[…] And the best life is the life which has most of this general character – the character which, so far as realised, satisfies the fundamental logic of man’s capacities (Bosanquet, 1930: 169).
Bosanquet states clearly that the end both of the state and the society, as well as of the individual is the realisation of the best life. Yet, being a genuine liberal thinker, he does not prescribe the content of the best life. Instead, he stresses the role of reason in enabling humans to find and affirm it. For Bosanquet, rationality is paramount in the individual’s quest for the best life. Hobhouse is thus mistaken when he claims that Idealism “denies that the reflective reason of the individual is the method by which truth about ideals is to be ascertained” (Hobhouse, 1918: 20). The attainment of the best life is the end (telos) of both the moral self and the social whole. It is an ideal that grows out from the ethical necessities of the social existence, and is achieved through the rational will, action, and self-transcending capacity of the human being. In the ethical fellowship of the state individuals develop consciousness of the common good through reflective activity and judgment. The state offers the logical structure for the realisation of the best life, namely, the life which satisfies the individual as a rational moral being.
The Philosophical Theory of the State, though published more than a century ago, contains ideas that are both important and instructive for contemporary politics. We live in an epoch that is characterised by wide-spread amoralism, indifference, and political apathy, narrowly conceived group interests, a technocratic view of politics, and the pompous, yet rather empty, rhetoric of the various international organisations. The current economic crisis has intensified fears about the future of democratic politics and has made us acutely aware of issues related to social justice (or the lack of it), transparency and accountability, as well as the relation between the state and its members, and the role of national and international institutions in the building of viable structures of socio-political organisation. The need to rethink not only the nature of the state, but also the type of political life that realises the ethical possibilities of our social being is more pressing than ever. The political philosophy of Bernard Bosanquet and of the British Idealists can provide a robust and insightful vision of a moral view of politics for the 21st century.
Bosanquet, B. (1899a), “How to Read the New Testament,” in B. Bosanquet, Essays and Addresses, 3rd edn (London: Swan Sonnenschein), pp. 131-161.
Bosanquet, B. (1899b), “The Kingdom of God on Earth,” in B. Bosanquet, Essays and Addresses, 3rd edn (London: Swan Sonnenschein), pp. 108-130.
Bosanquet, B. (1904 ), The Psychology of the Moral Self (New York: Macmillan).
Bosanquet, B. (1905), “On the True Conception of Another World,” in B. Bosanquet, The Introduction to Hegel’s Philosophy of Fine Art (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, and Trübner), pp. xv-xxxv.
Bosanquet, B. (1912), The Principle of Individuality and Value: The Gifford Lectures for 1911 (London: Macmillan).
Bosanquet, B. (1913), The Value and Destiny of the Individual: The Gifford Lectures for 1912 (London: Macmillan).
Bosanquet, B. (1917), Social and International Ideals: Being Studies in Patriotism (London: Macmillan).
Bosanquet, B. (1930), The Philosophical Theory of the State, 4th edn, reprint (London: Macmillan).
Boucher, D. (1994), “British Idealism, the State, and International Relations,” Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 55, pp. 671-694.
Boucher, D. (1995), “British Idealist International Theory,” Bulletin of the Hegel Society of Great Britain, No. 31, pp. 73-89.
Boucher, D. (1997), “Introduction,” in D. Boucher (ed.), The British Idealists (Cambridge: Cambridge cceia Press), pp. viii-xxxiii.
Connelly, J. and Panagakou, S. (2010), “Introduction,” in J. Connelly and S. Panagakou (eds.), Anglo-American Idealism: Thinkers and Ideas (Oxford: Peter Lang), pp. 1-14.
Gaus, G. F. and Sweet, W. (eds.) (2001), Bernard Bosanquet: The Philosophical Theory of the State and Related Essays (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press).
Hobhouse, L. T. (1918), The Metaphysical Theory of the State (London: George Allen & Unwin).
Mander, W. J. (2000), “Introduction,” in W. J. Mander (ed.), Anglo-American Idealism, 1865-1927 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press), pp. 1-19.
Nicholson, P.P. (1976), “Philosophical Idealism and International Politics: A Reply to Dr. Savigear,” British Journal of International Studies, Vol. 2, pp. 76-83.
Nicholson, P. P. (1990), The Political Philosophy of the British Idealists: Selected Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge cceia Press).
Panagakou, S. (1999a), “The Concept of Self-Transcendence in the Philosophy of Bernard Bosanquet,” Collingwood Studies, Vol. VI, pp. 147-164.
Panagakou, S. (1999b), “Religious Consciousness and the Realisation of the True Self: Bernard Bosanquet’s Views on Religion in What Religion Is,” Bradley Studies, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 139-161.
Panagakou, S. (2005a), “Defending Bosanquet’s Philosophical Theory of the State: A Reassessment of the ‘Bosanquet – Hobhouse Controversy’,” The British Journal of Politics & International Relations, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp. 29-47.
Panagakou, S. (2005b), “The Political Philosophy of the British Idealists,” The British Journal of Politics & International Relations, Vol. 7, No 1, pp. 1-4.
Panagakou, S. (2009), “The Religious Character of Bosanquet’s Moral and Social Philosophy,” in W. Sweet (ed.), The Moral, Social and Political Philosophy of the British Idealists (Exeter: Imprint Academic), pp. 111-135.
Panagakou, S. (2010), “The Kingdom of God on Earth: Religion and Ethics in the Philosophy of Bernard Bosanquet,” in J. Connelly and S. Panagakou (eds.), Anglo-American Idealism: Thinkers and Ideas (Oxford: Peter Lang), pp. 133-164.
Pfannenstill, B. (1936), Bernard Bosanquet’s Philosophy of the State: A Historical and Systematical Study (Lund: Håkan Ohlsson).
Sweet, W. (1997), Idealism and Rights: The Social Ontology of Human Rights in the Political Thought of Bernard Bosanquet (Lanham, MD: cceia Press of America).
For previous accounts of Bosanquet’s defense, see Pfannenstill (1936), Nicholson (1990), and Sweet (1997).
See Boucher (1997), Mander (2000), Panagakou (2005b), and Connelly and Panagakou (2010).
“I use the term ‘State’ in the full sense of what it means as a living whole, not the mere legal and political fabric, but the complex of lives and activities, considered as the body of which that is the framework. ‘Society’ I take to mean the same body as the State, but minus the attribute of exercising what is in the last resort absolute physical compulsion” (Bosanquet, 1912: 311 1n).
Life in the state is not the ultimate limit of self-realisation. Mind expands to deeper and higher dimensions of the real and re-unites the self with sources of its being beyond and beneath its historical actuality. The state, Bosanquet writes, “is a phase of individuality which belongs to the process towards unity at a point far short of its completion” (Bosanquet, 1912: 312).
For the term “spiritualization” in Bosanquet’s philosophy, see Bosanquet (1905) and Panagakou (2010).
“The ultimate tendency of thought” is “to constitute a world”: this spiritual self-building process signifies “the nisus of thought to individuality.” Bosanquet explains: “It is true that it [thought] presses beyond the given, […]. If its impulse is away from the given it is towards the whole – the world. And as constituting a world it tends to return to the full depth and roundness of experience from which its first step was to depart” (Bosanquet, 1912: 54, 55). See also Panagakou (1999a).
See also my detailed analysis of Bosanquet’s What Religion Is (Panagakou, 1999b).
“All that we mean by the kingdom of God on earth is the society of human beings who have a common life and are working for a common social good. The kingdom of God has come on earth in every civilized society where men live and work together, doing their best for the whole society and for mankind” (Bosanquet, 1899b: 121).
I limit my analysis to the concept of the state which is the predominant idea in The Philosophical Theory of the State. This does not mean that Bosanquet was indifferent to international and supranational politics. On the contrary, he reflected seriously on the relation between the state and the international organisation of the political community. Discussion of this topic, however, is beyond the scope of the present study. For this issue, see Bosanquet (1917), Bosanquet (1930: xlv-lxii), Nicholson (1976), and Boucher (1994, 1995).
“[H]istorically speaking, no doubt the human individual does not originate in isolation, but reflects some sort of community, so that from the first the self goes beyond the bodily unit” (Bosanquet, 1904 : 87).
To download the article (pdf file) click here