Eustace Percy Percy of Newcastle.

The responsibilites of the League online

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the Allies to establish the Supreme Economic
Council. While few people would now go as
far as Mr. Garvin in advocating international
government control, the gradual reaction of
British opinion under the pressure of high
prices has recently brought such schemes again
to the front, and a growing realisation of the
impossible position of the international ex-
changes is even to some extent softening
American opposition to them ; but our statesmen
are still anxiously watching the trend of public
sentiment, torn as it is between the desire for
strong government action and the hatred of
government interference, and the policy upon
which depends not only the prosperity of our
own consumers and traders, but the welfare of
Europe and the functions of the League, remains
in suspense.

It is not by stumblings such as these that
the policy of joint responsibilities can ever be
realised by the League. There is nothing more
fatal to the moral of an administrative service
than uncertainty, chops and changes in policy,
concessions to hasty press criticism, alternating
with despairing attempts to keep at least a
finger on the levers of government control.
If it be true, as Bagehot remarked of Lord
Lawrence, that " the prosperity of an Empire
depends more upon the general spirit of its
services than on the capacity of a few indi-
viduals in prominent places/' it will be tenfold
more true of the League. A League composed
of wavering governments will be an even
greater danger than the old diplomatic anarchy,


as the restlessness of impotent responsibility
is worse than the restlessness of mere disorder.
Definition, limitation, and secure continuity
of work are the life-blood of administration
and we must realise these conditions in
Britain if we are to realise them in the

One further word of special warning must be
added at this moment. Administrative in-
coherence is not only maiming our action in
comparatively non-contentious international
matters ; it is also producing its inevitable
reaction on " high policy/' No steps are being
taken to strengthen our diplomatic service
and to bring it into organic relation with the
machinery of the League. The weakness of
our intelligence organisation, which so seriously
affected our action at Paris, remains unremedied.
In the vacuum thus produced by absence of
ascertained facts and neglect of close study,
a new crop of " policies " is growing up
flashy designs for " supporting Germany against
Bolshevism/' hanging the balance of power on
the new Polish peg, creating new combinations
to maintain a precarious stability. All this is
policy-mongering of the most vicious kind
honest enough, no doubt, but having no firmer
basis than individual sympathies, personal
predilections and brilliant political guesses.
Unless we understand the League aright as a
definite recognition that foreign policy is an
affair of exact knowledge, to be worked out by
organised study of a thousand complicated
factors, each touching the concrete interests


of large populations, it can only end in
lamentable failure. We shall invite a final
disaster if we allow it to become the means
of giving an appearance of universal sanction
to a new political impressionism.



" The questions that have troubled the country have
been about the authority of the magistracy and the liberty
of the people. It is you who have called us to this office ;
but, being thus called, we have our authority from God ;
it is the ordinance of God and it hath the image of God
stamped upon it and the contempt of it has been vindi-
cated by God with terrible examples of his vengeance.
I entreat you to consider that, when you chuse magistrates,
you take them from among yourselves, ' men subject
unto like passions with yourselves.' If you see our infirmi-
ties, reflect on your own, and you will not be so severe
censurers of ours. We count him a good servant who
breaks not his covenant ; the covenant between us and
you is the oath you have taken of us, which is to this
purpose, ' that we shall govern you, and judge your causes,
according to God's laws, and our own, according to our
best skill.' As for our skill, you must run the hazard of
it ; and if there be an error, not in the will, but only in the
skill, it becomes you to bear it. Nor would I have you to
mistake in the point of your own liberty. There is a liberty
of corrupt nature, which is affected both by men and
beasts, to do what they list ; and this liberty is inconsis-
tent with authority, impatient of all restraint ; . . . 'tis
the grand enemy of truth and peace and all the ordinances
of God are bent against it. But there is a civil, a moral,
a federal liberty, which is the proper end and object of
authority "... for this liberty you are to stand with the
hazard of your very lives and whatsoever crosses it is
not authority, but a distemper thereof/ "Winthrop.



THE argument of the last chapter has been
that a family of nations groping its way out of
war towards restoration and reconstruction
must of necessity realise its joint responsibilities
first through organised study of facts and
carefully devised administrative action. We
have seen some reason to believe, moreover,
that such study and such action are the appro-
priate remedies for that fever of policy-monger-
ing which has been too often the atmosphere of
international relations in the past. But while
the permanent Secretariat of the League,
directed and controlled by the Council, can thus
do much, it cannot touch some of the deepest ills
of modern international society. Its labours
will appeal strongly to statesmen, solving many
of their most anxious preoccupations and
perhaps satisfying many of the pressing material
needs of the industrial and labouring classes
whose success and livelihood depend on adjust-
ments between the legislation and economic
policy of different states, the development of
common standards of life and labour, the adjust-
ment of international demand and supply and
the organisation of production, transport and
marketing. The administrative task of creat-
ing a machinery of international relations which
will " work/' will, in short, be an inestimable
boon to the new Europe ; but it is in great
measure irrelevant to those deeper discontents
which we have roughly classed under the title
of the " seekers and the rebels." So long as
men have minds and imaginations they will
think and dream about government as an ideal


in itself, apart from the concrete functions
which it may perform, and if the old Europe, as
an international society, was disturbed by
competing policies, spun not from facts, but
from theories of "national interest/' it was also,
as a group of individual national societies, com-
pressed to the verge of explosion by a dead
weight of utilitarian opportunism. Politics in
each country had become more and more an
affair of scientific investigation into the pro-
cesses of community life and the functions of
government in relation thereto. Regarding all
the fundamental constitutional problems of
just government as finally solved, armed from
head to heel in the accepted orthodoxies of
representative democracy and human progress,
the leaders and thinkers of each nation had
absorbed themselves wholly in statistical cal-
culations and bureaucratic adjustments. They
analysed labour and forgot the labourer ; they
investigated standards of living and lost sight
of life ; they anatomised social relations till
they were no longer conscious of society. We
had an increasing number of government de-
partments, but no government.

In fact, the old question which appeals so
strongly to the experienced statesman or
official, the question round which so many
political debates still rage, the question " will
it work," hardly touches the feelings of the
average man. Politicians who argue trench-
antly on these lines in the House of Commons
never dream of doing so on the platform. They
know from everyday experience in their


constituencies that that question will rarely turn
a vote ; but they do not often draw the grave
conclusion that it will not stop a revolution.
Mr. Chesterton has very truly remarked that
when the Fabians renounced the " mere
emotional attack on the cruelty of capitalism/'
and devoted themselves to proving that
capitalism " does not work/' their campaign,
" while it won the educated classes, lost the
populace for ever." And, while this popular
temper certainly encourages an infinite amount
of political dishonesty, yet in a sense it is right.
It is not that the" populace " want catchwords.
In the long run fine phrases sway them as little
as the detailed arguments of the practical man ;
the spite of the Pharisee, the hates of the rebel,
the glowing promises of the mere opportunist
orator, may earn their applause and their votes,
but will never stir them to sustained con-
stitutional action or to the blinder enthusiasm
of revolt. The mistake of the Fabians has been,
not that they eschewed rant, but that they
ostentatiously disclaimed philosophy. They
despised the only quality that could have given
them real leadership, the quality possessed by
Marx and Mazzini, and even such lesser
figures as Bentham and Cobden, in their day
and by Lenin in ours the power, despite all
blunders and fallacies, to focus society as a
whole, to give an intelligible account of its
meaning and purpose and to drive home its
absolute claim upon the hearts of men. The
League of Nations can win no great success
unless its creators avoid a similar mistake.


It is here, in fact, that the greatest difficulties
of the League arise. The Fabians have been
typical of their generation. Since the political
controversies of the mid- Victorian era an in-
creasing intellectual inertia has settled down
over Europe. Its full extent has been re-
vealed by the war. It is not only statesman-
ship that has been barren. Among all the
books, pamphlets and press articles inspired by
the " pentecost of calamity/' hardly one has
shaken itself free from the obsessions of nine-
teenth century tradition. The failures of that
century, the extravagance of its hopes and the
fallacies of its thought were indeed obvious
enough even before the war. Italy had cele-
brated the jubilee of her independence by the
attack on Tripoli. In place of the confidence
of the " Songs before Sunrise " the world had
realised, with Ruskin, that there was thunder
on the horizon as well as dawn. But few had
the courage or the energy to re-examine the
foundations of their political beliefs. The
development of the idea of the League of
Nations has been no exception to this rule.
In the whole of the very considerable litera-
ture that has grown up round it one may
look in vain for any striking originality of
thought or political invention. The Covenant
owes extraordinarily little to this literature. In
all that is most solid and progressive in the
League as now established, the debt of the
statesman to the essayist is exceptionally small.
The weakness of the Covenant, the weakness of
the generation that gave it birth, is written in


its preamble where, except for the two words,
" international co-operation," the simplest of
all its eighty-three words, there is hardly a
phrase that might not have been written by
Grotius three hundred years ago, and certainly
none that can guide the feet of men into any
new way of peace.

This weakness enfeebles the Assembly and
Council of the League from their birth. No one
who has had practical experience of government
will be inclined to attach undue importance to
abstract theories as guides to statesmanship.
Yet, at their weakest, doctrines of politics can
give tone and temper to the rough expedients
of the hour, and at their strongest they beget
continuity and coherence. Some of the worst
failures of policy in our own day have been due
to a lack of coherent principle more than to any
lack of accurate knowledge. We are familiar
with the attacks made on the inadequacy of
British propaganda during the war. These
attacks have been fairly well justified, but the
critics have largely missed the point. In nearly
every case where propaganda has been inefficient,
it has been because we had no policy to pro-
pagate. From the first moment of the war
we have hung the allied cause on any peg that
appeared convenient. Our war aims have
shifted like a kaleidoscope. It is this incoherence
that vitiated and still vitiates America's attitude
towards Europe and British policy in Ireland.
Early in the war the ascertained justice of the
allied cause provided no argument for American
intervention in the absejice of any adequate


theory of international obligations ; in 1918
the Irish Convention could hammer out no
solution from the hard facts of Irish life so
long as it ignored the real underlying conflict of
opinion as to the sovereignty of the British
Government. But the worst consequences of
this incoherence have been seen in allied policy
towards Bolshevism. Throughout it has allowed
a logical chain of events to appear as a chapter
of accidents. At nearly every point the Allies
have been right and Lenin and Bela Kun have
been wrong ; but Lenin, with a clear purpose
springing from a complete theory of society, has
always had infinitely the best of the argument.
His propaganda, while it has failed to under-
mine the patriotism of the Western peoples, has
very successfully undermined the policy of their
governments, for he has been able constantly to
instil into Western public opinion just that drop
of doubt and dissatisfaction which weakens
decision and destroys continuity of action.
What he has been able to do with the Allies he
will be able to do with the League. The
League, after it has been provided with the
machinery of investigation and administration
necessary to the determination of joint respon-
sibilities, will still fail unless it is guided by
some clear conception of the law of its being,
the limits of its activities and the purpose of its
work. From the circumstances of its origin it
is peculiarly liable to be undermined by doubts
on these points, as may be seen from a con-
sideration of one of the central features of its


The poverty of European and American
thought has never been more strikingly shown
than in the failure of all the advocates of the
League during the last few years to face the
doctrine of the " equality of states/' Inter-
national law as it grew up after the Reformation
evolved this doctrine, and publicists down to
our own days have been almost content to
repeat on this point the teaching of the oldest
authorities. In fact, the doctrine, originally
based on a priori reasoning, was greatly
strengthened and endowed with new and pas-
sionate meaning by the nineteenth century idea of
nationality. The abstract individuals of the
family of nations, equal in the absence of any
judge with authority to classify them or deter-
mine their worth, became in Mazzini's hands the
company of God's children, each with " one
line of his thought " written on its " cradle,"
each with " special interests, special aptitudes,
and, before all, special functions, a special
mission to fulfil, a special work to be done in
the cause of the advancement of humanity."
The dry bones of law were clothed with hopes
and claims drawn from the realm of a religious
faith. In such a company, who should judge
between nation and nation ; were there not
many first that might be last and the last first ?

What had the advocates of the League to set
against this doctrine ? Evidently, it clashed
with some of the most universally accepted
theories of representative democracy. To
admit the equality of nations was to deny the
equality of individuals to give seven million


Belgians equal weight with one hundred million
Americans in the counsels of the League.
Such a reditctio ad absurdum would be excel-
lently calculated, in Lenin's astute hands, to
discredit the League with the working classes of
the world. But the advocates of the League
made little attempt to face these fundamental
questions. From first to last they did no more
than urge considerations of expediency ; point-
ing out the impossibility of leaving the whole
direction of the League and the settlement of
international disputes to a large and unwieldy
body like the Assembly and demonstrating the
claims of the Great Powers to a permanent seat
in the inner Council, " because on them the
responsibility must mainly fall in peace and
war," ' because their mutual confidence is the
strongest guarantee of enduring co-operation/'
and because " large nations touch the world at
many points, the smaller ones at less ; thus
England, France and the United States have a
broader outlook than Rumania or Bolivia,
which see a comparatively narrow part of the
interests of mankind and have a more local
vision/' This is Professor Lowell's justifica-
tion of article 4 of the Covenant, which he
rightly calls " an ingenious compromise," and
there is no fault to be found with his arguments.
The constitution and powers of the Council have
been fully and frankly accepted by leaders of
small nations like M. Venizelos, and on the
whole they have been approved by the public
opinion of the world. Talk about a "new Holy
Alliance " has died down. But while the


smaller nations have acquiesced in the Covenant,
they have protested vehemently against the
actual procedure of the Conference at Paris, the
main lines of which, apart from certain gross
faults of tact, the League will be forced to follow.
The Council of the League will, indeed be a
broader body than the Council of Four ; it
will have a definite sanction which the latter
lacked ; and it can avoid many of the errors
of method into which the " Big Four " fell
through lack of organisation and shortness of
temper. But recent events have shown clearly
that the claim to equality remains unabated, in
practice as well as in theory, and the Council
cannot merely bury it under " ingenious com-
promises " or adjourn it by tact. At every
turn it lies across the path of the League.
The Covenant itself bears marks of it in two
places where its influence too often escapes
detection. It is perhaps the chief obstacle to
the establishment of an international parlia-
ment, because proportional representation of
states on a basis of population is necessarily
repugnant to it ; and it is likewise largely
responsible for the form of article 10 and fof
the opposition it has awakened in the United
States. The real object of that article is
to protect the weaker members of the family
of nations, but the statement of that object
would have struck a severe blow at the doc-
trine of equality ; hence, the article appears
in a form which can be construed by American
critics as a pledge to defend the frontiers of
India. Again, when the Polish and Austrian


treaties brought the question of national
minorities into the foreground of the Conference,
the smaller states rebelled against limitations of
their sovereignty from which the Great Powers
remained free. The doctrine of equality must
forbid any assumption that certain members
of the League are less well versed in the prob-
lems of just government, less expert or less
liberal, than others. Similarly, in drawing up
proposals for a Permanent Court of International
Justice, the Council will have to face difficulties
not unlike those encountered by the second
Hague Conference, and it will encounter even
greater obstacles when it comes to discuss plans
for disarmament. The doctrine of equality will
require that any such plan shall be uniform
and universal, without discriminations and
without consideration of the special circum-
stances of particular states. The special con-
siderations recognised in the second paragraph
of article 8 will thus tend to fix a minimum
standard of armament instead of a maximum.
Instances might be multiplied, but these may be
sufficient to show that for many years to come
the League will have to steer a difficult course
between the Scylla of obstruction by the smaller
states, backed by no mean jealousy, but by a
commanding philosophy for which nations have
shed their blood many times in the last century,
and the Charybdis of arbitrary action by the
Great Powers, backed by no philosophy at all,
but simply by the urgent practical desire to
" get things done." Indeed, it is only Scylla
that is charted ; we have no coherent doctrine


by which we can locate Charybdis with cer-
tainty and so define the true channel of progress.

Such a doctrine can only be built up by a
frank reconsideration of our commonest tenets.
The charge of having learnt nothing from the
war is just now being freely bandied about be-
tween all parties in every state, but it is
especially true of the intellectual side of politics.
Even where there has been a real change of
heart, the change has not mounted to the
brain. The challenge of the future has worked
most powerfully upon the simple and ignorant ;
its influence has been weakest among the
rationalists and advanced thinkers. We have,
as a first step towards the success of the League,
to confess that our hopes were mistaken, that
the political idols we worshipped were no gods,
that we are not emerging from Armageddon to
lay the coping stone on the edifice of liberty,
but are rather overwhelmed in the ruins of a
house built upon the sands.

In fact, Europe during the nineteenth century
was in a condition of disintegration now finally
completed, and, partly as a cause, partly as a
consequence, of that condition, it came in-
creasingly to rely upon a philosophy of eman-
cipation rather than upon a philosophy of
government. That philosophy had its roots,
indeed, in an earlier era, in the religious revolt
of the later Middle Ages and the Reformation
period, and in the constitutional struggles
common to all European countries. The Ameri-
can Revolution marked the culmination of those
struggles, but the French Revolution, beginning


on the same model, ended in inaugurating a
new phase of emancipation, the national move-
ment of the nineteenth century. It is in this
phase that the philosophy of emancipation
has grown to full strength and has clearly
manifested its tendencies. In its turn it has
now given birth to the idea of the social revolu-
tion. Throughout this long process this philo-
sophy has undermined in turn every government
it has created. That which the religious revolu-
tion set up, the political or the national revolu-
tion has thrown down, only to be threatened in
its turn ^v the social revolution. Each succeeding
upheaval is more violent than the last, partly no
doubt owing to the mere force of accumulated
disappointment, but partly also because the
philosophy of emancipation, originally little
more than a collection of controversial argu-
ments directed against arbitrary power, tends
to harden illogically into a creed of absolute
beliefs. This illogical taint runs through all the
phraseology of modern politics. The " rights
of man " were formulated as negative limitations
on the powers of governments ; they have come
to be regarded as positive guides to individual
duty. The " right of every man to worship
God in his own manner " was first asserted as
an argument against artificial uniformity and
religious persecution ; to-day it is quoted as
indicating that Congregationalism is the perfect
form of Church organisation. The claim that
" governments derive all their just powers from
the consent of the governed " was urged by
the American colonies as an argument against


the enforcement of unpopular laws ; but it was
expressed by intellectuals like Jefferson in a
form reminiscent of the theory of the " social
contract," and it developed insensibly into the
principle that the governed must by fixed con-
stitutions delimit the powers of the government
beforehand. The American Constitution itself
did not, as a matter of fact, spring from any

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Online LibraryEustace Percy Percy of NewcastleThe responsibilites of the League → online text (page 15 of 20)