political revue


Year XXXIV, 1992, Number 2 - Page 142



Karl Jaspers, psychologist and philosopher who was born in Oldenburg, Northern Germany, in 1883 and died in Basel in 1969, is one of the major representatives of contemporary existentialist thought. After graduating in medicine, he was a professor of psychology and then of philosophy at Heidelberg University up to 1937, when he was obliged to leave his post due to his opposition to the Nazi regime. He returned to his teaching at Heidelberg in 1945.
His philosophy is a constant enquiry into the meaning of life and death, and into the relationship between man and transcendency, and it reflects a situation of deep crisis, the crisis of a man who has lived and undergone the tragic consequences of the events that have marked our century: two World Wars and the atrocious experience of Nazism.
His thinking therefore reveals a constant sense of uneasiness and precariousness, but at the same time a strong trend towards overcoming the anguish and limitations which mankind struggles against. His awareness of the risk threatening man’s ability to think and act did not prevent him from having faith in human reason and in the value of ideas as “motivating powers”. This allowed him to face the problems of humanity with a positive spirit: at the basis of every idea, of every project – he wrote – lies “an inexplicable confidence, namely the certitude of faith that everything is not null and void, not merely a senseless chaos, a passing from nothing into nothing. The ideas that guide our passage through the world are revealed to this confidence”.[1]
It is on the basis of this confidence that he analyzed the situation of mankind after the Second World War, which was characterized by an ever more accentuated interdependence (“What is historically new ... is the real unity of mankind on the earth. The planet has become for man a single whole dominated by the technology of communications ... All the crucial problems have become world problems…”[2]) and conditioned by the explosion of the atomic bomb (“... it is impossible to nullify the fact that humanity has come to the point where it is able to destroy itself. Only by nullifying total violence (such as war) will a situation which avoids the ruin of humanity become possible”[3]).
His analysis of the present times was based on the awareness of the historical dimension of man: he wrote that history is open to the past and future and we are between the two, as is our present, which is not merely a “pure and simple present”, enclosed within the narrow horizon of the day, but one that is tied to the historical background and “reaches fulfilment through the future latent within it, whose tendencies we make into our own, either by rejecting or accepting them.”[4] Historical thought, therefore, not only interprets the past, but must also predict the future and forewarn. In effect, such predictions “open the area of the possible, they provide points of attack for plan and action, they bring us into the broadest horizons, they enhance our freedom with the consciousness of the possible”:[5] in conclusion, knowledgeable predictions of the future (based not on arbitrary whims, but on the solid foundations of the exploration of the past and the interpretation of the present) contribute to its realization. The awareness of all this – Jaspers adds – cannot be disconnected either from humility, and a recognition of the limits of knowledge and power, or from the consciousness that, while the heritage of man is almost indestructible, the acquisitions of history can be lost. And it is precisely in order to find a remedy for this danger, and to contribute to the perpetual dialogue of man with himself, with others and with history, that Jaspers turned his attention to the problem of world unity.
In the text which follows he deals with the same problems, and suggests similar answers as those which federalist thought has given to the changes and needs of the present-day world. Starting from objective global interdependence, he affirms the need to overcome the world’s division into sovereign states: “Where a sovereignty remains which is not that of mankind as a whole, there also remains a source of unfreedom; for it must assert itself by force against force” in other words by the war.[6] And to nationalism, that “has already ceased to be a factor in politically decisive events”,[7] he opposes federalism, which will establish a world order based on law and “afforded by common decision in negotiation”[8] (with the exclusion of what he defines as a “world empire”, in other words a peace based on enslavement to a single power).
In his book on the atomic bomb, Jaspers pitilessly attacks the conviction of being able to found universal peace on the UN: “At the heart of the United Nations Charter there is a fatal obscurity. The UN wants to eliminate from the world violence used for political ends. But it look for assistance in the force of the member states which, when all other means have failed, are obliged to enforce the law through war ... The UN is not what it claims to be. It represents ... a falseness ... The UN is like a theatre, in which an annoying play is staged amid the real actions of the big powers.”[9] These blunt statements, accompanied by a broader analysis of what he defines “the lie of the UN” remind us of Einaudi’s and Lord Lothian’s criticism of the Society of Nations, the international organization which preceded the UN and whose contradictions the latter has been unable to overcome. But, after denouncing its limitations (which still exist, but were even more evident in the cold war atmosphere in which the book was written), Jaspers looked to the future and tried to recover the symbolic function that the United Nations retained: “The UN shows world public opinion something more than the diplomacy of the single states. An organ of all mankind – albeit still a poor one – shows the human race to itself. It becomes more evident what the mighty idea of peace and unity between men is ....”[10] His hope was that one day the UN, by transforming itself, would be able to become an organization that could establish the rule of law in the world.
But the path to a “world order” implies at the same time both courage and patience. “Patience, obduracy, steadfastness; these are indispensable to the politically active man. This patience consists in the ethical attitude that does not succumb to personal mortifications, that keeps the objective whole always in view, that appraises and distinguishes the essential from the inessential. It consists in the watchfulness that remains undiminished in waiting and in apparent fruitlessness ...”[11]
These words seem to echo those written by Altiero Spinelli during the political struggle to create the European Federation: “... in the human condition only those who can to be faithful to their ideas in the dark hours of defeat deserve to see victory one day.”[12]
Technology has brought about the unification of the globe by making possible a hitherto unheard of speed of communications. The history of the one humanity has begun. A single destiny governs the whole of it. Men from all parts of the world can see one another.
Since the whole sphere of the earth is more accessible to the technology of communications than in former times Eastern Asia was to the Central Empire, or the Mediterranean world to Rome, the political unity of the earth can only be a matter of time. The path seems to lead from national States, via the great continental areas of government, to world empire or world order. It will eventually be enforced by the will to power and dominion which, by all historical analogies, is always there, has as its more or less conscious goal the largest world empire it is possible to attain at any particular time, and then, out of the will to peace, seeks a life free from anxiety in an order of the world.
Thus, in fact, the various local histories have today already become one continental history. To begin with, the universal tendencies proceed toward the structuring of great continental areas of life, which are related to one another. The spheres of the American continent, Eastern Asia, the Russian Empire and the territories of Europe, Hither Asia and America cannot continue to live alongside each other without connexions or in mutual indifference. They do not merely observe each other’s existence; they either live in de facto material and spiritual exchange, or in a self-enclosure that heightens the tension.
Introduction. The historical analogy with the end of the Axial Period.
Man’s self-consciousness developed during the Axial Period.i The compelling spiritual images and ideas appeared in the transition to the unmythological or at least no longer naïvely mythological ages. Endless possibilities were evolved in the free struggle of the spirit of a world rent by power politics. Every force awoke and stimulated the rest.
Through his highest upsurge, however, man first experienced all his distress, the insight into his imperfection and imperfectibility. The goal was redemption.
Rational thinking developed and, in conjunction with it discussion, in which one throws the ball to the other and a perennially creative growth and deepening of consciousness takes place through generations. To every position there was the counterposition. On the whole, everything remained open. Insecurity became conscious. An unparalleled disquiet took possession of man. The world seemed to consciousness to be growing more and more chaotic.
In the end, the collapse took place. From about 200 B.C. onwards great political and spiritual unifications and dogmatic configurations held the field. The Axial Period ended with the formation of great States, which forcibly realised this unity (the unified Chinese Empire of Tsin-Shi-Hwang-Ti, the Maurya dynasty in India, the Roman Empire). These great change-overs from the multiplicity of States to universal empires – world empires in the sense that they embraced the whole of the world process known at the time in the three regions, which at that period were almost completely ignorant of one another – took place simultaneously. The metamorphosis was everywhere remarkable: the free conflict of spirits seems to have come to a standstill. The result was a loss of consciousness. Only a few suitable intellectual possibilities and spiritual figures from the bygone Axial Period were seized upon to impart spiritual community, lustre and concordance to the new State authorities. The imperial idea was realised in forms founded on religion. There arose spiritually stable, long-enduring periods of great empires, attended by a levelling down to mass culture and by the sublime, but unfree, spirituality of conservative aristocracies. It is as though the world fell into a centuries long sleep, accompanied by the absolute authority of great systems and mummifications.
Universal empires are widely extended empires. Such empires are, for the vast majority of their peoples foreign dominations, in contrast to the Greek City States and limited, self-governing tribal and national communities. The latter’s self-government rested on active participation in political thought and action in the aristocratic form of democracy as it existed, in a different shape, in Athens and Rome. This democracy vanished with the transition to the equalling pseudo-democracy of extensive empires (to a great extent in Athens with the end of Pericles, totally in Rome with the transition to Caesarism). Where participation in political activity finally gave way to mere obedience and subjection, all sovereignty per se became foreign domination to the consciousness of the individual, at least for the greater part of the population of the empire.
Hence a profound transformation of man accompanied the transformation of his conditions into those of extended empires. Political impotence altered consciousness and life. Despotic forces, which seemed to be inseparable from the extended empire, threw the individual back upon himself, isolated him, levelled him down. Where no real share in responsibility and no intervention in the whole were possible, all were slaves. This slavery was veiled by figures of speech and sham contrivances from the free past. There was hardly ever so much talk of Greek liberty, which was again and again guaranteed by the victory as when it was finally destroyed in favour of an imperial regime. That which took place in men who asserted their existence in community, to the accompaniment of a continual outer and inner fight for a better order, from out of the existing de facto orders in the Greek City States, was now lost. Something quite different then constituted a bond between the powerless: membership of a divine kingdom, belief in resurrection and redemption (the Christians). On the other hand, there developed magnificently in the rulers (the Romans) an all-embracing consciousness of responsible guidance of the State in the universal interests of mankind, a high art of government, of the construction of a world-spanning authority.
The analogy may, perhaps, cast some light on our future, despite the fact that this will look quite different. It is, at the same time, a warning for all who desire the liberty of man.
What will unity look like? If the first termination of the present development, which may not be so very far off is the World State, this may appear either as an empire won by conquest and subject to a unified rule (perhaps in the form of a government which is in actual fact centralised, but which recognises the sham sovereignty of many States), or – the outcome of agreement and treaty – as a world government of united States which have renounced their individual sovereignty in favour of the sovereignty of mankind, that is seeking way with legal order as the sovereign authority.
Motives on this passage to world unity are, for one thing, the will to power, which is no less alive today than at any other time, and which knows no bounds until it has subjugated everything, and, for another amongst powers none of which dare risk a decision by force in view of the monstrous perils, the great planetary distress that presses toward agreement – and above both these, the idea of human solidarity.
All the phenomena of the present have the appearance of a preparatory struggle for the points of departure of the final battle for the planetary order. Contemporary world politics are seeking a basis for the ultimate settlement, whether this is to be reached by military or peaceful means. Until this has been achieved, all conditions and power relationships are temporary. Hence the present appears as a transition to this final planetary order, even if the exact opposite develops first: e.g. the radical interruption of communication on earth for the majority of people by totalitarian regimes. We shall now proceed to a more detailed analysis of the tendencies which are leading out of this transition period into the future.
World empire or world order.
The question is, along what path will the unitary world order be attained. It might take place along the desperate road of force, as, in the words of Bismarck, the unity of Germany could be achieved only by ‘blood and iron’. Or it might take place through an order arising by negotiation out of maturing understanding in mutuality, in the same way as, in the eighteenth century, the States of North America found their way to union at the cost of abrogating an essential part of their particular sovereignty in favour of the sovereignty of the whole.
The shape of the order would, in the first case, be the static peace of despotism, in the second case, a peaceful community of all subject to transmutation in perennial democratic unrest and self-rectification. Reducing the possibilities to a simple antithesis, therefore, the issue is between the path to world empire or the path to world order.
World empire. This is world peace through a single power, which coerces all from one point on the earth. It maintains itself by the use of force. It moulds the levelled masses by terror and total planning. A uniform world view is forced upon all, in simple outlines, by propaganda. Censorship and direction of spiritual activity compel the latter to play its part in the plan of the moment, which may be modified at any time.
World order. This is unity without unifying force other than that afforded by common decision in negotiation. Orders agreed upon can only be altered along the legally fixed path by new decisions. The supremacy of this procedure and of majority decisions has been accepted in common; it guarantees the common rights of all, which also protect those who are for the time being in a minority; these rights remain an order of mankind in movement and self-rectification.
The enslavement of all from one point stands in contrast to the order of all attendant upon renunciation by each single State of absolute sovereignty. Hence the road to world order leads via the voluntary renunciation of those with power as a precondition of liberty.
Where a sovereignty remains which is not that of mankind as a whole, there also remains a source of unfreedom; for it must assert itself by force against force. The organisation of force, however, conquest and empire building by conquest lead to dictatorship, even if the starting-point was free democracy. So it happened in Rome in the transition from the Republic to Caesarism. So the French Revolution changed into the dictatorship of Napoleon. Democracy that conquers abandons itself. Democracy that lives on good terms with others lays the foundations for the union of all with equal rights. The demand for full sovereignty is rooted in the energy of self-assertion destitute of communication. In the age of absolutism, when the concept of sovereignty was defined, the consequences were ruthlessly made conscious in word and deed.
Where the right of veto remains in decision by vote taken in common by the great powers the claim to absolute sovereignty is maintained. If men assemble with peace, which is unconditionally desired by all, as their aim, they will be bound by agreement to accept the decision of the majority. There remains the possibility of further work to convince the rest that the decision was wrong and to have it rescinded by a fresh decision. Neither veto nor force is permissible however.
The motives for renouncing veto and sovereignty spring from the humaneness that desires peace – shrewd foresight that sees one’s own power coming to grief unless there is unison with all the rest – the prospect of losing so much in a war, even in the event of victory, that this disaster outweighs everything else – the pleasure of mutual acceptance in spiritual conflict and the building up of the world – pleasure in life with men of equal status, and unpleasure in dominion over the vanquished and over slaves.
World order, with the abolition of absolute sovereignty, would mean the abolition of the old concept of the State in favour of mankind. The outcome would not be a World State (that would be a world empire), but an order, perennially re-established in negotiation and decision, of States governing themselves within legally restricted domains: an all-embracing federalism.
World order would be the continuation and universalisation of internal political freedom. Both are possible only through restriction of the political order to questions of existence. On the plane of existence, the issue is not the development, moulding and fulfilment of humanity in toto, but that which is or may be common to all men by nature, that which links men together above all diversities, above divergences of faith and world view – that which is universally human.
Natural law has, since early times sought to give prominence to the common bond. It is the foundation of the rights of man, and in world order would erect an authority that would also protect the individual person from acts of violence on the part of his State, through the possibility of effective legal action under the sovereignty of mankind.
It is possible to evolve principles which are judicious for man as man (such as Kant’s principle of perpetual peace). The concepts of the right of self-determination, equality of rights, the sovereignty of the State, retain their relative, but lose their absolute significance. The total State and total war can be demonstrated as contradictory to natural law; because in them the means and prerequisites of humanity become the final goal, or because through absolutisation of the means the meaning of the whole, the right of man, is destroyed.
Natural law is confined to the ordering of existence. Its end purpose is always a relative one, that of the ordering of existence, but from the motive of the absolute end-purpose of authentic and complete humanity in the world.
The age of world unity cannot be adumbrated in advance, however fervent our interest in it may be. It is perhaps possible, however, to discuss the possibilities and limits of what will be:
1) All happening will now be from ‘within’. It will no longer be possible for any foreign powers, any barbarian peoples, such as have always existed for the universal empires of the past, to break in from outside. There will be neither limes nor Chinese wall (except that during the transition period the major areas-will be divided off against one another). World unity will be single, all-embracing, enclosed, and hence not directly comparable to earlier empires.
If there is no further menace from without, there will no longer be a foreign policy, there will be no further need to adjust the order to the needs of defence against outside attack. The maxim of the primacy of foreign over domestic policy will have lost its meaning, as the validity of this maxim always has diminished when the threat from without was slight (for instance in England), and in the times of the great empires, at least for short periods (in Rome and in China).
The whole of production can be for the benefit of existence, and not of military destruction.
The necessary interconnection between military organisation (against a threat from without or for purposes of conquest), total planning, force and unfreedom will break down. There remains, however, the possibility of the same interconnection in a State based on terror and playing the role of a world empire. In the event of a general disintegration of human life, however, and of hidden anarchy, the whole will not, as heretofore, be galvanised into activity by a threat from without.
2) A coming world order could not arise as a finished whole, but in numerous gradations of freedom. There will be stages in the evolution of the order. That which holds all men together as their common concern may be confined to a few factors, but it must under all circumstances take sovereignty away from all in favour of one comprehensive sovereignty. This sovereignty can be restricted to the elementary power-problems the military, the police, the creation of laws – and in this sovereignty the whole of mankind can participate by voting and collaboration.
The order of human life, however would be much richer than the all-embracing legality of mankind. What it will be like in universal peace must depend upon the various orders with their origins in history; the manifold pattern of life will be determined by the remoulding imposed upon it by technological conditions.
Restricted orders on the way to this final world order will become points of departure for the formation of a public spirit of mankind based on ethical considerations.
All this will take place only in the absence of total planning – if the sole plan consists of the laws and agreements that are valid for all – in a free market economy that is still decisive in essential domains – in free competition and in the rivalry of the spirit, in free intercourse, especially in the realm of the spirit.
3) The metamorphoses that will overtake the soul and spirit of man in a world empire, as opposed to a world order, can be conjectured by analogy with the Roman and Chinese Empires. An unparalleled levelling down of humanity is probable, an ant’s life in empty industriousness a stiffening and desiccation of the spirit, a conservation in hierarchies of power through authority that is losing all trace of spirit. Yet these perils cannot become absolute in man. In imperial world unity there will be new modes of movement, fresh possibilities of individuation, of revolution, of the bursting apart of the whole into new parts, which will once again be in conflict with one another.
4) Is a legal world order through a political form and a binding ethos possible to mankind at all? This question can only be answered in the future, by ages of fulfilment that have enjoyed peace and creativeness for a time in great orders. To seek to anticipate it would mean to create it out of thought. That is impossible. The expectation that primordial truth will play a part in the reality of the new world order tells us nothing about the content of this new order. For the common ethos which will in the future become the public property of mankind cannot arise in the re-establishment of vanished realities, but must consist of unpredictable constructions kindled afresh from the contents of the old.
The question of whether a world order based on converse and joint decision, as the precondition and consequence of liberty, is possible must be answered by saying that it has never before existed. This is no contraindication of its possibility, however. It is analogous to the evolution of bourgeois liberty in a democratic order, to that conquest of force by law and justice, which, although seldom and never more than imperfectly, has nonetheless in fact been successful in exceptional instances. That which happened in circumscribed States, and therefore became real at some point, is not, in principle, impossible to mankind as a whole. But even if the idea is easily grasped, its realisation is immensely difficult, so difficult that there will always be many who are disposed to consider it impossible.
In any case, the way leads historically via the de facto political powers.
The political powers.
1) The road to world order runs solely via the sovereign States, whose forces are organised for immediate military action in the event of conflict. The manner in which they escape from this state of tension, through negotiation or war, and find their way to one another, will decide the destiny of mankind.
A picture of the States as they actually are will give us a picture of the political situation of the world. There are the Great Powers – America and Russia – then the allied European nations, then the neutrals, and then, in stages, the vanquished. The complete powerlessness of the latter corresponds to the complete sovereignty possessed by the first alone. In between lie those who are autonomous, but yet more or less dependent and not infrequently compelled to make their decisions at a sign from the Great Powers.
Looking at the situation as a whole, it is obvious that the day of national States is over. The world powers of today comprise several nations. The nation, in the sense of the European peoples, is too small to be a world power as such.
The issue today is the fashion in which nations come together to constitute a world power: whether they are subjugated by one nation, or whether they find their way to each other as living nations of equal status in a community of States, to which they have sacrificed their particular sovereignty. This community of States may in turn call itself a nation, out of a political principle of the life of the State and of society, in which the members of several different peoples find their way to each other. The meaning of national consciousness has been transformed from an ethnic to a political one, from something naturally given to a spiritual principle. Yet today, by virtue of the survival of spectres from the past, there is still, and even increased, talk of nationalism, whereas has already ceased to be a factor in politically decisive events.
Alongside the existing Great Powers of today, which industrial development has made mighty, there are the powers of the future; above all, China, which through its raw materials, human masses, aptitudes, cultural heritage and geographical position may perhaps become a key to political events at a not too distant date; in addition, there is India, which like a separate continent, on the fundament of a unique spiritual heritage handed down by its various peoples, presents the possibility of a power developing which, despite all movements of liberation, is still in fact slumbering there.
Seen within the totality of history, the two most powerful contemporary States, America and Russia, are historically quite young formations. It is true that the culture that took thousands of years to evolve has become theirs. But it is like something thrust upon them from without. Christianity came to Russia, Europe is spiritually present in America. Both America and Russia, however, measured against the primordial world creating cultures, are characterised by a lack of roots and thereby, simultaneously, by a magnificent open-mindedness. To look at them is singularly instructive and liberating for us, but also frightening. It is only to us in Europe that our cultural heritage is exclusively valuable, as, in a different fashion, their heritage is to the Chinese and Indians. To us and to them, in every situation, it gives a feeling of provenance, security and demand upon ourselves. By contrast, it is astonishing how those who are today the mighty of this earth are often oppressed by a slight feeling of inferiority, which they veil in a peculiar childishness and in the anger of their demands.
To see through the manner in which the play of political forces takes place, changes with the manoeuvres of the States in the confused maze of the chances of power, and how, nonetheless, certain great basic trends are preserved, would be of the greatest interest. For intellectual ideas of political order will come to realisation only on the road via the power that is to be won in this interplay of forces.
In the foreground of everyday life there is a great deal that looks fortuitous. Harm is wrought by everything that stands in opposition to organisation in larger contexts; such, for instance, as national claims that are made absolute, all particular artifices intended to gain special advantage for oneself, all attempts to play the Great Powers off one against the other in the hope of profiting by it.
2) The whole population of the globe, more than two thousand million people in all, is drawn into the interplay of these powers. But guidance and decision is in the hands of the peoples who, comparatively, constitute no more than an infinitesimal fraction of this total mass. The majority is passive.
There is a primal distribution of the world which has existed since the dawn of history. Only once since the sixteenth century has this primal distribution been changed on a grand scale in relation to large areas that were unpopulated or settled by primitive peoples incapable of resistance. The white race took possession of the regions of America, Australia and Northern Asia as far as the Pacific Ocean. This established a new distribution of the earth.
A coming world federation will have to start from this distribution of the world as a reality, if the road to a forcible world order is to be avoided. On the path of violence the extermination of peoples, deportations, the annihilation of whole races, and thereby the negation of humanity, seem possible. It will not be possible for the Europeans permanently to dominate, or even merely to guide, the great human masses of China and India, which have stood firm, nor the peoples of the Near East. The prodigious difficulty is, however, that all these population masses must first reach the political maturity which will render them capable of emerging from the state of violence into that of mutual agreement, and of grasping the nature of political freedom as a life-form.
These mighty, but still largely passive powers give rise to the question: Will the peoples conscious of liberty, numbering at most a few hundred millions, be able to bring conviction to the spirits of more than two thousand million others and enter with them into a free, legal world community?
3) The road to world unity from a few historical origins and from a quantitatively infinitesimal minority of man. World order springs from the same motives as the order of bourgeois society. Since bourgeois liberty was won at only a few places on the earth in historical processes unique to each, and since these constitute, as it were, the school of political liberty, the world will have to accomplish on a large scale what was there exemplified on a small one.
The classical development of political freedom, which gives at least an orientation to all and is for many exemplary, occurred not more than seven hundred years ago in England. On this spiritual-political fundament, liberty was created afresh in America. Within a very small area Switzerland realized this freedom in its federalism, which may appear like a model of possible European and world unity.
Today political freedom has almost disappeared amongst the defeated peoples. Here it had already been destroyed when the apparatus of a terrorist order declared that it was defending it.
The road to world order leads via the awakening and self-understanding of political liberty in as many countries as possible. This situation is without analogy in the conditions of transition to earlier world empires after the Axial Period. The idea and the task were scarcely conscious at that time; the reality of free States did not exist amongst the powers that were coming to sovereignty.
World order today, if it is realised at all, will start from the federalism of the States which are already free. It will be successful only if it exercises a sufficiently strong attraction to lead others to follow it out of conviction, and peacefully to join in with the world order which brings liberty, wealth and spiritual creativeness, the potentiality of humanity in its plenitude and multiformity.
4) If the unity of the earth is forced upon us by communications, a crucial factor will be the sense of the earth and of power imparted by the perspectives of travel.
For centuries England, through its domination of the ocean, saw the world from the sea as coasts which all lay as though enclosed within the private empire of dominion over the waves.
Today air-traffic has been added; although it is not yet equal to sea-traffic in its performance in transporting goods and travellers, nevertheless such an important extension that, to the politically seeing eye, the world becomes a whole from the air as well.
Power on the water and in the air seems more essential to the unity of the earth than power on land, even though in the last resort the latter must everywhere accompany the final act of decision on war.
The omnipresence of the legally directed world police would probably be most rapidly and safely implemented in the air.
The perils on the road to world order.
Before the constitution of a dependable world order, there lies the transition period, which is full of perils. To be sure, all human existence is at all times a transition. But now the very foundations of humanity are tottering, the elementary groundwork of the future must be laid down.
We should like to be able to characterise this transition period that lies before us. It is our immediate future, whereas everything that will begin with world order or world empire will take place only in succession to it.
World order cannot be realised directly. Hence the nugatoriness of the enthusiasm, the invective, the projects, which are supposed to contribute immediately to its achievement, as though they represented the philosopher’s stone.
Much more clearly than world order itself, we can see the perils that threaten on the way thither. Every peril bears within itself, through the fact that it is known, an element of surmountability. In human affairs there is no intrinsically mortal danger, if man can be free in accordance with his nature.
1) Impatience: The road will reach its destination only if the active participants are possessed of infinite patience.
It is fatal, in the desire to force through that which one has recognised as right, to let failure cause one to refuse further collaboration, obstinately to break off converse, and to have recourse to violence or the preparation of violence.
The momentary supremacy of the one who holds the trump card, threatens force, or blackmails, proves in the long run to be weakness and is in any case to blame for the lengthening or blocking of the road. The exceptionally difficult task is, without becoming weak, not to forget force when confronted by force, but to postpone its use until the very last moment. For the responsible statesman there is no prestige reason for the use of force, no reason for a preventive war, no reason for breaking off negotiations. In every situation there remains human speech – until one party possessing sufficient force to do so, breaks off and is now a criminal in the measure in which all the rest had, and still have, patience.
It is impossible to assess what will, in the future, aid this process and what will hinder it. Situations continually change. The attempt must not be abandoned, even in relation to the malevolent and underhand. Intolerance must be patiently led to tolerance. We must relegate to the final stage the goal of rendering all force harmless as criminality by means o fthe one legal force of humanity. Until then the possessor of great force (the magnitude of which alone distinguishes him from the criminal, if he makes use of it) must be treated with the circumspection and patience that may win his friendship. If this is to succeed at all, it can do so only if the rest remain calm and do not throwaway the slightest opportunity for reconciliation.
An example of the fact that the craving after immediate realisation of the right may be a mistake is perhaps provided by the following: The right of veto is in itself an evil. But its abolition would presuppose that all the interested parties were ready, even in a serious instance, to bend their wills to the majority decision, that in their ethos they had really renounced sovereignty, in the same way as the citizens within a State. This calls for essential human community realised in every phase of intercourse. Before this has been attained, abolition of the right of veto would be fruitless. For if a Great Power were to oppose a majority decision and its execution, this would mean war.
It is stimulating to see how, in participation in political negotiations, in so far as they are made public, this patience finds a language, seeks paths, and evokes intercommunity again through repeated new flashes of inspiration. It is disheartening to see how, against all reason, ignoring all facts and motives, in perpetual disruption of converse, the sovereignty of the veto smashes what all the rest sought to build up.
And it is magnificent to see from a study of history – particularly the history of the English, Americans and Swiss – how man had patience, overcame himself and even in hatred, came to terms with his opponent at the dictate of reason – and how ways were found of carrying out peaceably the revolutionary changes for which the times were ripe.
Patience, obduracy, steadfastness: these are indispensable to the politically active man. This patience consists in the ethical attitude that does not succumb to personal mortifications, that keeps the objective whole always in view, that appraises and distinguishes the essential from the inessential. It consists in the watchfulness that remains undiminished in waiting and in apparent fruitlessness: comparable to the huntsman at his station, who waits for hours but at the instant when the fox leaps across the woodland path, has to raise his gun, take aim, and fire in the fraction of a second. This untiring alertness that misses nothing and is watchful, not for one single thing, as for a wild animal, but for all unforeseeable favourable opportunities, is indispensable to the active statesman. The great danger to human activity lies in impatience, exhaustion and the climate of fruitlessness.
2) Once a dictatorship has been set up it cannot be got rid of again from within: Germany and Italy were set free from without. All attempts from within came to grief. This might be a coincidence. But if we call to mind the way in which a terrorist regime operates with the means of total planning and bureaucracy, it becomes evident how fundamentally insurmountable is he machine that maintains itself almost automatically, and in which everything that appears to oppose it from within is obliterated. The means of modern technology give the de facto ruler a tremendous preponderance of power, if he makes ruthless use of all the means at his disposal. There is just as little chance of overthrowing such a regime as there is of the inmates of a penitentiary overthrowing the governor and his staff. The machine reaches the peak of impregnability when the terror includes all, in such a manner that those who do not wish it become terrorised terrorists, killing in order not to be killed themselves.
Hitherto such despotic terrorist regimes were local. Thus they could be annihilated from without, if not from within. If, however, the peoples should fail to absorb this into their consciousness and into their concern for the future, if they should all slip unawares into such a dictatorship in the shape of a world dictatorship, there would be no further prospect of liberation. The danger of this state of affairs coming about is all the more acute when people feel safe from it and suppose, for example, that only the servile Germans could find themselves in such a situation. If the same fate befills the rest of the world, there will be no more outside. The rigidification of the whole in total planning, stabilised by terror, would annihilate liberty and mean the road to increasing ruin for all.
3) The danger of absolute destruction: On the road to the order of the World State events might take place which, before the goal had been reached, might inflict such destruction upon mankind that we can hardly imagine the continuation of history. A miserable remnant would be left living scattered over the surface of the earth, to start all over again as thousands of years ago. The links between men would have been tom apart, technology would be at an end and life dependent upon the local possibilities of the moment, which would just suffice to maintain it in extreme want to the accompaniment of exhausting effort demanding vital force and youthfulness. This end would arise if a war resulted in the demolition of the structure of technology, if raw materials were used up without the discovery of a substitute, if war did not cease but crumbled, as it were, into more and more circumscribed local hostilities – a state of perpetual warfare such as existed prior to history.
The meaning of warfare has undergone a metamorphosis in the course of history. There were wars that were the chivalrous sport of aristocrats and conducted according to the rules of the game. There were wars whose purpose was the decision of a question, and which came to a timely end before all organisable forces had been thrown in. There were wars of extermination.
There were civil wars and ministerial wars between nations, which nevertheless retained some sort of solidarity, through the fact that both parties were European. There were more pitiless wars between cultures and religions alien to one another.
Today war seems transformed by the extent of its means the magnitude of its consequences. It has acquired a different meaning:
1. All the most extreme elements foreshadowed during historical epochs seem to have combined to such a degree that there are absolutely no moderating tendencies left in war. Hitler Germany was the first country in the Age of Technology to embark in principle on the path which the rest then followed of necessity. Now we are threatened by a war which the Age of Technology and the abolition of all restraints will make so different that extermination and deportations, which to a certain extent also occurred in earlier times – with the Assyrians and the Mongols – do not suffice to characterise the disaster.
This uncontrolled totality of war, with no moderation of its means, is due in part to the interrelationship between total planning and war. The one lends impetus to the other. Power that seeks to reach absolute ascendancy is bound to tend toward total planning. Since, however, this reduces economic prosperity, there comes a point at which the optimum of armament has been reached. War is forced on the country by its inner development, which, with the continuance of peace, would lead to its growing weaker.
In the long run wealth, progress and vigour are attendant upon liberty; for a short time, however, and transitorily, supremacy comes with total planning and terrorist force, with its organisation of all the energies of a population for the destructive gamble, into which everything is thrown without reservation.
The way of the world seems to lead to such catastrophes, whose consequences in anarchy and misery beggar description. The only salvation is a world order based on the rule of law and possessing the power to preserve peace, by meeting every act of violence with superior force that robs it of all chance of success, and by punishing it as a crime.
2. If war cannot be avoided, the crucial thing for world history is what manner of men emerge victorious; whether they are the representatives of naked force, or a human type that lives by the spirit and by the principle of freedom. The factor that will decide the issue of war is technology. And here we come face to face with an ominous fact: Technology can be used by everyone. Not everyone can discover it but once it has been discovered even primitive peoples can learn its ways, can learn to serve machines, to fly aeroplanes and drive tanks. Hence technology in the hands of the peoples which did not invent it, becomes an immense danger to the spiritually creative peoples. If it comes to war, the only chance is that the inventive peoples will gain the military advantage by means of new inventions.
It is true that decisions on the nature of the new world order will not be wrested from the struggle of spirits alone. If, however, decisions are reached on the way to this new order through the agency of technology, which, at the last moment, is carried to fresh heights by free, creative spirits, its victory might be of spiritual significance also. What will to free order prevails in the warring powers might, through this new order, lead simultaneously to liberation for the world, if the sense of freedom is assimilated by men who are becoming more and more awakened, while, at the same time, it is fostered by the victors themselves.
3. In the shape of the atom bomb as a means of destruction, technology opens up a completely different vista. Today everyone is aware of the threat to human life represented by the atom bomb. On its account there must be no more war. It becomes a motive – though up to now only a weak one – for the preservation of peace, because of the immense danger with which this kind of war threatens everyone.
In very truth, technology may cause destruction on a scale which it is still impossible to predict. If it is reproached with having set free the elemental and brought it to destructive effectiveness, this has been its nature since the beginning, then man learnt to kindle fire. Today the Promethean idea does not bring with it anything new in principle, but quantitatively it increases the peril beyond all measure, to the point at which we contemplate the possibility of pulverising the globe in space – with which the Promethean idea becomes something qualitatively different as well.
With the atom bomb, a piece of solar substance has been brought to the earth. The same thing happens to it on the surface of the earth which has hitherto happened only in the sun.
Up to the present, the application of nuclear chain reactions has been confined to those substances extracted with great difficulty from uranium ores. The fear that this type of atomic fission might spread to other elements, to matter itself as fire spreads to all inflammable material, is stated by physicists to be groundless. Nevertheless, there is no certain limit valid for all time.
Giving oneself up to the play of fantasy it is possible to imagine: it is uncertain beyond what dividing-line the explosion will lay hold on further elements and terrestrial matter as a whole, like a conflagration. The whole globe would explode, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Then our solar system would be temporarily lit up, a nova would have appeared in space.
We can pose a singular question. Our history has lasted some six thousand years only. Why should this history occur just now, after the immeasurable ages of the universe and of the earth that have preceded it? Do not humans, or at all events, rational beings, exist anywhere else in the universe? Is it not the natural development of the spirit to extend its operations into the universe? Why have we not long since had news, through radiations, from the universe? Communications from rational beings infinitely further advanced in technology than ourselves? Can it be because all high technological development has so far led to the point at which the beings have brought about the destruction of their planet with the atomic bomb? Can some of the novae be end-effects of the activities of technological rational beings?
Is the prodigious task then to recognise the gravity of this danger, to take it really seriously, and to introduce a self-education of mankind which, despite the constant danger, will avert such an end? The peril can be overcome only if it is consciously seen, if its menace is consciously prevented and rendered impossible. This will only happen if the ethos of man is equal to the task. It is not to be accomplished technologically: man as such must become trustworthy in the preservation and effectiveness of the institutions he has created.
Or are we confronted by a necessity before which there is nothing left but capitulation – where sentimental visions and unreal demands become unworthy of man, because they deprive him of his veracity? No, and even if it had happened in the world a thousand times – which is in any case pure fantasy – each fresh instance would present afresh the task of preventing the catastrophe, and that by means of every conceivable direct measure. Since, however, all such measures are unreliable in themselves, they require to be founded in the ethos and religion of all. In this way alone can the unconditional no to the atom bomb provide support for those measures which will be effectual only if they apply to everyone.
Anyone who regards the terrestrial catastrophe, whatever its nature, as inescapable, must see his life against this background. What is a life that must come to such an end?
All this is the play of ideas, however; its only meaning is to bring the factual danger into consciousness and to call up a vision of a world order based on the rule of law, which, in its all-decisive significance, evokes the whole earnestness of man.
Ideas opposed to the possibility of world order.
The idea of world order, this European idea, is disputed. It is supposed to be Utopian.
Men are supposed to be incapable of communal order. World order is supposed to be possible only through the power of an ordering dictator. The national-socialists’ plan of subjugating Europe and then, with the combined force of Europe, of conquering the world, in order to Europeanise it, is supposed to have been good and workable as an ideal; only the bearers of the idea were evil.
This is not so. These basic ideas of contempt for man and of force, which, in the last resort, is always terrorist, are inseparably bound up with men of just this type.
But, the thesis goes on, the world dominion which will naturally arise out of the quantitative preponderance in territory, population and raw materials will, in the last analysis, be just as much a rule of force, as far as the less fortunate peoples are concerned, as a dictatorship. Along a seemingly peaceful road, certain men will enforce their will on all the rest through economic expansion.
This is an exaggeration if the situation is compared to the ruin of war. And it is a mistake to forget that there are, in principle, peaceful means of redressing injustices arising out of economic power. There is here, however, a real question for the success of true world order. Economic power must also be prepared to accept self-limitation under laws, and to subject itself to conditions; it too will have to serve the idea of world order, if the idea is to become a reality.
World order – the thesis continues – is not a goal at all. If it were once stabilised, it would probably result in a totality of knowledge and valuation for all, a complacency, and an end of humanity, a new sleep of the spirit in the tranquillity of recollection that understands less and less, a state of fulfilment, a universality of that desired by all, while their consciousness diminishes and they undergo a metamorphosis into creatures that are hardly human any more.
All this might apply to the subjects of a world empire, if it lasted for hundreds and thousands of years. It certainly does not apply to world order. In the latter the elements of unrest remain. For it is never perfected; it is always in mutation. New decisions and enterprises are called for. The manner in which the position reached will give birth to fresh situations requiring mastery cannot be foretold. Discontent and insufficiency will seek a new break-through and upsurge.
World order – this thesis finally states – is impossible because of what man is and because of the situations in which, by the nature of the matter, agreement is out of the question, and decision by war – the ‘appeal to heaven’ – is inescapable. Man is inadequate. He falls short of what is required of him in possessiveness – in disregard of others – in the flight from order into confusion, and then into the spiritless struggle for power – in self-assertion through the breaking-off of communication with ‘irreducible’ demands – in the urge to destruction.
The idea of world order.
In opposition to all denials of the possibility of a just and legal world order of peace, observation of history and our own wills again and again gives rise to the question: Will this new order not one day become possible, this convergence of all into a realm of peace? The trail toward it was blazed at the very beginning, when men founded State communities for the creation of order among themselves. The only question was the size to be attained by these communities of peace, within which the settlement of conflicts by force became a crime and hence punishable. In such large communities there already prevailed, even if only for limited periods and under a constant threat, dependability and the outlook that sustains legal order. There is, in principle, no boundary to the endeavour to expand such a community, till it becomes the community of all men.
Hence the readiness to renunciation and compromise, to mutual sacrifice, to the self-limitation of power not only from considerations of advantage, but also from the recognition of justice, has been as perennial a feature of history as the urge to force. The greatest proclivity to such an attitude was perhaps to be found in aristocratic, moderate, inwardly cultured men (like Solon); less in the average man, who is always disposed to consider himself right and the other in the wrong; none whatever in men of violence, who are not prepared to come to terms at all, but want to hit out.
In view of this human diversity, doubt will be justified: In world unity – whether it is a unity of world order or world empire – there will be no permanent calm, any more than within the State formations we have seen up to now. Jubilation at the attainment of pax aeterna will prove illusory. The forces of remoulding will assume fresh shapes.
In his finitude, man is left with basic instincts and resistances which render it improbable that we can expect a condition of the world in which the liberty of all is so integrated as to become an absolute power capable of finally exorcising everything that threatens freedom, including finite aspiration to power, finite interests, and self-will. We have rather to reckon that the wild passions will be re-established in new forms.
Above all however, there is an essential difference between what the individual can at any time become through his own agency, and what the community of political order can become in the course of history. The individual can become existence that is capable of finding its own eternal meaning in the manifestation of the epoch; the human group and mankind, however, can become an order that is a communal product of history only through generations and that gives scope to the potentialities and limitations of all individuals. But order only exists through the spirit with which individuals animate it and which gives individuals their stamp in the sequence of generations. All institutions are dependent upon men, who are individuals. The individual is here the crucial factor – in so far as it takes many or the majority of individuals to sustain the order – and yet, at the same time, as an individual, he is powerless.
The singular fragility of all orders, with the spirit that bears them, is reason enough to regard the future with uncertainty. Illusions and Utopias are certainly powerful factors in history, but not of the kind that create order for liberty and humanity. Rather it is of crucial importance to liberty that, in thinking out the possibility or impossibility of a world order, we should not lay down any picture of the future, any devised reality, as the goal toward which history is of necessity steering, which we ourselves assimilate as such into our fundamental wills and with the attainment of which history would be consummated. Never shall we find a fulfilment of history, save in every present as this presentness itself.
The limit of historical possibilities has its deep foundation in humanity. No perfect end-state can ever be attained in the human world, because man is a creature that constantly strives to thrust out beyond itself, and is not only imperfect, but imperfectible. A mankind which desired only to be itself would, in restricting itself to itself lose humanity.
In history, however, we may and must lay hold of ideas, if we want to gain a meaning for our life in community. Projects of perpetual peace, or of the prerequisites for perpetual peace, remain true, even if the idea is incapable of realisation as a concrete ideal, but remains rather an infinite task beyond the possibility of being fashioned into a reality. An idea can be brought into congruence neither with the anticipated image of a possible reality, nor with the reality itself, even though it is the meaning implicit in planning of it.
Its basis, however, is an inexplicable confidence, namely the certitude of faith that everything is not null and void, not merely a senseless chaos, a passing from nothing into nothing. The ideas that guide our passage through the world are revealed to this confidence. For this confidence, truth consists in the vision of Isaiah, in which the idea becomes a symbolic image, this vision of universal concord: ‘And they shall be at their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more’.
(Prefaced and edited by Nicoletta Mosconi)

[1] Karl Jaspers, Vom Ursprung und Ziel der Geschichte, 1949; engl. transl. The Origin and Goal of History, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1968, p. 213.
[2] Ibid. pp. 126-127.
[3] Karl Jaspers, Die Atombombe und die Zukunft des Menschen (1958), München, Piper, 1983 (7th ed.), p. 418.
[4] Karl Jaspers, The Origin and Goal of History, cit., Foreword.
[5] Ibid., p.152.
[6] Ibid., p.197.
[7] Ibid., p. 201.
[8] Ibid., p. 197.
[9] Karl Jaspers, Die Atombombe und die Zukunft des Menschen, cit., pp. 215-216.
[10] Ibid., p. 218.
[11] Karl Jaspers, The Origin and Goal of History, cit., pp. 205-206.
[12] Altiero Spinelli, “La politica-ombra dell’Europa,” in Il Federalista, I (1959), p. 15.
* From Karl Jaspers, Vom Ursprung und Ziel der Geschichte, München, 1949.
i At the beginning of the book from which this text is taken, Jaspers declares the necessity of replacing the Christian version of the history of the universe (which considers the coming of the Son of God as the axis of world history) with a less specific vision – one which could have a meaning for all men and women, and not simply for Christian worshippers. The research which he carried out to this end led him to propose as a new axis of world history the period around 500 B.C. – the central phase of a spiritual process unfolding between 800 and 200 B.C., during which mankind gained an awareness of himself, of his limitations and of his capabilities through speculative thought. This awareness developed simultaneously in China, India and the west. The period was termed ‘Axial Period’. (NdC)





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