The Christian State

Friedrich Julius Stahl, Der christliche Staat und sein Verhältniß zu Deismus und Judenthum (Berlin, 1858 [1847]), pp. 1–6.


Of all the negotiations of the United Diet, none had such a profound impact on the innermost foundation of the existing state order as that regarding the political equality of the Jews and the sects, more deistic than Christian, that have recently emerged in the bosom of Christianity. If this had been demanded along with recognition of the Christian state, as an exception and privilege in view of the fact that the Christian state was strong enough to endure it, and with some safeguard that the principle and right thereof would not be thrown away, then it would be an isolated question, albeit of the highest importance, and the author would not have considered it his calling to take part in its adjudication without a special official request. But this was demanded as an unconditional, irrefutable right by virtue of civil equality, and therefore on the basis of the denial of the Christian state. The Christian state was described partly as the remnant of medieval barbarism, partly as a mysterious, unsubstantial concept; indeed, one member declared this idea, which has been the bearer of the European state order for a millennium, to be an invention of the latest state philosophy. In this manner, the negotiation took as its object the supreme principle of our public life and now extends its effect over the entire scope of it in constitution, legislation, administration, and the relationship between state and church. It is the cardinal question of the time, not just in Prussia but throughout Germany. In this condition of the dispute, I cannot avoid speaking to it, certainly not from zeal to oppose those proposals, but to protect the great institution which is threatened here, which I am convinced is the most sacred moral property of the nation. The intention of the following discussion is to shed light on the nature of the Christian state, to prove that its concept is clear and real and that its realization is the highest requirement of the state.

In all things it is infinitely easier to make plain and plausible the untrue view that lies on the top layer than the true one with its deeper, richer, never fully penetrable relationships. So the line of argument which has been used against the Christian state in the most varied ways, but always under the same main idea, is at first extraordinarily plausible. The essence of the state is the protection of rights, and this has no relation to any religion. In particular, Christianity, the essence of which is love of neighbor, could not justify any special character of the state, unless at most it were precisely that religion is to be ignored, but that everyone has the same rights based on the same love of neighbor. The concept of the Christian state is therefore in itself (logically) a contradiction. But this line of argument rests on a double error, a false view of the state and a false view of Christianity. The idea of the state, which is assumed here, has long since been refuted by science and from many sides. It is no less contradicted by history. The state has yet to be shown which, detached from religion, ethics, popular character, limits itself to the protection of rights. As far as there are and have been states, their activity embraced the entire life and aspiration [Leben und Streben] of a nation with all its material and ethical goals. Military power and honor, public prosperity, public education, public respectability, the moral form of the family, the education of future generations in manners and knowledge, all this has always been the domain of the state among civilized peoples, partly to a greater and partly to a lesser extent, and who today, when it comes to realizing the theory in life, who would want to renounce any of that?

For this very reason, the shape of the states has always been determined by the people’s appreciation of life, their legal, ethical and religious appreciation of life, and has changed in accordance with changes in this. The state is a revelation of the ethical spirit of the nation, and in turn unites the nation into a kingdom of ethics by shaping its entire public life according to ethical reasons and purposes; it is therefore the highest representation and the highest deed of the nation; who wants to impoverish it? Indeed, even “right and law,” which, as one speaker said, “are the sole basis of the state,” are themselves, in terms of content, determined not merely by human justification but to the same extent and even more originally by the demands of ethics. Because what else is the right and law of marriage, for example,  based on other than the ethical nature of marriage, hence the prohibition of polygamy, incest, the legal position between man and woman? Or is inheritance not determined in accordance with ethical reasons and bonds? Or do the laws governing war and military conduct, the laws governing obedience to subjects and the royal majesty rest solely on legal contract, and not rather more deeply on the ethical duty of sacrifice for the fatherland and reverence for the authorities?

But if the state is everywhere subject to ethical determinations, how could it behave indifferently towards religion, since this ultimately determines all ethics? And here it is that we encounter the other error, that regarding the nature of Christianity. The fact that Christianity is and demands nothing other than love of people, and that therefore genuine Christianity exists just as well in Judaism, paganism, Mohammedanism, only under different forms, is the deepest delusion with which the time is afflicted. Christianity is not merely morality, it is religion; its essence is therefore not merely love of neighbor but also and above all faith, union with God and the Redeemer. Christianity is the sanctification of divine ordinances and it is revelation, it is the unveiling of divine decrees and promises, and it is the unveiling of divine commandments, hence the true ethical requirement for the most essential circumstances of human life. Now if the state is a shaping of human living conditions according to ethical ideas, and if Christianity is a divine revelation of the ethical ideas of these living conditions, then it must be obvious from the outset that Christianity must be decisive for the state, and the concept of the Christian state is therefore not a logical contradiction, but much more a logical postulate.

If one wishes to deny the reality of the concept of the Christian state as “mysterious,” one would still have to concede the concept of the Christian people. A Christian people, it should be obvious, will have to arrange its entire political situation according to the appreciation of life that it has by virtue of its Christian faith, but this and nothing else is the Christian state.

Accordingly, the Christian state is not as simple as one assumes when one demands a dry, ready-made definition from its defenders. It is not some Christian ethical postulate, or any Christian virtue, which, applied to political institutions, constitutes its essence. It is the whole infinite wealth of Christianity, which must also be revealed in the state of a Christian people. There are obligations to the advancement of Christianity, there are immediate divine commandments which the gospel prescribes, there are revelations about the ethical idea of life relations which it vouchsafes, such as marriage, the relationship to the authorities, there are virtues and attitudes, such as piety, freedom, which it effects, and which themselves creatively produce an ethical appreciation of life and a new grouping of social bonds, there is finally perhaps even a divine influence, which in predetermined harmony among the Christian, namely the Germanic peoples, gives shape to the basic structure, which no people gives to itself, in the primal disposition and in maturity to an external presentation and reflection of inner Christian relationships. All that, as it is partly nearer, partly more remote to the Christian religion, partly necessarily commanded by its spirit, and partly free, but permeated by it, partly more natural and partly the work of ethical action – all this together as an inseparable unity is that which, determining the state, turns it into a Christian one. It is therefore not just individual laws or individual life- and legal relations that are affected by the Christian character, but rather a life principle that permeates the state in its entirety and everywhere, a greater type that holds it together. Nevertheless, it cannot be an objection to the reality of such an effect of a spiritual principle, that it cannot be demonstrated tangibly and exhaustively everywhere. In exactly the same way it is not possible to demonstrate the effect of popular character (Hellenic, Roman, Germanic, etc.) on the state in a plain and complete manner, and yet it would not occur to anyone to deny this effect and to declare the idea of the peculiarly Hellenic, Roman, Germanic states to be mysterious. Meanwhile, the strongest features can be pointed out which distinguish the Christian state in all its spheres from those which lack this character.