounds (a) that liability to 
it tends to prevent marriage from becoming that 'individua vitae con- 
suetudo' which gives it its moral value, and (b) that, when the marriage 
is dissolved, the woman, just in proportion to her capacity for self-devo- 
tion and the degree to which she has devoted herself to her original 
husband, is debarred from forming that 'individua vitae consuetudo' 
again, and thus crippled in her moral possibilities. It is a violation of the 
rights of children for the same reason for which polygamy is so. 

On the other hand, that the wife should be bound indissolubly by the 
marriage-tie to an unfaithful husband (or vice versa), is a violation of 
the right of wife (or husband, as the case may be), because on the one 
hand the restraint which makes her liable to be used physically as the 
instrument of the husband's pleasures, when there is no longer recipro- 
cal devotion between them, is a restraint which (except in peculiar cases) 
renders moral elevation impossible; and on the other, she is prevented 
from forming such a true marriage as would be, according to ordinary 
rules, the condition of the realisation of her moral capacities. Though 
the husband's right to divorce from an unfaithful wife has been much 
more thoroughly recognised than the wife's to divorce from an unfaith- 
ful husband, he would be in fact less seriously wronged by the inability 
to obtain a divorce, for it is only the second of the grounds just stated 
that fully applies to him. The rights of the children do not seem so plainly 
concerned in the dissolution of a marriage to which husband or wife has 
been unfaithful. In some cases the best chance for them might seem to 
lie in the infidelities being condoned and an outward family peace re- 
established. But that their rights are violated by the infidelity itself is 
plain. In the most definite way it detracts from their possibilities of 
goodness. Without any consent on their part, quite independently of any 
action of their own will, they are placed by it in a position which tends — 
though special grace may counteract it to put the higher kinds of good- 
ness beyond their reach. 

243. These considerations suggest some further questions which 

Principles of Political Obligation/l 85 

may be discussed under the following heads. ( 1 ) If infidelity in marriage 
is a violation of rights in the manner stated, and if (as it must be) it is a 
wilful and knowing violation, why is it not treated as a crime, and, like 
other such violations of rights, punished by the state in order to the 
better maintenance of rights? (2) Should any other reason but the infi- 
delity of husband or wife be allowed for the legal dissolution of the 
marriage tie? (3) How are the rights connected with marriage related to 
the morality of marriage? 

(1) There is good reason why the state should not take upon itself to 
institute charges of adultery, but leave them to be instituted by the indi- 
viduals whose rights the adultery violates. The reasons ordinarily al- 
leged would be, (a) the analogy of ordinary breaches of contract, against 
which the state leaves it to the individual injured to set the law in mo- 
tion; (b) the practical impossibility of preventing adultery through the 
action of the functionaries of the state. The analogy however, from ordi- 
nary breaches of contract does not really hold. In the first place, though 
marriage involves contract, though without contract there can be no 
marriage, yet marriage at once gives rise to right and obligations of a 
kind which cannot arise out of contract — in particular to obligations 
towards the children born of the marriage. These children, at any rate, 
are in no condition to seek redress even if from the nature of the case 
redress could be had — for the injuries inflicted on them by a parent's 
adultery as a person injured by a breach of contract can seek redress for 
it. Again, though the state leaves it to the individual injured by a breach 
of contract to institute proceedings for redress, if the breach involves 
fraud, it — at any rate in certain cases treats the fraud as a crime and 
punishes. Now in every breach of the marriage-contract by adultery 
there is that which answers to fraud in the case of ordinary breach of 
contract. The marriage-contract is broken knowingly and intentionally. 
If there were no reason to the contrary, then, it would seem that the 
state, though it might leave to the injured individuals the institution of 
proceedings against adultery should yet treat adultery as a crime and 
seek to prevent it by punishment in the interest of those whose virtual 
rights are violated by it, though not in the way of breach of contract. But 
there are reasons to the contrary — reasons that arise out of the moral 
purposes served by the marriage-tie — which make it desirable both that 
it should be at the discretion of the directly injured party whether a case 
of adultery should be judicially dealt with at all, and that in no case 
should penal terror be associated with such a violation of the marriage- 

186/T.H. Green 

bond. Under ordinary conditions, it is a public injury that a violation of 
his rights should be condoned by the person suffering it. If the injured 
individual were likely to fail in the institution of proceedings for his own 
redress or defence, the public interest would require that the matter should 
be taken out of his hands. But if an injured wife or husband is willing to 
condone a breach of his or her rights through adultery, it is generally 
best that it should be condoned. That married life should be continued in 
spite of anything like dissoluteness on the part of husband or wife, is no 
doubt undesirable. The moral purposes which married life should serve 
cannot be served, either for the married persons themselves or for the 
children, under such conditions. On the other hand, the condonation of a 
single offence would generally be better for all concerned than an appli- 
cation for divorce. The line cannot be drawn at which, with a view to the 
higher ends which marriage should serve, divorce becomes desirable. It 
is therefore best that the state, while uniformly allowing the right of 
divorce where the marriage-bond has been broken by adultery, since 
otherwise the right of everyone to form a true marriage (a marriage 
which shall be the basis of family life) is neutralised, and taking care 
that procedure for divorce be cheap and easy, should leave the enforce- 
ment of the right to the discretion of individuals. 

244. On similar grounds, it is undesirable that adultery as such 
should be treated as a crime that penal terror should be associated with 
it. Though rights, in the strict sense, undoubtedly arise out of marriage, 
though marriage has thus its strictly legal aspect, it is undesirable that 
this legal aspect should become prominent. It may suffer in respect of 
its higher moral purposes, if the element of force appears too strongly in 
the maintenance of the rights to which it gives rise. If a husband who 
would otherwise be false to the marriage bond is kept outwardly faithful 
to it by fear of the punishment which might attend its breach, the right of 
the wife and children is indeed so far protected, but is anything gained 
for those moral ends, for the sake of which the maintenance of these 
rights is alone of value? The man in whom disloyal passion is neutralised 
by fear of punishment will contribute little in his family life to the moral 
development of himself, his wife, or his children. If he cannot be kept 
true by family affection and sympathy with the social disapprobation 
attaching to matrimonial infidelity — and unless it is a matter of social 
disapprobation no penalties will be effectually enforced against it — he 
will not be kept true in a way that is of any value to those concerned by 
fear of penalties. In other words, the rights that arise out of marriage are 

Principles of Political Obligation/l 87 

not of a kind which can in their essence be protected by associating 
penal terror with their violation, as the rights of life and property can be. 
They are not rights to claim mere forbearances or to claim the perfor- 
mance of certain outward actions, by which a right is satisfied irrespec- 
tively of the disposition with which the act is done. They are claims 
which cannot be met without a certain disposition on the part of the 
person upon whom the claim rests, and that disposition cannot be en- 
forced. The attempt to enforce the outward behaviour in order to satisfy 
the claim, which is a claim not to the outward behaviour merely but to 
this in connection with a certain disposition, defeats its own end. 

245. For the protection, therefore, of the rights of married persons 
and their children against infidelity it does not appear that the law can 
do more than secure facilities of divorce in the case of adultery. This 
indeed is not in itself a protection against the wrong involved in adul- 
tery, but rather a deliverance from the further wrong to the injured hus- 
band or wife and to the children that would be involved in the continu- 
ance of any legal claim over them on the part of the injurer. But indi- 
rectly it helps to prevent the wrong being done by bringing social disap- 
probation to bear on cases of infidelity, and thus helping to keep married 
persons faithful through sympathy with the disapprobation of which 
they feel that they would be the objects when they imagine themselves 
unfaithful. The only other effectual way in which the state can guard 
against the injuries in question is by requiring great precaution and so- 
lemnity in the contraction of marriages. This it can do by insisting on 
the consent of parents to the marriage of all minors, exacting a long 
notice (perhaps even a preliminary notice of betrothal), and — while not 
preventing civil marriage by encouraging the celebration of marriage in 
the presence of religious congregations and with religious rites. 

246. Question (2) is one that does not admit of being answered on 
any absolute principle. We must bear in mind that all rights in idea or as 
they should be are relative to moral ends. The ground for securing to 
individuals in respect of the marriage-tie certain powers as rights, is 
that in a general way they are necessary to the possibility of a morally 
good life, either directly to the persons exercising them or to their Chil- 
dren. The more completely marriage is a 'consortium omnis vitae' in the 
sense of a unity in all interests and for the whole of a lifetime, the more 
likely are the external conditions of a moral life to be fulfilled in regard 
both to married persons and their children. Therefore the general rule of 
the state in dealing with marriage should be to secure such powers as 

188/T.H. Green 

are favourable and withhold such as are not favourable to the 'consor- 
tium omnis vitae.' But in the application of the principle great difficul- 
ties arise. Lunacy may clearly render the 'consortium omnis vitae' fi- 
nally impossible; but what kind and degree of lunacy? If the lunatic may 
possibly recover, though there is undoubtedly reason for the separation 
from husband or wife during lunacy, should permanent divorce be al- 
lowed? If it is allowed, and the lunatic recovers, a wrong will have been 
done both to him and to the children previously born of the marriage. 
On the other hand, to reserve the connubial rights of a lunatic of whose 
recovery there is hope, and to restore them when he recovers, may in- 
volve the wrong of bringing further children into the world with the taint 
of lunacy upon them. Is cruelty to be a ground of divorce, and if so, 
what amount? There is a degree of persistent cruelty which renders 'con- 
sortium omnis vitae' impossible, but unless it is certain that cruelty has 
reached the point at which a restoration of any sort of family life be- 
comes impossible, a greater wrong both to wife and children may be 
involved in allowing divorce than in refusing it. A husband impatient 
for the time of the restraint of marriage may be tempted to passing cru- 
elty as a means of ridding himself of it, while if no such escape were 
open to him he might get the better of the temporary disturbing passion 
and settle down into a decent husband. The same consideration applies 
still more strongly to allowing incompatibility of temper as a ground of 
divorce. It would be hard to deny that it might be of a degree and kind in 
which it so destroyed the possibility of 'consortium omnis vitae' that, 
with a view to the interests of the Children, who ought in such a case to 
be chiefly considered, divorce implied less wrong than the maintenance 
of the marriage-tie. But on the other hand, to hold out the possibility of 
divorce on the ground of incompatibility is just the way to generate that 
incompatibility. On the whole, the only conclusion seems to be that this 
last ground should not be allowed, and that in deciding on other grounds 
large discretion should be allowed to a well-constituted court. 

247. We have now considered in a perfunctory way those rights 
which are antecedent to the state — which are not derived from it but 
may exist where a state is not, and which it is the office of the state to 
maintain. We have inquired what it is in the nature of man that renders 
him capable of these rights, what are the moral ends to which the rights 
are relative, and in what form the rights should be realised in order to 
the attainment of these ends. In order to make the inquiry into rights 
complete, we ought to go on to examine in the same way the rights 

Principles of Political Obligation/l 89 

which arise out of the establishment of a state the rights connected with 
the several functions of government; how these functions come to be 
necessary, and how they may best be fulfilled with a view to those moral 
ends to which the functions of the state are ultimately relative. Accord- 
ing to my project, I should then have proceeded to consider the social 
virtues, and the 'moral sentiments' which underlie our particular judg- 
ments as to what is good and evil in conduct. All virtues are really 
social; or, more properly, the distinction between social and self-regard- 
ing virtues is a false one. Every virtue is self -regarding in the sense that 
it is a disposition, or habit of will, directed to an end which the man 
presents to himself as his good; every virtue is social in the sense that 
unless the good to which the will is directed is one in which the well- 
being of society in some form or other is involved, the will is not virtu- 
ous at all. 

248. The virtues are dispositions to exercise positively, in some way 
contributory to social good, those powers which, because admitting of 
being so exercised, society should secure to him, which a man has a 
right to possess, which constitute his rights. It is therefore convenient to 
arrange the virtues according to the division of rights. E.g., in regard to 
the right of all men to free life, the obligations, strictly so called, cor- 
relative to that right having been considered — obligations which are all 
of a negative nature, obligations to forbear from meddling with one's 
neighbour — we should proceed to consider the activities by which a 
society of men really free is established, or by which some approach is 
made to its establishment; 'really free,' in the sense of being enabled to 
make the most of their capabilities. These activities will take different 
forms under different social conditions, but in rough outline they are 
those by which men in mutual helpfulness conquer and adapt nature, 
and overcome the influences which would make them victims of chance 
and accident, of brute force and animal passion. The virtuous disposi- 
tion displayed in these activities may have various names applied to it 
according to the particular direction in which it is exerted 'industry,' 
'courage,' 'public spirit.' A particular aspect of it was brought into 
relief among the Greeks under the name of andreia [manliness]. The 
Greek philosophers already gave an extension to the meaning of this 
term beyond that which belonged to it in popular usage, and we might 
be tempted further to extend it so as to cover all the forms in which the 
habit of will necessary to the maintenance and furtherance of free soci- 
ety shows itself. The name, however, does not much matter. It is enough 

190/T.H. Green 

that there are specific modes of human activity which contribute di- 
rectly to maintain a shelter for man's worthier energies against distur- 
bance by natural forces and by the consequences of human fear and 
lust. The state of mind which appears in them may properly be treated 
as a special kind of virtue. It is true that the principle and the end of all 
virtues is the same. They are all determined by relation to social well- 
being as their final cause, and they all rest on an interest which domi- 
nates the virtuous agent in some form or other of that well-being; but as 
that interest may take different directions in different persons — as it 
cannot be equally developed at once in everyone it may be said roughly 
that a man has one kind of virtue and not others. 

249. As the kind of moral duties (in distinction from those obliga- 
tions which are correlative to rights) which relate to the maintenance of 
free society and the disposition to fulfil those duties should form a spe- 
cial object of inquiry, so another special kind would be those which 
have to do with the management of property, with the acquisition and 
expenditure of wealth. To respect the rights of property in others, to 
fulfil the obligations correlative to those rights, is one thing; to make a 
good use of property, to be justly generous and generously just in giving 
and receiving, is another; and that may properly be treated as a special 
kind of virtue which appears in the duly blended prudence, equity and 
generosity of the ideal man of business. Another special kind will be 
that which appears in family relations; where indeed that merely nega- 
tive observance of rights which in other relations can be distinguished 
from the positive fulfilment of moral duties, becomes unmeaning. As 
we have seen, there are certain aggravations and perpetuations of wrong 
from which husband or wife or children can be protected by law, but the 
fulfilment of the of the claims which arise out of the marriage-tie re- 
quires a virtuous will in the active and positive sense a will governed, by 
unselfish interests on the part of those concerned. 

250. What is called 'moral sentiment' is merely a weaker form of 
that interest in social well-being which, when wrought into a man's hab- 
its and strong enough to determine action, we call virtue. So far as this 
interest is brought into play on the mere survey of action, and serves 
merely to determine our approbation or disapprobation, it is called moral 
sentiment. The forms of moral sentiment accordingly should be classi- 
fied on the same principle as forms of virtue, i.e., with relation to the 
social functions to which they correspond. 

251. For the convenience of analysis, we may treat the obligations 

Principles of Political Obligatioii/191 

correlative to rights — obligations which it is the proper office of law to 
enforce — apart from moral duties and from the virtues which are ten- 
dencies to fulfil those duties. I am properly obliged to those actions and 
forebearances which are requisite to the general freedom necessary if 
each is not to interfere with the realisation of another's will. My duty is 
to be interested positively in my neighbour's well-being. And it is im- 
portant to understand that while the enforcement of obligations is pos- 
sible, that of moral duties is impossible. But the establishment of obli- 
gations by law or authoritative custom, and the gradual recognition of 
moral duties, have not been separate processes. They have gone on to- 
gether in the history of man. The growth of the institutions by which 
more complete equality of rights is gradually secured to a wider range 
of persons, and of those interests in various forms of social well-being 
by which the will is moralised, have been related to each other as the 
outer and inner side of the same spiritual development; though at a cer- 
tain stage of reflection it comes to be discovered that the agency of 
force, by which the rights are maintained, is ineffectual for eliciting the 
moral interests. The result of the twofold process has been the creation 
of the actual content of morality, the articulation of the indefinite con- 
sciousness that there is something that should be a true well-being to be 
aimed at other than any pleasure or succession of pleasures — into the 
sentiments and interests which form an 'enlightened conscience. It is 
thus that when the highest stage of reflective morality is reached and 
upon interests in this or that mode of social good there supervenes an 
interest in an ideal of goodness, that ideal has already a definite filling; 
and the man who pursues Duty for Duty's sake, who does good for the 
sake of being good or in order to realise an idea of perfection, is at no 
loss to say what in particular his duty is, or by what particular methods 
the perfection of character is to be approached.