The Development of Morality


Feliks Koneczny

translated from Polish by Maciej Giertych


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Translator’s note  

I. Treatment of the Problem

II. The General Coordinates of Ethics 


III. Ethical Education 


IV. Body and Soul 


V. The Laws of Nature and of the Spirit


VI. Natural and Artificial Ethics


VII. In the Image and Likeness


IX. Health 


X. Prosperity


XI. Fine Arts 


XII. Mathematics and Light Literature


XIII. Science


XIV. The Culture of Action




Glossary of terms used by Koneczny


Index of Personal and Place Names





I. Treatment of the Problem


            When in the summer of 1935 I published my study On the Plurality of Civilizations, I announced at the time a follow-up, namely a study on the Progress in Morality. Not being a philosopher myself, I had no intention to produce yet another textbook on ethics. I pick up only a crumb from the table of the philosophers that they have neglected. It is this fragment that is of particular interest to the historian. Thus my interest in it is quite natural.


            In the course of study on this problem (interrupted and resumed several times over a period of 18 years), it became obvious to me that besides the subject matter itself, another consideration had to be taken into account, which could be formulated briefly in these words: Let us deprive ethics of the privilege to stay outside the current development of science! Ethics is a science that is not worse or lower than any other. Why should it not benefit from new scientific materials and not use them as a means to perfect its methods?


            It is high time that we stop leaving ethics behind the other sciences. Does not its absence retard the advancement of monographic studies? The issue of the progress of morality may indeed form an entire branch, a great one at that, of the science of morals. How great is its diversity, what an abundance of problems and viewpoints! Every corner of this edifice is vibrant and from each viewpoint the whole life can be seen. One would immediately like to call in dozens of collaborators.


            Whatever fragment one would tackle, there is always the need for the same introduction, namely, first, one has to clarify one's view on the issue of the free will, and then, one has to take a position on the question whether ethics is based on reason or on feelings. Only then can one approach in detail the subject matter of this book. I shall present my position in advance in this first chapter. Together with the reader I intend to work out a number of theses which may serve as scaffolding for the investigations and claims offered in the following chapters.


            I suspect that as regards the free will the discussion is exhausted and each reader knows the arguments. As far as I am concerned, I recognize the free will in its fullness. Two facts, however are worthy of notice, proving how strong is the will in both of its directions, positive and negative. The hypnotized rebel against immoral orders and refuse to obey them; it was never possible to induce theft through hypnosis[1]. On the other and opposite side, the human will can become stronger than the natural order of things, turning it upside down according to its own fancy, so much so that it is capable of subjecting the spirit to matter and of holding spiritual forces suppressed by the power of the physical, which of course is a reversal of the natural order of things. There is freedom in the free will all the way to excesses. Mickiewicz [Polish Romantic poet] expressed this wonderfully when he said that Our Lord is omnipotent but he cannot save us without our will.


            Psychological determinism is increasingly trembling at its roots and even anti-religious literature is searching for some compromise formula, so as to be able to remain a-religious, while it necessarily acknowledges the free will. The religious moment is no longer to be decisive in this. I suspect that generally it will be held that the spiritual categories of being are by no means deterministic, whereas the corporal ones are so by nature and thus they may be subject to determinism, but they do not have to be so, because spiritual factors can change the course of events.


            Now I come to the question of the “heart and reason.” If one were to agree with the view of Westermarck who bases morality on feelings, and if one were to follow for example WBadysBaw BiegaDski, who claims that a “practical reform of customs can only come about through the influencing of the emotional side of human spiritual life” (BiegaDski 1922, 133), then ethics would apply only to the extent of the development of feelings. We shall see whether there would be much of this.


            Of course a sensitive heart will practice morality better than a callous being, but it was neither the heart that discovered God nor did it generate ethics. Woe to a mind deprived of the accompaniment of a heart, but guidance belongs to reason. The emotions participate in life according to the criterion of joy and sadness and this led one of the French moralists to make this radical statement: To be  guided by pleasures and pains “is the morality of small animals, children, savages or in general of people limited to following the direct suggestions of their instincts” (Hémon 1929, 59). Besides, the heart is variable and feelings emerge not only from love but also from hatred. Why should we leave ethics to the mercy of feelings? Furthermore, the emotions can be arbitrary and unpredictable. Should human relationships be based only on them, then everything would fall apart.


            We should not underestimate the emotions; the positive ones should be cherished and still considered as a basis for the upbringing of children and as the means for the ennoblement of adult life. Higher feelings need to be held in esteem and respected, but we are not to count on them when arranging the matters of life. They are too individual, thus how is a common denominator to be found? The intellect is more predictable, thus it is safer to base morality on reason. Emotions can only be an introductory step into the world of ethics, but one will not go far with them and at some point, as if in a labyrinth, one has to find the orientation, and this can only be through the reason.


            Only private life can be organized in accord with the lofty principle: “have a heart and look into the heart”[2]. Even if the noblest of feelings were to reign universally, many issues would be left untouched, namely those that are independent of the emotions. Whole fields of life would decline, because public life is not a simple amplification of the private. Thus the degree of morality with respect to society is unconditionally dependent on notions and the state of the mind placed at the service of ethics.


            Such also is the position of Catholic doctrine. In order to assure oneself about this, it is sufficient to look into a small, popular handbook. How brief and to the point is Fr. Szymeczko’s explanation: “Reason is the faculty that recognises the moral order ... Thus ethics is a science of the reasoned aims of man and of reasonable actions serving their attainment,” because it deals with the “reasonable order in human action,” that is, moral action (Szymeczko 1930, 6, 25). And since this is mentioned in a small handbook, it must be beyond any doubt. The conclusion therefore is: Reason and ethics are inseparably tied; reason without morality would be a cripple and morality without reason would be underdevelopment.


            Our greatest present authority in this field is Fr. Prof. Woroniecki O.P. who points out that “ethics as a philosophical science is born only in the moment when the mind begins to analyse the generally adopted ethical norms of life, when it starts to seek their deeper justification and link them with the basic issues of being and thought.” This cannot be done in any other way than through the faculty of reason! In any case “reason is not only for reasoning but also for guiding (in which the will participates)” (Woroniecki 1930, 179, 198).


            Since ethics is a matter of reason, one can study it just as any other science; since morality is reasoned out, then one can acquire it and develop it with the help of the gifts of reason. In other words, one can form oneself in morals. There are various degrees of ethical education, just as with literature, science, music etc. In the development of the moral sense there is no less number of degrees than in musical sophistication, from the perception of folk dance rhythm to that of Beethoven. Thus ethics should be handled by the methods of strictly secular sciences. “Theodicy and ethics deal with the same issues as theology, viewing them, however, only in the light of natural cognition” (Woroniecki 1930, 189).


            The deriving of life arrangements from the emotions is an old error ... a Chinese one. These same Chinese, who till this day have no awareness of the laws of nature and have not developed any logic, who base their thinking on association, whose achievements of mind will not manage without artistic motifs (Laotse 1911, XXVII, XXVIII), they would like to derive reason from emotional assumptions. Ku-Hung-Ming assures that they “because they live wholly a life of the heart” and that even they have “a language of the heart” (Ku-Hung-Ming 1928, 6-8). This confusion has given the Chinese an undereducated thought and emotions blunted by distorted ethics (e.g. permitting the killing of children). The Chinese however understands “the heart” in a different way than we, since the ideal of their greatest scholar Laotse is an “empty heart” protected thus from external temptations (Laotse 1911, XVIII). It would be futile for us to try and understand how a heart can fail to express itself externally?


            Let us rather deal with the question whether the ignoring of moral progress  in the science of ethics is not just a relic of the days of the doctrine of Buckle, who claimed that morality is excluded from the principle of constant progress (which was held at the time) and that as an exception it remains eternally unchangeable? If that were so, petrification would lie in the very essence of morality! All this is based on the conviction about the erroneously understood unchangeable nature of man. In fact the relationship of the body to the soul is very variable and is it not so that the nature of man is based upon this relationship?


            Human nature is composed of both body and soul and a French moralist had this dualism in his mind when he wrote: “Purely reasoned out utopian ideas or those provoked by lust or imaginations, having no real foundation, no concordance with human nature, are useless” (Hémon 1929, 13). This means that ethics has to hold onto the aposterioristic method. Even Felix Adler, the pillar of the “ethical culture movement,” aimed against religious ethics agreed with this as he defined ethics as a science of self-produced consequences (Adler 1926, 252). And since evaluation deals with consequences, it is aposterioristic. Thus it is not the study of “human nature” considered philosophically, but simply the study of human relationships and these were and shall continue to be variable. Adler himself expressed this beautifully saying that “in the ethical sphere there is a law of levitation, the contrary of the law of gravitation that obtains in the realm of matter.” What is at issue here is that “we actually tend to rise from a lower to a higher level in proportion as we bend downward to lift those still lower than ourselves.” (Adler 1926, 212). Thus there is variability, constant variability.


            In Adler we often find passages that resemble those of Boutroux, who was older by a whole generation. According to him the Universe is composed of “forms” positioned one on top of the other and bonded by rungs. He distinguished between various “hierarchical worlds” that do not allow any mutual rearrangements, each being dependent on the lower ones, because it draws its existence and laws from their nature as a symptom of progress and mutual exchange: the lower beings provide conditions for the being of the higher ones and the latter elevate the former towards perfection (Boutroux, 1908, 132, 138, 139, 143). This is a system that even today is worthy of consideration because it encompasses everything that lives in an ethical frame. Here also continuous variability is acknowledged.


            The old position of Buckle lingers sometimes among the belated epigones of positivism, but there is no point in arguing with this because it has been abandoned even by the supporters of “autonomous” ethics.


            There is however another viewpoint that is greatly hindering investigations on the progress of morality, because it solves them immediately and practically, as if by “household means.”  It claims that as many people as possible are to be gained individually for morality, and there will be progress. Should all be moral, the Civitas Dei [God's State] would be ready. Individual propaganda is the only and unfailing means.


            Theoretically this view cannot be combated, but in practice it is not very satisfactory and the experience of ages whispers pessimistic comments. Obviously the methods of propagating morality were insufficient, inadequately developed, and so apart from individual propaganda something more is needed. The success of anything always depends on the proper choice of method. We need to move beyond the limits of person to person propaganda, because the number of people gained by this method is too small. Generation after generation dies out and immorality spreads ever widely.


            We have to start from the position of the whole humanity, but we then have a sad impression that in such a case it is impossible even to establish what morality is. Is there some universal moral sense that embraces all walks of life? Fr. Viktor Cathrein, an Innsbruck professor, fought for this valiantly and yet he was forced to admit the following: “Perhaps there is no crime that would not be considered a virtue among some people.” And so it is with the killing of children and the elderly, sexual license in honour of some deity, human sacrifices, cannibalism, polygamy, polyandry etc. (Cathrein 1914, I, 11).


            The search for this vital unity in all fields is all the more difficult, because the presumption of a common general religious basis has failed, even though a universal religious sense exists just as there is a perception of moral right and wrong in spite of the differentiations and contradictions in life. But Ku-Hung-Ming proclaims directly: “the Chinese do not want - do not feel the need of religion” (Ku-Hung-Ming 1928, 14). A Japanese historian points out that it is difficult to determine to which religion a given Japanese individual belongs (Katsouro-Hara 1926, 219). Buddhism always denied the existence of an eternal God, and thus it never suspected any divine intervention in rewarding or punishing deeds (Vallée Poussin 1927, 7, 11). Thus there is a veritable bedlam of opinions.


            Bastian and Westermarck have gathered an extraordinary amount of data on the variety of views on righteousness and impropriety, but there is total chaos in all of this. How interesting is it that a method that permits the sorting out of this mess has been found ... in the Church, and that the Church is working on the subject since St. Albert the Great (1198-1280) and St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). Both of them knew of acts that are considered by some peoples as morally good and are condemned by Christianity. The great systematic theologian insisted that four principles of recognized moral laws be distinguished. He claimed that concerning some “natural moral laws, people can err and in fact they do err,” but the “natural law as regards the highest general principles is known to all nations. Also the most general conclusions derived from these principles are inscribed in the heart of each man,” while the further conclusions “may be unknown by the minority and for various reasons” (ZegarliDski 1914, 11, 53, 62).


            These highest general principles are abstract notions, but the conclusions that are drawn from them in various parts of the world are not identical. The general foundations of ethics are limited to abstract notions. Frequently there is no unity in the ethical evaluation of given complex and problematical facts, and for this reason there is a wide range of judgments about their moral qualification. This is on the level of practical acts, and not abstract notions.


            In the same society, what a diversity in practical morals! There is a chasm between the lower social strata and the heights of ethics! Moral progress comes about when the lower classes rise higher and higher and the elites do not fall. When such a change in morals is taking place we can define the variability as progress, an advance. This is noted in the higher ethical standards when many a thing that earlier was admissible is no longer accepted.


            A few practical examples may give a real, concrete background to the question whether there is progress in morality.


            In the XVIIIth c. Norwich industry, 6-year old children were employed, and still in 1857 8-year old children were working from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.  In 1866 a French worker had a 12-15 hours working day and in some textile factories 7-year old children were working for 15 and half hours daily (Letourneau 1891). Today this seems unbelievable.


            It is worth noting the abyss from which moral standards have to rise.


            The levels of moral notions are so unequal that it is difficult to accept the thought that all are “nevertheless” humans and that we have to be painfully aware of the differences. Even maternal love does not even out this moral diversity. The superstition in parts of French West Africa about the advantages that one can acquire by eating the heart of a conquered creature, animal or man is stronger than maternal feelings, because women have been found there who ate the hearts of children (Gi|ycki 1934, 35).


            Even crueller is the custom of burying people in the foundations of a building based on the superstition that this will ensure happiness to the inhabitants of the house. Most commonly it was children that were so buried. This takes place today among the inhabitants of parts of the Sahara (about which I wrote in another place) and it used to be done in Mexico and in ancient Palestine. It was assumed that this was done only by the autochthonous population of Palestine, but Prof. Obermaier came up in 1912 with the claim that also the Jews practiced this. In Gezer (Palestine) bodies of infants have been found under the floor in clay vessels, head down; in the majority of cases these were newly born babies. Under one wall also the bodies of two adult men were found and half of a body of a more or less 17-years old youth as well as of an adult woman with a child. Obermaier claims that the Israelites took up this custom from the subdued population and the frequently discussed fragment of the Bible (I Kings 16, 34) refers not to the autochthons but directly to the Jews (Obermaier et al. 1912, 539, 541).


            This disgusting custom was at some time quite common, also in India and in Central Europe. When the British authorities were building a bridge on river Gandak in the Bengal province of Bihar, the Hindu peasants were convinced that the government will need children to bury under the foundations of the bridge. But also in Halle a/S in 1843 the populace suspected that a child was being sought to bury it in the foundations of public building that was being erected. This was so because a skeleton of a child was found in the municipal gate of Bremen. Thus not so long ago, scarcely a few hundred years ago, such things were done and the tradition was still remembered in Germany of the mid-XIXth c. In ancient Rome however only a relic of this tradition has been found, namely with the burying of a statuette under the house.


            A very interesting example of a memory of this custom is known from mediaeval Wales and the Scottish island Iona, that is, at the time when in Germany the burying of children still took place. In the Celtic regions only a measure of shadow of some man who happened to be passing by at the time was buried; it was believed that such a person would die soon, thus the offering was made. In Romania and Bulgaria this is practiced till this day (Westermarck 1907, I, 384, 385). The Yakuts forbid their children to annoy their own shadow, jump over it, throw stones on it, force the shadow to do inappropriate gestures etc. (Sieroszewski 1900, 382). I shall add from my own memory that around the year 1870 children were similarly warned in Kraków.


            The grades of evolution of this cruel practice and superstition lead us therefore to the conclusion that in many countries progress in morality has occurred. We see the same on battle fields. There was a time when the clothes of the conquered were pulled off in order to wear them as a trophy. Simultaneously in Asia the heads of the vanquished were cut, a practice we know of from the Polish-Turkish wars. In Japan this custom existed until the end of the Tokugawa period, that is, up to the XVIIIth c. (Katsouro-Hara 1926, 227). We should not therefore be surprised by the war trophies of primitive peoples. The Negroes of French West Africa until recently ate the corpses of their vanquished enemies, and cannibalism is still rife in that part of the world (in one year the French administration recorded 40 such incidents) (Gi|ycki 1934, 25). Senegal riflemen during the Great War restricted themselves to cutting the ears of defeated German soldiers (Gizycki 1934, 75). We see therefore that in Japan a complete progress took place in this respect whereas among the Senegalese only a partial one, but in any case the advance affected many countries.


            In order to acknowledge the progress of morality in Europe, it is sufficient to consider the extension of the scope of the Vth commandment. There was a time when only in certain instances it was considered improper to kill, whereas today (except in the case of war) this is permitted only in exceptional cases, practically never. In quite recent times many legal systems allowed the killing of a rapist (Westermarck 1907, 246). And today? If someone kills a bandit who attacked him, he has to prove in court that he truly acted “in necessary self-defence” and that he has not transgressed the “limit of necessary defence.” If you catch a thief in your own home, you have to deal delicately and courteously with him ... otherwise woe to the house owner.


            I remember several such instances. Just recently on the 16th of July 1935 there was a case in the Vilnius appellate court, as the local dailies reported, over an incident where a thief broke into a house, obviously not his own, was caught there and wounded. The first court, in Lida, sentenced the owner of the house to two years imprisonment and ordered that a monthly rent of 50 zB be paid to the wounded burglar in compensation; it was only the appellate court that declared the robbed man not-guilty.


            I myself had the opportunity of seeing interesting things when organised banditry reigned in the Vilnius region. Political correctness requiring that the body of the bandits be not injured reached such a level that the police officers themselves formulated the rule that the first shot is reserved for the bandit. This was not wise. All I want to show here is an example of how minds can be overcome by the care so as not to transgress the Vth commandment. Even against a criminal you are not allowed to commit a crime! Are there not many lawyers, journalists and moralists who are basically against capital punishment? There are countries which do not practice it. We remember the days when murder was a common phenomenon in the countries of Western Europe; there was no day when some killing would not happen. And what is the situation today? Even duels have disappeared from the British army and this for a century and a half. We have risen highly in these matters.


            Let us look further, for example, at the custom of killing the elderly sick. This is found among some nomadic peoples who are at a primitive level of civilization. They do this out of pity since the infirm are incapable of catching up with the wandering clan and so by vis maior [higher force] they would have to be left on the roadside. Even towards the end of the XIXth c. this practice was recorded among the Chukches, whereas among the Yakuts it was remembered in stories from earlier times. At that time when a son allowed his parents to die by natural death he was blamed of permitting the evil spirits to consume his parents (Sieroszewski 1900, 375). Was this not euthanasia in the wild?


            Where it is considered a filial duty to shorten the days of an infirm father there the son would have to face his own conscience and the whole clan if he would not kill his disabled parent, whereas elsewhere he would be held guilty if he did not undertake efforts to prolong this life. Can we thus say that there are profound and contrary differences in the perception of manslaughter and murder? Not necessarily so! Murder may be severely condemned and yet the shortening of the life of the infirm may be seen to be a duty – as an exception from the general rule. A son killing his own father (in such circumstances) may be completely incapable of performing any other manslaughter considering it in principle as something reprehensible. And this in the greatest probability is how things are happening, because so far not a single people has been found that would consider killing (except in the case of war) as something worthy of merit.


            As we view the opposite pole of customs, we need to consider in how many countries the killing of children was permitted and in many it is still permitted, and this not only among the “savages,” but also in “high” civilizations such as the Hindu-Brahman or Chinese.


            Restricting ourselves to primitive peoples we perceive that with the advance of Christianity ethical standards rise even in among the lowest strata of society. It could not have been otherwise! But new abysmal regions are still being discovered. For example, among the Madagascar Malagasy people in view of extreme debauchery it is impossible to give a doll to children “because it would inevitably become the cause of some immorality” (Beyzym 1927, 370).


            New untouched missionary fields are opening up with surprising ethical bumps that no one could ever imagine such wickedness to be possible. We ask ourselves in wonder whether our ancestors a dozen or so ages ago were also like that? Not everywhere it was the same.


            An extreme example is found in the possibly most difficult missionary country in the world, that is, among the Indians and Eskimos of northern icy Canada. Not very long ago the Eskimos there murdered two missionaries. “First, they cut off their legs and arms, then the heads of the dying men, and finally from both the dead bodies, they extracted their livers and devoured them.” This is a superstition well-known in ethnology, comparable to the eating of the heart (Walewska 1930, 19).


            The extreme severity of nature against man is a mitigating circumstance because it frequently places these people in a dead end. Should we be transferred there for one year we would go mad. In the winter 1887/8 corpses were eaten. The tribe of the Beavers was being exterminated by hunger; it happened there that during the most severe famine a missionary permitted the eating of a corpse. And the Dogrib always suffer hunger whenever in their wanderings they fail to meet the migrating reindeer. Among the Hare it was found before the year 1840 that 90 people were eaten, slaughtered for this purpose, and around 1866 the eating of children took place because famine was common. In such conditions it is difficult to expect delicate feelings.


            Among the Dene people about 60 years ago a woman was “a slave of the man, who took her as a wife; he lent her, exchanged her, rejected her, depending on his fancy” (Cathrein 1914, II 513) but this concerned only the northern Dene. Today this still happens here and there in Asia and Africa, thus the Dene over the 60 years made great strides in ethics. “Before the whites taught the savages how to harness dogs, the women pulled the sledges while the men walked besides freely.” Female progeny was in disdain, as excessive in number, beyond the needs of the economy and race and so frequently they were executed. “A mother herself would strangle the infant because a man would feel degraded by such a miserable function.” Girls ate with the dogs. In a famine year girls were the first to be killed (the same as in other parts of the world). “A man would show to a woman the sacrifice of the day by handing her the knife.” “Orphans of both sexes were left in the forest for the wolves to devour and should some relatives be found who would allow the child to join the camp, its fate would be worse than death itself.” Here is another picture: “Near the mission of St. Raphael there were many women without noses, because – as one woman explained – they were guilty of something according to the opinion of their husbands. Noses are cut so as to improve their behaviour.”


            The elders are held outside the doors, “beyond the threshold of the shack, in the way of passing people, dogs and winds.” They themselves submitted to death by dereliction. What is to be done in the face of famine when the animals have to be chased? “The poor infirm person could not be carried. Should the whole family be condemned to death by hunger or rather should the infirm be abandoned?” (Duchaussois 1931, 38, 39, 180, 228, 280, 319).


            To maintain proportions it needs to be recalled how during the Crimean war (1854-1858), when simultaneously in the Far East the tedious progress of Russian expansion from Nikolayevsk to the mouth of the Amur river was taking place, it happened that escaping soldiers fed themselves on the corpses of their dead colleagues. And in Nerchinsk in eastern Siberia in the years 1877-1880 mothers would eat their own children (Maurizio 1916, 114). Closer to us and in not so distant times cannibalism appeared in Ukraine in 1922 (Majewski 1923, IV 148). Also near the Volga after the Bolshevik revolution mothers ate their own children; in some regions they restricted themselves only to their corpses after they had died of hunger (Rachmanowa 1931, II 233, 269). I heard from a very credible and serious person that soon after the Great War the Czech authorities accused in court some Gypsies from Orawa of murder. What was at issue was cannibalism, practiced systematically.


            As regards cruelty, who can surpass the Manchurians who gave so much negative fame to the Chinese? But the Chinese themselves are no better. Closer to us, how great was the bestiality which the Ruthenian people have shown during the last war! A few decades earlier (in 1846), what happened near Kraków?[3]


            We need not multiply the examples, because only a schematic picture is required. I move now to the other end of this sad casuistry to the relationship of men to animals.


            Somewhere near Orenburg in the spring boys pick up chicks from their nests, pierce wires through their eyes and make garlands of still living birds – or else they attach stones to small sparrows – just for the fun of it! Cruelty from the Asian borderlands? The same occurs in Italy! In Capri small North-South wandering singing birds are hunted and then their eyes are gauged out, because the “blind ones sing more beautifully” and they will more readily find a buyer who will keep them in a cage (Rachmanowa 1931, 197).


            The attitude towards household animals, in particular to horses is illuminating. The way they are treated is generally considered in Europe as a criterion of the moral worth of man. A Chinese will “deliberately deprive a horse of eyes so that it will be more obedient and will pull better. If a horse cannot pull an overloaded cart the infuriated Chinese will grab whatever is available, an axe, hammer, knife or stone and on the spot he will damage the eyes of the horse” (Gerlach 1923, 179). When I was young the Jews were telling us boys the same, that a blind horse is better; they did this so as to facilitate the sale of blind horses.


            A view from another corner of the world: On Porto Rico Island “the coachman would mercilessly whip and lash horses and throw stones at them.” The Spaniards and their descendants are very cruel to animals; thus a Spanish horse has a poorer fate than a Jewish mare here in Poland (SzyszBBo 1910, 278). These are Christians, meticulous in their prayers, and yet how low is the level of their religiosity! But with this topic one could travel the world over and nowhere would there be a shortage of examples; thank God, people who see the difference are no longer rare in the Christian world.


            Why speak of horses! What about the mentally ill? Apart from the honour with which they are treated in SW Asia, in Russia, Egypt, Morocco, among the Barolongs in Africa and the Indians of South America, they are killed in western Victoria and in the Nicobar Is. In China the deranged are responsible for major crimes, but usually they are pardoned (except when it is a question of killing parents or grandparents). In Iceland they are tried in courts on equal terms with the healthy (Westermarck 1907, I 230-232). It is enough to recall how the insane had been treated here in Europe in earlier times. In Shakespeare and in Swift we have proof that they were held imprisoned in dark cells, chained to the walls and flogged. They were kept in general prisons and if these were special institutions, what sort of conditions did they have! A furious madman for whom movement is an absolute necessity sat chained to the wall in the same room together with a victim of depression who from the fury of the former soon would become mad too. They were held in small, gloomy, moist cells with undernourished inmates, often sick and naked and they were forced to obedience by flogging. They were also incited to fury for the joy of curious visitors. These visits for fun of it are most telling (Westermarck 1907, 233). Apparently Islam surpassed the Christian nations in the treatment of the insane (Szumowski 1930, 173).


            If then ethics rises from the practice of cutting the noses of women through the good treatment of a horse all the way to considering what else one would require from a Christian – then obviously there is progress in morality; the long scale of this development is clearly visible.


            To no degree however can we triumph that we have traversed this long road, from cannibalism to insurance agencies. First of all, there is no proof that cannibalism was everywhere; rather, there are indications in the opposite direction, namely that it was practiced in only a fraction of humankind. Over a vast majority of the area of our planet cannibalism was never known. Thus it cannot be considered as the universal lowest rank of the ethical scale.


            But is there progress everywhere? The idea of perpetual continuous progress, which “has to be,” as if automatically and inevitably, since it is carried by the very power of time, is erroneous.  Today, correctly, it is counted among the fallacies. There can always be progress, but it never has to be and regression and decline are also possible. Examples of such regressions need not be sought very far. Are we not complaining throughout Europe about the “post-war” decline in morals? And what about Bolshevik Russia, which is an affront to all ethics? In Polish literature alone there are many blood freezing memoirs about this. But a Russian witness, given by a very calm observer will suffice. Confirmation about the burying of people alive has been given by one of the bishops of the “living Orthodox Church.” At every step bestiality was linked with animal stupidity. For example, people were killed there for the unique reason that they used bed sheets, and this was said to be a bourgeois custom. In a gynaecological clinic women giving birth were not allowed to use their own clean underwear because this is “bourgeois superstition.” The patients were treated in such manner that a cold blooded person accustomed to the greatest villainy has to agree with what a quiet, calm, Russian woman, desiring only a peaceful home had to say about them: “No! No! They are not even animals! It would be an unimaginable insult to the most cruel of all animals, to the most bloodthirsty, most cunning and most cowardly were it to be compared to some communist!” (Rachmanowa 1931, 96, 176, 302 and many other places). What happened then to progress?


            As to the scale of comparison from cannibalism to insurance agencies, a reservation has to be made: this entire scale would have to be located somewhere in one place only. What of it, if compared to the ethics of the Labrador Eskimos, the moral standards of the African Pigmies are higher?  And the inhabitants of the Sahara oases rank even higher, whereas the Yakuts surpass even them etc., etc. Thus, finally we would arrive to the moral level of some Swiss canton. What of it, if these various rankings are not found everywhere? Is it possible to apply such a scientifically established ethical ranking system as a measuring device to determine the level that has been achieved in a given society, in a given time and country? No! Each ethnic group has its own such scale, unlike that of others; it differs from some profoundly, and from others only slightly, but none the less it is different.


            Is there a universal history of morality, since no consistent scale of measure of its progress is possible? The bringing in of examples, each of which is taken from a different part of the world does not prove anything in the field of ethics. Progress has to be shown to exist in a single place.


            The very bottom of the scale has to be established individually and separately each time for a given country and people. Various starting points were tried, but the distance covered is not the same. The question whether our ancestors were complete savages as regards morality may lead us to various answers.


            Progress does take place, but of what kind, this has to be studied separately each time; an investigator may find that in some country, since pre-historical times, morality has remained fixed at a low level. For example, in China: “It is a common custom, much more than Europe supposes, that children are abandoned by their parents when they are unable to feed them. The poor infants are either drowned or left on the walls of the town to be eaten by the dogs and swine. This is all the more striking, because the Chinese extremely love their children once they start walking and talking. Up to that moment however, they consider them to be soulless animals and when they die, they are not placed in coffins but buried wrapped in straw.” This observation was made by the eminent Sven Hedin and a little later he added such an illustration: “A certain Swedish family had an old servant who had had nine children, all of whom she had abandoned as soon as they were born, so that not one remained alive” (Hedin 1900, 169).


            The abandoning of children is known also to nations of the Latin civilization, but with greatly restricted possibilities: this happens commonly with respect to illegitimate children. Poverty however, corrodes ethics and nothing can be done about this, apart from the raising of general affluence, because it then is a great support for ethics.


            Extraordinary things happen so as to acquire a piece of bread. For example, the sale of an 18-year old son to slavery took place towards the end of March 1932 in Poland, not far from Warsaw. A peasant called Pietrzykowski decided to sell one of his sons, due to extreme poverty, and he did this at the market in ZduDska Wola; the buyer was a peasant from the village Wróblewo and the price was 50 zB[4] in cash, and should the sold boy behave properly, Pietrzykowski was to receive also a ton of rye. The police having heard about this prevented the transaction (from the Kraków GBos Narodu, 26th March 1932).


            Those who are satiated should not brag, because we do not know where tomorrow there will be similar conditions. Also the white race should not be considered as being morally superior by birth. A black teacher who on the proclamation of emancipation adopted the surname Washington recorded in his memoirs that the French were not superior to the blacks in morality. He wrote specifically: “In the matter of truth and high honour I do not believe that the average Frenchman is ahead of the American Negro; while so far as mercy and kindness to dumb animals go, I believe that my race is far ahead.” (Washington 1901, 143).


            There are primitive peoples that are permanently honest, as if by the nature of things they could not be evil. For example, in Upper Sudan for a whole generation one never heard of stealing (Frobenius 1928, 169), while the Tangut people are universally known to be robbers and thieves who plunder with special intensity their peaceful neighbours (Hedin 1900, 141). About the Canadian Eskimos it has been said that they “are born thieves, stealing even when they have no need for this” (Walewska 1930, 18). How are we to investigate, why there are people of various kind? Which social group began at what stage, which one advanced and which one receded?


            Virtues and vices are not necessarily a constant value in the psyche of an individual or of a whole people; we are changeable and we can change for the better and for the worse, we may accumulate both virtues and vices; what more, when one disappears another may develop. Great surprises can be found in this respect, even among quite adult people.


            Progress in morality is most difficult. This makes the investigation of the issue all the more interesting, as we study the obstacles and determine the conditions. Should we admit the pessimistic view, that in history as a rule violence and depravity dominate, all the more we should study this inability and address the following question to science: is the situation so bad with us that there is no way of moving out of this mess?


            Pessimism is least injurious in the matter of morality. H. Delbrück claimed that there was never a century in Christianity without complaints about moral decline. But there was an exception! And when was that? The Enlightenment was exceptional, because it was so sure of progress (Barth 1899, 103; 1915, 779, 780). This period however did not contribute to moral progress.


            As we recognize the possibility of progress, we should not imagine that there is some general recipe for it regardless of time and place. This is because both the periods of progress and of decline have various causes. The study of the course of history from the point of view of ethical considerations shows us many new insights that were hardly imagined. Such research will someday prove to be most useful for communal life. But there is no general means for the improvement of morality, all the more so, because there is no single ethics accepted universally and from the beginning.


            There is no such thing as a constant sequence of moral views and so there are no universal rules concerning the development of morality. It is a hopelessly utopian idea to expect to find some binding formula for the beginnings, development and decline of morals anywhere and everywhere, regardless of the historical period and part of the world. There is no constant scheme in this respect.


            As regards Catholic ethics it has constant unchangeable principles, but these are developed through an internal, logical expansion. Furthermore, morality has to be not only abstract but also truly followed, applied above all to life, because otherwise, it does not exist at all. Its genesis consists in abstracts, but it does not come into being until it meets with practical life. And life is variable, imperfect but perfecting itself in development, from which new circumstances, situations and complications arise, which had not been known to previous generations. Thus there are increasingly more new ethical questions, because there are new manifestations of life that have to be submitted to ethical evaluation. In this way Catholic ethics is absorbing ever new aspects of life, expanding its scope, issuing from itself new applications, and in this, it itself is developed together with life. It can also happen that it fails to catch up with the progress of life and then it reduces its range and may even regress.


            Indeed yes, Catholic ethics is not, as yet, even the basic morale of all the members of the Church.  Catholics do not immediately and exactly care about this ethos and till this day they manifest painful deficiencies. Catholic societies assimilate Catholic ethics step by step. Fresh converts do not grasp everything at once. Catholics need to make Catholic advances from generation to generation and this progress can never end.


            Catholicism brings in four basic postulates to all the civilizations: monogamous lifelong marriage; the abolition of the vendetta; respect for physical work (and this includes a move towards the abolition of slavery); and finally the independence of the Church from secular powers. I wrote about the historical importance of these postulates in my previous book (Koneczny, 1935a; 1962). Here, I shall point out that none of these is achieved quickly. The vendetta has persisted in converted Europe for a very long time, although smuggled in, as it were, under different names. Among the knights there were bloody group confrontations, sort of private wars, with local conflicts of lords, of one clan against another, of one settlement against its neighbours. At the turn of the Xth and XIth c. the monks of Burgundy worked out a new method of resolving this permanent state of war. Taking into account the possibilities and impossibilities of their century, they required only that swords were not to be drawn from Wednesday evening to Monday morning, as well as on every holiday, its eve and octave. In 1041 the entire French clergy joined this action, and then this idea spread to other Christian countries. The treuga Dei – God's truce – was extended later to the whole of Advent and the whole of Lent, and finally also the secular authorities were gained for the project. After a long period, bloody conflicts were eradicated in the name of state authority and the state system of justice, so much so that towards the end of the XVth c. universal public safety was proclaimed (in Germany the Landfrieden [peace in the land]).


            Similarly the introduction of strict monogamy and the step by step elimination of slavery took long periods of time. The development of morality moves forward slowly... and with great resistance.


            For example, during the XIXth c., the introduction into the civil codes of the equality for women had great moral consequences. The same can be said about the influence of insurance agencies, the international “Red Cross” and so on. But in spite of all this, trade in women continues to flourish. After all, there is less evil than there was earlier, at least as regards previous sins, but how many new sins have appeared! New times and new relationships generate many new ethical convolutions.


            Greatest ethical imbroglios result from the mixtures of civilizations. We know that every civilization has its own ethics. The Latin civilization follows Catholic ethics. In five civilizations (the Chinese, Brahman, Turanian, Arab and Byzantine) there is a discrepancy between the ethics of private and public life. Only the Latin civilization insists that ethical principles are binding also in public life.


            The Chinese civilization attributes to the emperor (or now the president) the role of a patriarch over the entire society. In principle, it is very conservative, but it allows the ruler to introduce the greatest possible changes, in fact, even revolutions. In the Brahman civilization, in issues concerning the cult, a maharaja must follow his advisor, who is knowledgeable in sacral matters, but apart from that, he has despotic power. An Arab sheik combines despotic secular authority with the right to interpret the Koran. The Turanian civilization derives the entire public life from the system of a military camp, which basically is not bound by any ethics. In the Brahman civilization ethics does not extend beyond formalistic sacral rules and there is the possibility of shedding all moral obligations at any moment. The Jewish civilization has produced three ethics: one is for their own in Palestine, the second is for their own in the Diaspora, and the third is for dealings with non-Jews.


            As a result, many issues are treated differently from the point of view of ethics in each civilization.


            As we consider the multitude of ethics, we see all the more clearly that there are no syntheses between civilizations. These can happen only between cultures within one and the same civilization. I make this claim against the view of the majority of scholars, and I also reject the matriarchate and totemism. Ferrero himself became the proponent of the popularly adopted conviction, held since the times of the Berlin Michelet that we are all moving in the direction of a single universal civilization common to the whole world. Well, this “global civilization that will reign over the whole of humanity” (Ferrero 1929, 12) is a fiction. How come a synthesis of differing arrangements of communal life can ensue? Ethical research has convinced me even more that this is impossible. Were a synthesis of civilizations possible, then a synthesis of ethics would also have to come about, i.e. a synthesis of opposing views as to what is good and evil, what is noble and despicable. Are we going to calculate the resultant in a parallelogram as in physics? Perhaps someone would try to work out such an ethical parallelogram! For the time being we must allow that each ethics has a different direction.


            The Latin civilization is the work of the Church only, which managed to save from the disappearing Roman civilization whatever could be reconciled with Christianity. What Ferrero refers to as a “synthesis of the Greek, Roman and Christian spirit” can be called in short the Latin civilization without any danger of misunderstanding. But this scholar is in error when he judges that these three “spirits” can still compete and “clash” with one another, because if there is any “clashing” with the “Christian spirit,” it is a manifest leaning out beyond Christianity, and therefore also beyond the Latin civilization. Most often, what is at issue is the specific feature of this civilization that it recognizes the superiority of the spiritual forces over the physical and in some circumstances even requires an opposition against the physical force in the name of the spiritual.


            Since the highest law of history reads: it is not possible to be civilized in two different ways, thus the entire ethos of some association has to be taken from one and the same civilization. And should the ethos have no clearly defined direction of development – what sort of progress would there be without a focus? This is impossible. Progress of morals requires a decision, as to which civilization one belongs to, what sort of ethics one upholds. Without such a decision inevitably there will be moral chaos and in the end indifference towards morality.


            Not understanding civilizational differences scholars frequently counted on the beneficial consequences of mutual influences, judging that “with the advance in spiritual culture” scientific, artistic, philanthropic and even religious “bonds” will multiply, producing good results for “greatness and the global order” (RubczyDski 1916, 284, 310). Well, I add that this can be so, on one condition: that these mutual influences spring from various cultures of the same civilization. Otherwise the civilizational mixture is mechanical, because it cannot be any other, and this will lead to the demise of all greatness and the destruction of any order.


            Such a mixture is the greatest obstacle to the development of Catholic ethics and therefore to a higher development of the Latin civilization. Since the days of the Reformation mutually exclusive ethical systems have come to the fore. The civilizational diversification of ethics has seen the appearance in the last two centuries of an artificial ethos, which demands independence from religion calling itself autonomous, and which falsely claims to be a continuation of natural ethics. Thanks to this novelty a veritable ethical chaos has come about in Europe, which could be described as “a separate ethos for each head” and as a result also a “different reason for each head.” Throughout Europe we have two civilizations, the Latin and the Jewish, and in Germany there is also the Byzantine, this being also true for Poland. Since each one of these ethics tied with a given civilization can be religious or “autonomous,” that is, anti-religious, we thus have six ethics. To this we have to add the seventh, the Turanian absence of ethics, in Russia and in Poland. How then can we work towards a single aim? The various ethics lead people in diverse routes and this ends in the disruption of communal life. As a result of this there is ethical anarchy all around us. Ethical conundrums accumulate retarding civilizational development. We have increasing doubts and frequently do not know not only what is good and what is evil, but we even do not know what is beneficial and what is harmful. The mess is not only in the spiritual categories but also in the material. The social economy itself is stuck in a dead end.


            Ethics is next door to social economics (known also as political economics). Elsewhere, I have demonstrated that ethics generates economics (Koneczny 1933b), so I shall not repeat myself here. The number of systems of social economics is the same as the number of ethical views on property, labour and possessions. There are economic systems in the world that are so contradictory, that they exclude one another. When each system functions in a different place, everything may be in order; but can there be any order when contradictory systems are striving to be dominant in the same country, for example, with a simultaneous class solidarity and “class struggle”? Each of these focuses calls into being different, completely incompatible institutions. A quagmire of economic relationships results, when concurrently private property is cherished and communism is promoted (with socialism being its first half)!


            This and that cannot fit in in some common ethics and the resulting ethical quandary and confusion is such that in the end only a small fraction of the society respects morality and cares for it. Among the majority, morality is in decline amidst doubts about what is right and what is wrong; what remains are only the criteria of gain and loss.


            Class struggles have happened in history, but only at times and never for long, because had they lasted anywhere for a longer period of time, they would have torn up society into tatters; not a stone would have been left on stone, all relationships would have been severed. Woe to the country wherever it appears and all the more so where it is said to be the essence of social relationships!


            Differing economic directions generate different institutions. Is it possible that concurrently there will be institutions based on private property and communist ones? Can both simultaneously offer an appropriate method for a given society? Le Bon said correctly: “The fate of a nation depends on its character, and institutions that are not products of this character are only a temporary masquerade, wearing, to make matters worse, borrowed attire” (Le Bon 1930, 77).


            One thing is certain that aiming for affluence, in a just manner, is an absolute moral duty and this concerns both individuals and society. We would seriously sin against ethics were we to cease caring for the affluence of the entire society. Already Goethe knew perfectly well that education without material independence leads to dissatisfaction. Care for affluence is not something lower than care for education.


            Ethics, of course obliges us to care for the public good, i.e. the good of neighbours in all aspects of life. An ethics that requires that we do no wrong but also not act for the common good is worthless. After all honesty is the prevention of evil at arm’s length. Whatever good that can be done, should be the object of our aims. Boutroux expressed this well: “Selon la conscience morale le bien possible est obligatoire” [According to the moral conscience the possible good is obligatory] (Boutroux 1908, 151). One must not only be good, but one must also strive for goodness. The combating of evil is a great obligation, particularly for a Catholic, in the name of bringing about God's Kingdom on earth. In short, everyone is obliged to some participation in public life in a manner that is proper for his abilities and capabilities resulting from the circumstances of life. Ethics will suffice as the lodestar. Should public life be based upon it, there would be no “crisis” in any of the fields of life.


            “Fervour, eagerness, sacrifice, faith in goodness or at least in the appropriateness and correctitude of acts all depend upon ethics, and without these qualities it is impossible to organize any society. Even a horde will not be kept together for a longer time without these features, be it in the crudest form.”


            “Thus the ethos cannot form properly where there are two ethics which mutually hinder one another; for this reason a strong ethos is possible only when there is a strict, absolute civilizational unity” (Koneczny 1921, I 160).


            There is no exception from the law of history that it is impossible to be civilized in two different ways. This concerns large associations even more than small ones. It concerns states more than it concerns families. A state that wishes to be civilized in two different ways will end up being uncivilized.


            A millennium and a half ago it was said: Remota itaque iustitia, quid sunt regna nisi magna latrocinia? [Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies?] (St. Augustine, The City of God, Lib. IV, ch. 4). A state must hold onto ethics, otherwise its own citizens become indifferent to it, because it is a latrocinium [robbery] (as has happened in Russia). An improvement of the state, its development, the perfection of its qualities amounts to the raising of its moral value. And this can be attained only by following one ethic. A country that is constantly employing differing ethics distorts all its bonds and is hanging on the vagaries of fate.


            Morality is as it were the shorter arm of a two-armed lever that is very unequal; small changes on the short end affect large spans on the arch made by the tip of the longer end. Every, absolutely every, infringement in ethics weakens the strength of the state and unsettles its components; a constant ignoring of moral principles must lead to an implosion of the state, even if it were not exposed to external dangers. On the other hand, a strong morality solidifies all the components of the state, not excluding the army, and a general advance in ethical education can, or rather must, renovare faciem terrae [renew the face of the earth].


            Will therefore the state at last be evaluated from the point of view of ethics?


            One of the most outstanding contemporary German thinkers claims that morality is not a distinct factor of being, but the very form of life, which may or may not have an impact on all the dimensions of life (Spranger 1927, 279). It depends on our will alone whether we involve ethics in the construction of our associations or whether we exclude it, but the consequences of such a decision will not follow our wishes. It is an either-or situation.


              In public life ethics is needed even more than in the private. It also has to be much more severe. There is no prescription in it, not even in the case of death. It is only in private matters that de mortuis nil, nisi bene [about the dead we say nothing, but what was good]; were we to employ this principle to public matters, it would be immoral to engage in historical research. Increased severity, greatly increased, should be the rule, and historical severity must embrace not only the dead.


            In a state belonging to the Latin civilization, is it possible to follow in public life some other ethics than the Catholic one? Again we have a threatening either-or situation. Can the Church, therefore, resign from accompanying public life? Primarily, we have to eliminate from our thoughts the strange superstition that public life is not to follow the ethics that is proper in private life. After all, “a Catholic citizen, worker, official, officer, soldier, deputy, senator, member of government cannot have two consciences, a Catholic one for private life and a non-Catholic one for public issues” (Hlond 1932, 33).


            So long as a means will not be invented for having a flourishing country with simultaneously differing ethics without the loss of the culture of action in the chaos of directions, it will be contrary to the interest of the state to undertake any public action in Poland that would be inconsistent with the Latin civilization. Such is the historical truth.


            Thus in a study dealing with the progress of morals, the morality of the state, by its very nature, must be a constant object of reflection. For this reason it is proper at the very beginning to come to an understanding as regards a certain detail of terminology.


            A grave error has crept into the media language of recent years with the treating of the terms “state” and “statehood” as synonyms. This is erroneous, because in Polish, paDstwowo[ “statehood” means the institutions of the paDstwo, the “state.” The same state may exist in various historic periods having differing statehoods. The most beloved state may possess a statehood of the worse kind, which evokes even revulsion. Thus being a faithful and eager citizen of a given state one can at the same time struggle against its statehood. The best citizens may protest against the statehood of a given state hoping for its change. It is a terrible and profoundly immoral falsehood to claim that a struggle against some statehood involves disrespect for the state. Such reasoning, being inconsistent with reason, may originate a whole string of acts that will be increasingly detrimental to the state, because they will be more and more distant from political reason causing immense injuries to public morality. Thus, whoever points out the difference in meaning between these two terms contributes in some measure to moral progress.


[1] No less significant is the fact that nowhere has the tendency to steal been proven to be hereditary (Peillaube 1935, 51).

[2] [From the famous poem Romantyczno[ (Romanticism) by Adam Mickiewicz.]

[3] [This is a reference to a slaughter rampage by local peasants].

[4] [Lowest industrial monthly wage at the time].

Copyright © Feliks Koneczny and Maciej Giertych 2018

Version: 1st January 2018