Ethics in a World of Power: The Political Ideas of Friedrich Meinecke

Ethics in a World of Power: The Political Ideas of Friedrich Meinecke

Ethics in a World of Power: The Political Ideas of Friedrich Meinecke

Ethics in a World of Power: The Political Ideas of Friedrich Meinecke

Excerpt

The problem with which this book attempts to deal is one which has become ever more poignant for an America that suddenly and not so very long ago found itself at the pinnacle of world power. The responsibilities of great power in a volatile world society have always had both a sobering and an exhilarating effect on thoughtful men. Since the day when the dynamics of international politics have had to be calculated in terms of the terrifying dimensions of nuclear weapons--a period coincidental with the emergence of the United States as the most powerful political force on earth--the sobering sensation is understandable enough. Indeed, there is real danger that the consciousness of heavy responsibility may chill us to the point of inaction for fear of the pitfalls that beset our path whichever way we move the forces at our command. Should such a situation come to pass we would resemble the psychotic individual for whom the choices which human beings must make have become too heavy a burden and whose personality is immobilized and shattered by fear of his own acts in an environment of which he sees only the menacing aspects.

To escape this dangerous effect of great responsibility requires a sense of exhilaration which comes from the knowledge that power brings opportunity as well as danger. In the long era before the atomic age came upon us those men who wielded power creatively and built great political and civilizing edifices were sustained by a feeling of high adventure as they calculated risk against gain. Today one is tempted to say that the admonition appropriate to their situation was the obverse of that suggested above--that the political men of previous ages needed to be warned that power brings danger as well as opportunity. We may tend to feel that their political strivings were characterized by a certain naïveté because their risks were at once less ap-

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