I. D. Potapov. Morality as an Exact Science

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(Prolegomena to the Problem of Constructing the Moral State)

"The government is a mechanism of violence" is something we have heard since our schooldays. The fact that every government follows the principle of force has brought together many historians, politicians and authors of textbooks. True, their concepts somewhat differ. For example, from the liberal point of view, the government is the guardian of a society of free competition, which has allegedly reached its equilibrium. And it protects this equilibrium from outcasts, renegades, revolutionaries, terrorists and other destructive forces. From the left-wing perspective, the government’s ideas strive for regression, or is used as a weapon that workers have inherited from the "curse" of the bourgeois’ past and need to apply to protect their conquests. This type of government does not protect free competition or class "balance," but protects equitable distribution of wealth. Just like before when it projected the unfair way. In other words, the government’s condition is only as good as its distribution of wealth. Conservative and monarchist theories have been apparent in the government’s protection of tradition, although their details are a separate issue. As to theocracy, (for example, in modern Iran), there is a religious structure assumes the part of public functions or is an influential advisory body.

But experts almost always share one simple idea regardless of their political viewpoints: the state is destined to solve short-term historical problems by force. It is always the fallback in history and therefore doomed to be temporary and fall into moral relativism, indulging the interests of dominant historical subjects: dynasties, estates, classes, financial groups, the political elite.

All of these concepts of morality and order stability run parallel to the government and do not intersect. Hence the trite, hackneyed phrases like "the government is a mechanism of violence" and "politics is a dirty business."

To what extent do moral requirements apply to the government?


Of course, the moral standard of a government is not consistent throughout history. It is represented as a curve, which sometimes fluctuates even during one period of rule. For example, monarchs in both Western Europe and Russia merit popular veneration. Saint Louis IX of France and Saint Vladimir, who Christianized Kievan Rus, have been canonized. On the other hand, we have seen tyrants of the Renaissance that have induced a collective condemnation such as English King Henry VIII and Ivan the Terrible.

In fact, every ruler can change moral values and revise their previous decisions – the moral quest for them is not closed. Take for example, the oprichnina, which Ivan the Terrible at some point counted on, only to later disband and punish those who made any mention of them and the kromeshnikov. The reign of Ivan IV was at first very productive (during the ‘Chosen Council’), from time to time there were periods of sincere piety in his behavior, but in the end the character and actions of the monarch were taken over by tyrannical and misanthropic tendencies.

At the same time, a moral evaluation of social power is not always straightforward. After the end of his reign, Peter I was exalted by the ruling class, official historians, and Westerners, but was rejected by the nation and Slavophile intellectuals. As far as the individual figures of the Soviet era go, the dispute in Russian society is still active and a consensus has yet to be reached, while in France the same is true regarding the French Revolution. These paradoxes and fluctuations in moral evaluation are quite remarkable. They are clearly picking up in the 20th and 21st centuries due to the temporary weakening of traditional values in society and the spread of relativistic systems (a hallmark of the postmodern).

Another important, albeit not as obvious, pattern is apparent. No matter how rulers behave, no matter how people perceive them, the government itself has not become more moral. Some government officials, members of social and political process, could change the government for the better "by themselves", with their own personal presence. But as soon as these monarchs and politicians stray from the historical course, their efforts become ashes and viewed as failures. Movement towards a moral government has stopped and society re-enters the well-trodden path.

Sometimes, society falls into some kind of abyss of vice immediately following a "moral" historical period, when suppressors appear like Savonarola, who completely undid Lorenzo de Medici’s reign (the Magnificent). But a so-called pacification is no state rehabilitation, because the dictatorship has just as little to do with morality unlike their roles involving anarchy and corruption. This pendulum is constantly swinging.


The problem was that the there was no authority or institution over the government that would help maintain a necessary moral level. That is precisely why any individual effort or any kind of class or social movements never led to a desired goal, even if they saw their mission as benefiting public morality, such as the socialists, or if they sought to turn the country into a "vessel of the true faith,' as seen during the period when Moscow claimed to be the Third Rome. Having achieved a moral level for a brief moment, the state and society could support itself. After all, the state itself lost the ability to regenerate and gravitated towards catastrophe through permanent regime change, turmoil, intervention, and civil confrontation.

However, this moral degradation could occur without sudden shocks, similarly to what we are witnessing today. Authorities and institutions are rapidly losing legitimacy. However, this is not happening because of pervasive corruption and the violation of laws. Ironically, the relationship is rather the opposite. The violation of legal and moral norms became universal precisely because of the loss of legitimacy in power. Themis would be happy to change the situation but is no longer able to do so.

The problem of legitimacy cannot be resolved by judiciary means. On the contrary, the very notion of rights has become so comprehensive and the "juristization" of all spheres of life is so obvious to the naked eye, that it becomes obvious truth behind this facade. Excess formal lawmaking is intended to mask the chronic lack of legitimacy of the institutions of power.

Another solution follows from the above. The government has few "good" rulers or "correct" ideologies, and in turn there are few unwavering laws and an effective judicial system – rather, it is derived from some other condition. And this condition is obvious: the state must be moral in and of itself. And for this to occur there must be an authority over the government that would support this moral state just like, for example, the Ministry of Finance supports the economic well-being of the country.

Of course, a direct analogy is not quite appropriate. The "Ministry of Truth" (Orwellian) or "Ministry of the Conscience" in the state could never exist as they would inevitably degenerate into its opposite duty and start serving the government’s interests.

In general, moral questions are posed and resolved differently than say, issues related to material goods. One difference is that government economics and politics can afford to experiment, for instance, like using the party struggle and political competition to develop the best solutions. This method is rarely justified in times of crisis, deep reforms and mobilization of sudden spurts, but is effective in periods of stability and peaceful development. In the latter case, the policy can be compared with the experimental methods in science.

Just like experimental science, there are precise methods and axioms involved. No hypotheses can be drawn if there are no postulations. Mathematics does not give the solution for precise values in a government. Morality does. Anti-virus programs perform this function in computers. But how can a moral structure developed by the state make it so that the state can become moral?

A circle of scholars, historians, sociologists, and philosophers, who are exploring the problem of the moral state see it as an historical inevitability. In his article On the Threshold of the Moral State, S. Sulakshin divides the development of the state into stages: proto-government (violence), legal state type 1 (violence, tradition), law-based state type 2 (right), the welfare state (Redistribution) , moral state (Institute of morality).

Sulakshin continues: "Humanity in the short-term goes towards the bright "image and likeness" and not to the understanding of the ideal, which is imposed on us in the consumer society and the social-Darwinian paradigm of neo-liberalism ... Humanity has passed the stage of the legal and social state. Today, we stand on the threshold of a moral state. This step is inevitable for the evolutionary future of mankind. The sooner we understand it in Russia, the more strongly it will be offered to the world discourse, and the sooner humanity will be able to come to this state. "(See. Sulakshin S. On the Eve of the Moral State //

We are not convinced that a social and moral state is the result of historical evolution (social progress gives way to regression, and we are clearly in a regressive phase, and how, for example, to characterize the deviation from social guarantees in Russia – as a pullback?) but in general we are willing to support and share the view of the problem discussed.

However, the most typical objection of opponents of the moral state is directed against the very formulation of the question, saying that the Kingdom of Heaven will not happen on earth, it's a temptation. But we are talking about creating a more sustainable social and ethical society rather than a global enlightenment of mankind, or the construction of an ideal society. This much is obvious. It is much more difficult to answer a different question: what is it that needs to be done to put public policy in a strict ethical framework?

Everything is in order.


First. It should be clear from the outset to define the goals and requirements to implement the project. The uncertainty of certain technical issues does not relieve us of the need to act, even if it comes to trial and error. Practice is criteria of the theory and not vice versa.

Take for example modern constitutions. After all, the rules written in them do not contain blueprints of their execution. However, they impose obligations on members of society: everyone must strive to fulfill these norms. The same applies to morality, which by the way is more significant than any constitution.

Second. The idea of the moral state must not seem exotic, as the term itself may seem strange. Along with the concepts of the "social state", "state of law," etc. the "moral state" takes its rightful place in the field of social sciences. Although the word "moral" means a semantic absolute (one cannot be more or less moral), we should not confuse it. After all, the moral state is not achieved by the philosopher's stone or a miraculous formula that would lead directly to its success. Yes, morality is absolute, it assigns an unwavering vector in decision-making, but in order to correspond with the desired state, it needs to go through some period of modification. A legal or social state cannot form perfectly on its first try. Therefore we face inevitable yet temporary difficulties. But if we want to have a healthy society there needs to be and active progressive movement towards the target.

Third. Similar to the bodies of constitutional review, there can and should be a body that would comply with the determination of the government’s standards. A simple example: Democracy does not come as a result of only one inner desire of one or more persons. Democrats have to create or join an existing democratic institution, i.e. the Parliament. This will be the institutional reinforcement of the idea of democracy and the personal efforts of a particular subject. The same occurs with morality. The problem, however, is that an institutional reinforcement of the moral state in recent history has not existed. Meanwhile, the moral state must be controlled by an authority that it is officially entered into politics and public life’s moral dimension, and that organizes and formalizes the process.

There is a noticeable tendency in the works of political scientists currently dealing with the problem of the moral state to expand the original concept and consider the new Institute as one of the branches of government, along with the legislative, executive and judicial branches. But this is ruderal terminology. It is important to emphasize that the new authority should rise above the three existing ones, which themselves should be monitored from a moral standpoint, so it has every reason to be the trunk for these three branches. It is much more correct to define this as a supranational authority that is saving the moral essence of the state. And it should be called a vigilant authority.

At the very least, this name goes back to the concept of the All-Russian Social-Christian Union for the Liberation of the People (VSKHSON), who posed this question half a century ago. In the early 1960s, members of VSKHSON put forward this idea in the USSR, which in itself seems almost incredible. It's one thing to talk about the moral state in an era of moral relativism, which powerfully pushes for similar conclusions, and quite another to come to this idea in the hard intellectual space of Soviet ideology, in a complete idiocratic country that was living according to the norms incompatible with the traditional morality of the people .

A distinctive feature of the new, vigilant institute should be that it does not have to make their own decisions and laws, but should clearly assess solutions at all levels of government. And, of course, have the right to veto any power initiative with the condition that the veto can be imposed solely on moral grounds. It should monitor the compliance of new laws and their enforcement of moral criteria; set the scope of government functions, and manage projects; enter them into a moral paradigm.

Fourth. The question arises: can it assume the role of protector of the church or Council of Churches? After all, church institutions initially have moral authority, and their actions are consistent with the principles of the Gospel, that is, they are the bearers of the definitions in the root and dominant moral-ethical paradigm of the Western world. Priests, of course, must be included in the new branch, more importantly, without them the idea the moral state can hardly be embodied. And take into account the specificity of Orthodox Russia in this case, of course, necessary. However vigilant body can not be both a church. Just because a church, although very large, is still only a part of society.

The moral state is often remembered when talking about the symphony of power and the Church in Byzantium, but the symphony and moral state are not the same thing. In the symphony, we have only the state and the church following parallel courses. However, Dostoevsky very clearly outlined the boundaries between church and state: the Church must not become a state like the Catholics, while the state "should be worthy to become a" church.

On the other hand, the formation of "vigilant power" of the caste principle is possible, as it was with the philosophers in Plato’s State. In any case the conversation should not only be about the church. From the outset, we should avoid a situation where the moral guarding body shrinks to adherers of one or multiple social groups’ ideologies, even if we are talking about very popular social beliefs. Members of morally guarding institution do not have to be representatives of various ideologies. They can become carriers of the moral principle in the eyes of the majority. That is, people who use an undeniable moral authority, no matter what ideology they may be held and no matter how ideologically stratified the society js.

Morality instead of ideology – this is the main idea. If this condition is fulfilled, the "party" controversy surrounding the new institute will not arise, just as they do not arise in a situation with a jury, or council of elders.


Political scientists and philosophers still preferred to solve other problems. Their efforts are designed to balance the interests of the people and social classes together, or vice versa – to change the existing balance or the existing order. This approach is quantitative, not qualitative. The solution to constructing the moral state would forever eliminate the first task (achieving social balance or change it to a more equitable) as it would make social conflicts impossible.

But it would be wrong to try to paint a step-by-step algorithm that technically can be created by a guarding authority. Creating a moral institution in the country itself is a manifestation of morality. At the moment, weak attempts are being made to create something similar in our mass media – the Council on Public Television. But even in this local case, we are only at the very beginning. Therefore, any exact recipe would be invalid.

We have to explain where our confidence comes from that the guarding agency will be held accountable and that its creation will not create a public split. For this we answer this question with another question: why is the Constitution accepted by everyone by default, regardless of political views and does not become the catalyst for a civil war? In fact, it somehow reconciles interests. It is unlikely that the Constitution – a document ideologically sterile, and all equally agree with the position it expresses. After all, the country has never held a referendum on each of the document’s articles, while few people can even cite these articles. Nevertheless, everyone is content with the Constitution. People adhere to the Constitution, because it is reasonable and useful to society. Solutions of the guarding society will also have the force of law because they are moral and will help maintain the health of society.

Along with that, the Constitution’s provisions are executed poorly. And with a guarding power the situation is unlikely to be serene. But the skill execute its goals is a task that cannot be reached in one month, even one decade. Simply, society in this case will rely on the axiom of the primacy of morality, not economics, politics and geopolitics.


It is important to note that its ideological opponents understand the rise of a moral state better than its potential supporters. For example, Karl Popper, who draws upon the whole liberal critique of Marxism, in his famous book The Open Society and Its Enemies foresaw the likelihood of developing the idea of the moral state, whose arrows are directed not only against the Soviet model. Basically, Popper prefers to consider the tradition of Soviet authoritarianism in the context developing an ideal government, a phenomenon particular to Plato (The State) and the Hegelian tradition. For Popper, the struggle against this line of thought is more important than a banal and at the same time justifiable anti-Communism model. The Utopia of Marxism, according to Popper, is a continuation of the ideas of Plato's state. This is despite the fact that Plato’s model was based on the aristocracy’s function of control, and Marx’s was based on the activity of the working man. But the truth is that at the heart of government in both cases lay different, moral criteria. And here and there morality is the cornerstone and is established) it is accurate according to precise laws and not to the natural sciences. Its bases is no empirical experiment conducted in liberal spirit (public competition of parties and capital), but absolute criterion.

But there cannot be "experimental fields" in matters of morality. You cannot conduct experiments on morality. Which is why there must be a guarding power. Anticipating the possibility of the emergence of the idea of a guarding power, Karl Popper criticized it in advance, preventive strikes to trample the very idea of the state as a moral authority. The philosopher chose the correct strategy. He ensured that the "morality" directions the state thought in the reader’s conscious firmly adhered to the Soviet communism and immediately linked into the crimes of the communist regime. Thus, the question itself about the moral state was taboo in the minds of Western audiences. Like communism, it is only the latest incarnation of the old utopia, nothing more. But we argue: there is nothing remotely similar. Communism is bad and the idea of the moral state is beautiful. Our task it=s to disengage the two different concepts fused together by neo-liberal propagandists.


We believe that morality is not the product of a particular regime. It is something innate. Recognizing this fact makes it possible to approach the solution of many complex problems. For example, if you collect 25-30 people, not alcoholics and extremists but just average citizens, regardless of their political affiliation and attitudes they will come to the same conclusion: it is impossible to show a pornographic film to an 8-year-old child. Why did they understand it? Because they have an innate morality.

Such a unanimity is only mysterious at first glance. But actually there is nothing surprising about it. The widespread notion of a "Christian soul" is not just a metaphor, but an indication of a special psychological reality. The preacher calls out this reality, trying to awaken in us "all the best" and to sow the Word of God in this fertile ground. Only then it will give good fruit. His summon is directed to what is already within us.

In a general sense, "to learn" in part is another way to say "to remember." The concept of "innate knowledge" was formed back in the teachings of Plato, where it received the name anamnesis ("knowledge-memories"). In the Middle Ages and in modern times philosophers spoke of "innate ideas." Today, these installations are still in demand in the humanities, such as generative linguistics (Chomsky’s "innate grammar"), and in the theory of ontogenesis. Linguists and psychologists know that the for the first years of life a child utters word forms erroneous by modern standards, but correspond to ancient language standards.

It would be strange if the deep memory of the person kept the ancient rules of the language, but did not keep moral norms. Morality is not only the result of rational choice, it has roots in the unconscious. Moreover, moral instinct plays a huge part of human life. It is oftentimes aroused during crucial decisions. For example, when a society decides on its own life and death. In this case, believers and non-believers come to the same decisions.

Morality is responsible for self-preservation of both individuals and the whole nation. Normal adults are well aware that pornography destroys the psyche of children and their physical health. It should therefore be an impulsive reaction to reject it. It is natural. Similarly, receptors in the skin signal for the hand to draw back from boiling water and maintain its health.

So, there is an innate moral sense. An authority to invoke it will come.

Discussions about how and when this authority will appear are still to come. We need to consider that today we do have a working theory and not some ideal construction. But it is a clear point of focus. There is no alternative direction for society’s movement. The former course inevitably leads to an increase in entropy as a result of which the social system goes racing. Creating a ruling public body is inevitable. Then the decay will slow. Or society will collapse and begin the notorious war of all against all, after which will bring a new leader and new law. This law will be effective in its own way, but there will be little moral about it.

When will society be ready to accept the idea of the moral state? Only when a critical mass of people is gathered willing to be moral even if only to avoid a social explosion. When moral criteria is implanted in the government that changes the current socio-political system, although it is impossible to predict in advance the direction and the means. But society will certainly be much more fair than today.

We must understand that the idea of the moral state is not a tribute to national-patriotic complexes. It concerns the entire international community. Without the moral transformation the modern state will never escape its dead end. Russia's task is to accept this trend and offer it to the world. In this case we occupy the leading position in a historical transition to a new type of state. We are not slaves but the presenters. Unless this is not what we want?

Igor Potapov