Eustace Percy Percy of Newcastle.

The responsibilites of the League online

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I am indebted to the Round Table for permission to reprint,
in Chapter V, several passages which first appeared in its
pages. I wish also to record my thanks to my friend Mr.
A. E. Zimmern for his kindness in reading the proofs of
this essay, and for many valuable suggestions.

E. P.












TIES - - 193





" God, who is the searcher of my heart, knows with
what a sad sense I go upon this service and with what a
perfect hatred I detest this war ; but I look upon it as
sent from God, and that is enough to silence all passion
in me." Waller.




death that maketh life so sweet,
O fear, with mirth before thy feet,
What have ye yet in store for us,
The conquerors, the glorious ? "




" To guide . . . mighty states by counsel, to conduct
them from institutions of error to a worthier discipline,
to extend a provident care to furthest shores, to watch,
to foresee, to shrink from no toil, to flee all the empty
shows of opulence and power these indeed are things so
arduous that, compared with them, war is but as the play
of children." Milton.

THE purpose of this essay is to examine the
responsibilities assumed by Britain and by the
British Commonwealth of Nations during the
past five years, and to suggest the new spirit
in which these responsibilities must be faced.
They are not responsibilities to which the
British people are accustomed, either by their
history or by their institutions. Indeed, in
many ways they may be said to run counter to
British character and British traditional policy.
And yet it may be said with equal truth that
we have not merely incurred these responsi-
bilities, but have deliberately assumed them.

The war and the peace treaties are just now
bringing their usual aftermath of " disclosures,"
but it needs no " expert " knowledge gathered
" behind the scenes," no revelations of the
diplomatic steps by which the governments
have arrived at the terms of the peace treaties,


and no technical dissection and interpretation
of these terms, to read the signs of the times
and to realise their significance. We are not
here concerned with any obscure or abstruse
commitments entered into by statesmen or
diplomatists on behalf of the British people.
The British people are committed, but by
their own act and by their own voice. There
are certain broad policies which British public
opinion has acclaimed and has, indeed, in a
measure, forced upon the national leaders.
These policies have received at least the lip
service of almost every public man in the
country. Some of us may, indeed, doubt how
far the masses of our countrymen are really
represented by those who have won their
applause or voiced their demand for these
measures ; but that is a doubt which goes to
the root of democratic institutions. At least,
our main responsibilities in foreign policy have
been accepted and endorsed by every test of
popular government. It is because we seem
often so little conscious of the real nature of
the pledges to which we, as a people, thus
stand committed in the eyes of the world, that
it has seemed worth while to add a few pages
to the literature which has recently grown up
round the League of Nations.

At the outset, our vision in regard to the
problems of international peace has recently
been clouded by a fundamental misconception
of the phase of transition through which the
world is passing. It is a misconception to
which human nature, reacting from the strain


of war, is naturally liable, but it has unfortu-
nately been encouraged by our national leaders,
especially during the general election at the
close of 1918. On November nth we con-
cluded an armistice, and immediately called it
victory. At that moment, and often since,
warning voices told us that the war was not
yet won. These voices were not heeded, and,
in spite of the dangers which still undoubtedly
surrounded us, the instinct that ignored them
was probably a sound one. The war against
the Central Empires was really ended on
November nth. The ordeal by battle had been
made and decided. But if those who realised
how seriously the future tranquillity of the
world is still menaced had given their warnings
a somewhat different form, they would not,
perhaps, have passed unheeded. The essential
feature of the state of Europe from the signature
of the armistice to the signature of peace was
not the possibility of a renewed state of war,
but the certainty of the extreme difficulties
and dangers, the troubles, conflicts, and dis-
turbances of peace itself.

On November nth the world entered upon
peace. It was not a formal peace. It was not
marked by a final documentary settlement,
duly signed, sealed, and delivered. It was not
even a complete peace ; sporadic war and
revolution still smouldered throughout Europe
and Asia. But the negotiations of the succeed-
ing months, the labours of statesmen, diplomat-
ists and soldiers at Paris since the middle of
January, the formal documents at length laid


before the German and Austrian plenipoten-
tiaries, and the seals and signatures affixed to
those documents, though they have all combined
to produce a formal peace, have been powerless
to produce a final one. We were wrong to
acclaim the armistice as the end of our troubles
and responsibilities. We are as wrong to regard
the Peace of Versailles or the Peace of St.
Germain as marking an epoch. Paper does not
solve problems. The armistice ended, in many
respects, the strain of war. Civil and military
demobilisation and the relaxation and aboli-
tion of Government controls became for the first
time possible. In the same way the Peace of
Versailles has enabled the belligerent govern-
ments, in a very great degree, to restore their
countries to normal peace activities. But for
four and a half years the civilised world has
been torn asunder. Economic ties have been
broken beyond repair, commercial systems
have been swept away. A wholly new society
of nations has arisen in Europe. The minds
of men, their feelings towards each other,
their outlook on their own future, and their
whole scheme of values in life have suffered
the profoundest of revolutions. We cannot
end such a war by turning off a tap. The
treaties of Versailles and St. Germain have
not even completed the territorial rearrange-
ment of Europe, nor established in detail
the new international institutions essential to
her reconstruction. Much less have they
defined the methods or aims of inter-
national economic co-operation, by which alone


reconstruction can become a reality. Many
months of study and negotiation may yet be
required before the mere documents embodying
the agreements reached on these subjects can be
finally drafted and signed. But even when the
machinery of settlement is complete, our work
will only be begun. When peace has been
signed, it has still to be made.

Where to-day can we find any popular realisa-
tion of the magnitude of this task ? Here, in
the natural and inevitable state of public
opinion in all countries, but especially for this
is our concern in Britain, lies the greatest
menace to a real peace. Having called the
armistice " peace/ ' English men and women
have been, since that moment, intent almost
solely on returning as rapidly as possible to
the normal course of their lives. This is the
temper in which they have rejoiced over the
official treaties of peace. They want, indeed,
better lives than they led before. The priva-
tions and enthusiasms of war have issued in
a passionate demand for social justice and social
bettertnent. But their eyes, fixed for five
weary years on battle-fields or council chambers
abroad, are now withdrawn to their own homes.
Their interests are more and more confined
within the frontiers of their own country.
They are only too ready to believe those who
tell them that the " war to end war " is won,
and to dismiss with impatience any further talk
of foreign policy.

Yet it is at this moment that they them-
selves have impelled their statesmen to


revolutionise the whole system of international
relations and the whole standpoint of British
policy. Their impulse has, indeed, proceeded
less from any definite desire formulated in their
minds, than from that underlying instinct
towards sound reform which has always enabled
Englishmen to make revolutions without realis-
ing that they were doing more than handling
the obvious business of the moment. Yet the
word " revolution " is no rhetoric, but an exact
definition of the Covenant of the League of
Nations and a sober description of the tendency
of British policy in Paris. The League of
Nations has not been set up ; it has only been
written down on paper. But it has been
written down by Britain and by the United
States in partnership. Others have collaborated
or acquiesced. Some foreign statesmen, notably
Monsieur Venizelos, have, indeed, been enthu-
siastic advocates of the scheme and contributed
powerfully to carry it through. But the creative
force behind it has been British and American,
and it is Britain and America who will have
to shoulder the practical task of establishing
its machinery and giving to it as an institution
the breath of life. Our original allies in Europe,
though at one with us in the general lines of
our policy, naturally view the Covenant with
dissatisfaction, depreciation, or suspicion. It
has not secured to France> to Belgium, to
Bohemia, or to Poland all the guarantees that
they desired ; it has resulted in the imposition
upon Jugo-Slavia and Rumania of restrictions
obnoxious to their pride, even if not actually


detrimental to their interests. It is distinctly
a compromise of the Anglo-Saxon type, and
though it is in itself severely practical, the ideas
or idealisms which presided at its birth have
been used and, as we think, rightly used
to check some points in the policy of our Euro-
pean allies, as, for instance, in the case of the
Italian claim to Fiume. And be it remarked,
it is precisely this idealistic side of the League
that has received the seal of popular approval
in Britain and America. Many of our British
idealists, and many, too, of our British " muck-
rakers/' have been eager to detect in the peace
settlement reached at Paris points which may be
attacked as violating the " principles of the
League/' They have found this an easy task,
for the peace, indeed, falls infinitely short of
the hopes we had formed. But it is equally
true, and the sooner we recognise it the better,
that our friends in Europe will identify are
indeed already identifying every unsatisfac-
tory feature of the peace with those very " prin-
ciples/' To the British people the League is
the great redeeming feature of a most imper-
fect settlement ; to our friends in Europe
it too often appears rather the source of these
imperfections. Danzig and Upper Silesia may
become a stone of stumbling and a rock of
offence between Poland and Geneva. Every
irredenta will be nursed as a grudge against
the League.

Irresponsibility and ill-nature have brought
many charges against the " patched up " peace
of Versailles, but sound statesmanship and the


wisdom of moderate men can draw up an
indictment against it no less serious. For it is,
and must be, a patched up peace. There are
many wrongs which are left unredressed ; many
arrangements which are at best reasonable com-
promises ; many provisions which embody the
naked hatreds of war and the shortsighted
selfishness which such hatreds engender. In
many cases, where the settlement is in our
view right, we have denied claims which, though
asserted by the ambition of statesmen, repre-
sented nevertheless the honest aspirations of
peoples. None of these difficulties is, indeed,
irremediable or insuperable. They are wounds
which can be healed, but only by laborious and
concentrated skill, by practical sympathy, and
by a steady manifestation of real interest in the
gradual working out and progressive modifica-
tion of the settlement. Until these wounds have
been so healed, they are merely patched up. The
whole body of Europe is torn and tortured.
Our paper treaties are the merest temporary
dressings and, if left without attention, their
effect can only be first irritation and then
poison. In many respects, conditions in Europe
have grown worse and not better during the
armistice period. No man who knew the state
of Europe the famine, the infant mortality,
the steady and insidious growth of disease,
rotting whole populations, the horrors of
massacre and torture on the fringes of Russia,
the proved impotence of the united wisdom of
the allied and associated nations to take timely
measures against the rapid crumbling of


European society could stand in the Hall of the
Mirrors at Versailles on June 28th with any
sense of pride or satisfied achievement.

We might conceivably have washed our
hands of Europe, we might have withdrawn
within our own frontiers but we have not done
so. We have desired a League of Nations, and
we have established one, and thereby we have
assumed the imperious responsibility of labour-
ing to the end that this League shall not be a
mere irrelevant irritation superimposed upon
Europe, but a real expression of her needs ;
a real instrument towards peace and reform
and a real bond between her peoples. If we
take our hand from the plough to-day, what
will our position be ? We have based our
policy on a rudimentary co-operation with the
United States, and we have thus aroused, at
one and the same time, much resentment in
Europe and many suspicions in the United
States itself. How rudimentary that co-opera-
tion is the course oi recent discussions in
America has proved ; it is an aim to be worked
for, not an instrument already in our hands.
We have to convince America that we invite her
partnership in no selfish enterprise of world
hegemony, but in a simple effort to contribute
the experience and the resources of the English-
speaking peoples to the task of European
reconstruction and the development of uncivil-
'sed and backward races. We must be the
bridge between America and Europe if we
are not to forfeit the respect and confidence
of both.



But this policy of the League of Nations has
an even more serious implication at the present
moment. The League is designed to provide a
central council of the family of nations, estab-
lished in the midst of Europe. In its earliest
stages at any rate, and, indeed, for many years
to come, the non-European nations will tend
to be listeners in this council. It is obvious
enough, and the course of events at Paris points
to it, that the Asiatic nations, Japan and
China, have little direct interest in Europe and
little desire to play a leading part in her affairs.
The same is clearly true of South America.
But the average Englishman does not, perhaps,
realise sufficiently that neither the prominent
part apparently played by the United States
at Paris, nor President Wilson's advocacy
of the League of Nations, indicates any
immediate intention on the part of our great
associate in North America to interest herself
steadily or strongly in European politics. The
Covenant of the League does not, as a legal
document, commit her to do so. We shall
examine at a later stage the attitude of the
United States towards foreign policy, but it is
enough to say here that we cannot, and should
not, expect from her any prominent or con-
tinuous display of statesmanship in European
affairs. Her influence will be great. Her
economic resources may supply many of the
most urgent needs of Europe in the months to
come. But she will not, in the immediate
future, take on herself any far-reaching respon-
sibility for European conditions, and the course


of her internal politics may even, for a
considerable period, make her little more than a
sleeping partner in the practical business of
building up the League. Europe will there-
fore have, in great measure, to rely upon her-
self, to grow by herself, during the next few
years. If a League of Nations is to be estab-
lished and is to grow and develop into the
real peace-making and peace-preserving agency
for which it is designed, it must grow out of
the needs of Europe and be recognised by her
peoples as a safeguard and a protection.

Yet the moment which we have chosen or
rather the inevitable moment which Providence
seems to have chosen for the erection of the
League, is the moment at which Eastern
Europe has, as it were, broken up under the
feet of the family of nations. The revolutionary
forces which we call Bolshevism are, to many
Americans, merely a collection of philosophic
sentiments, or a germ of new social policies,
judged to be good or evil or simply interesting,
according to the taste of the individual observer.
Even to most Englishmen, who can watch the
upheaval at closer quarters, the phenomena of
Russia and Hungary too often merely excite
interest as a curious phase of revolutionary
thought, or even applause, as a sign of popular
progress and popular idealism. But in the
eyes of Europe, Bolshevism looms as nothing
less than the end of the world. European
society is long past the stage where men ate
and drank and made merry in ignorance of
the " archangel's blade of steel " above their


heads. They do not live in the cities of the
plain, but already, looking back from Zoar, they
see " the smoke of the country go up as the
smoke of a furnace/' Prinkipo and General
Smut's mission to Budapest could only have
sprung from the brain of an American or
British statesman, representing, in this case,
very accurately the public opinion of his country.
There is, perhaps, nothing so incomprehensible
to European eyes as the irresponsibility with
which public opinion in England and in the
United States regards the Russian or Hungarian
revolutions, or the Spartacist risings in Germany.
It is not a question of excommunicating Bolshe-
vism with bell, book and candle, still less of
indulging in any of those adventures in eastern
Europe disavowed by Mr. Lloyd George in
bis speech of April i6th. But unless we in
England can face facts in regard to the revolu-
tionary movement in Europe the League of
Nations which we have created will go down
to history as an attempt, perhaps less wicked,
but infinitely more futile than the Holy Alliance.
For, whatever may be the merits or demerits
of Lenin's philosophy with whatever pity or
sympathy we may look upon the strivings of the
millions who do not understand his creed,
but are swayed by his promises the revolutions
in Russia and Hungary, the attempted revolu-
tions in Germany, and all the incoherent move-
ments which agitate the " extreme left " in
other countries, including our own, are definitely
and irreconcilably hostile to the League of
Nations. The League of Nations is not an idea


suspended in the air. Its Assembly and its
Council are not gatherings of professors charged
with the task of working out " the good and
beautiful " in international politics. The League
represents something. It will develop and be-
come strong only if it continues to represent
something. That something is the present inter-
national system, the system, that is to say,
of national sovereignty sovereignty which can
only be modified or limited by the free action of
the nation itself. It is a system inherited from
Roman law and from the development of
centralised monarchies in the Middle Ages, but,
though this is rarely recognised, it has been
confirmed and immensely strengthened in our
own days by the growth of the modern principles
of democracy and nationality. The treaty of
peace has given it a final sanction by carrying
to a logical conclusion the doctrine of nationality
formulated by Mazzini and adopted as a watch-
word by the liberalism of the nineteenth century.
This system has its own grave defects and
dangers, and the League of Nations, like other
representative bodies, does not seek to fix
it for all time. On the contrary, it aims at
developing it by a more efficient application
and working out of principles and methods
already inherent in it. But that means that the
League is committed to the task of creating a
better system, not by inventing a new and
opposite doctrine, but by providing oppor-
tunities and means of co-operation. It seeks,
first, by regular meetings between statesmen,
to work out common policies between nations,


adapted to common needs, without any sur-
render by any nation of its own sovereign
freedom of action. It seeks, secondly, to pro-
mote formal international agreements by which
the parties undertake to exercise certain of their
sovereign functions, at least for a certain number
of years, only in organic concert with other
nations, with a view to the joint administration
of common interests. The Supreme War Coun-
cil, which sat at Versailles during the last year of
the war, is the type of the first method. A con-
venient type of the second method convenient
because it is perfect of its kind though its scope
is not very great is the International Joint
Commission set up by the United States and
Canada for the control of the international water-
ways between the two countries. This is a semi-
judicial commission empowered to issue rulings
binding on both governments in regard to such
matters as the diversion of the waters of boun-
dary rivers and lakes.

But this League of Nations, representing the
international system as it exists, represents a
thing to irreconcilable war with which the
revolutions in Eastern Europe are definitely and
unalterably committed. There can be no true
reconciliation between Bolshevism, in so far as
Bolshevism remains a coherent philosophy, and
the League of Nations. So far as the League is
concerned, there must not, indeed, be war with
any revolutionary movement in any country.
The League must, unlike the Holy Alliance, by
the very law of its being, refrain from any inter-
ference in the internal affairs either of its own


members or of nations not at present parties to
its constitution. But Bolshevism, on its side,
is not an internal revolution. It is a militant
international creed, pledged to the creation, not
of an international society, but of a super-national
state, obliterating national boundaries no less
than the social and economic boundaries be-
tween labour and capital. This conflict be-
tween internationalism and super-nationalism
has already long been working within the
Socialist Internationale, and the creation of
the League must precipitate it into open war.
No sooner will the League be established at
Geneva than its disruption must become the
first and dominant aim of Bolshevism. A
successful League of Nations would confirm
political beliefs on denial of which the whole
creed of Lenin and his followers is based. It
would, in their view, be the most evil of all
possible governmental influences, deluding the
people of the world into acquiescence in the
fundamental evil and injustice of the state of
society under which they live, and the destruc-
tion of the League would necessarily become
the first point in the secret, if not in the public,
programme of the revolutionary leaders.

This throws into even stronger relief the mag-
nitude of the responsibility which the British
people have assumed. At the moment when
the waves of the revolutionary inundation are
thundering on the shores of Central Europe,
at the moment when we in England, to whom
this thunder is still only a far-off murmur, seem

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Online LibraryEustace Percy Percy of NewcastleThe responsibilites of the League → online text (page 1 of 20)