Eustace Percy Percy of Newcastle.

The responsibilites of the League online

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such idea, but from the necessities of a federal
system, in much the same way as the earlier
constitutions of the separate Colonies had sprung
from the necessity of delimiting the authority of
the colonial governments in relation to the
supreme power of the Crown in Parliament. But
this fact has been misunderstood not only by
Europe but by Americans themselves who, mis-
reading the precedents, have created on these
models state constitutions designed to protect
the citizen against the acts of his government.
By a similar development the European idea of
self-determination has grown from an oppor-
tunist denial of the rights of an alien government
into a general assertion of the capacity of any
group of men, however situated, to devise a
government for themselves and to secede from
any union in which they may find themselves
at any given moment.

It is becoming increasingly evident that no
government, created by revolution and acting
upon the philosophy of emancipation as the law
of its being, can evoke loyalty or attain stability.
It is, in fact, founded upon a philosophy of dis-
union, and such unity and stability as it achieves
are reached through dishonest manipulations of


that philosophy. Self-determination finds its
issue first in plebiscites such as that by which
in 1861 Naples accepted Italian unity under
Victor Emmanuel plebiscites admitting of only
one answer and later in electoral wire-pulling
and the arts of the gerrymander. The swords of
the revolution are twisted into the ploughshares
of government, and politicians pay lip service
day by day to doctrines which deny their right
to the power they hold. It only needs one
touch of passionate logic, however perverted,
from the lips of Lenin to tumble this card house
of subterfuges about the ears of Europe.

Such sweeping generalisations may seem exag-
gerated, but no student of European affairs can
miss the apparently essential weakness of many
of the continental governments. France has,
in a very fundamental sense, never recovered
from the Revolution. As strong as ever in
" high policy," in science and in literature, she
is extraordinarily weak in the unifying and con-
solidating action of her government, and in
what may roughly be called social vitality.
Wealth is evenly distributed, but living con-
ditions remain stationary ; social reform is con-
spicuous by its absence ; medical science is
highly developed, but medical practice is un-
organised and powerless in face of the declining
health of the people. Italy is potentially much
stronger, but her administrative and political
leadership is even weaker, lacking as it does the
traditions which still support France. Such
smaller states as Serbia, Greece and Rumania
all exhibit similar defects. The progress of


national emancipation is, indeed, increasingly
transferring the government of Europe to those
who have grown up in the shades of opposition,
trained in all the arts and inspired by all the
beliefs that weaken government and " promote
division. To a dangerous extent the energies of
Europe have been so absorbed in the effort of
emancipation that she has little strength to
devote to the task of government.

The doctrine of the equality of states is, in
its present form, the clearest international ex-
pression of this development, but we cannot deal
with it as an international doctrine until we have
dealt with the philosophy behind it. We can-
not construct a doctrine of the League until we
have constructed a tenable doctrine of the
State. It is internal weakness, the conscious-
ness that they lack any certain and reasoned
basis for their authority within their own
frontiers, that renders the European states so
suspicious of the authority of the League. On
the whole, Britian and America are much more
ready than their continental associates to pool
some of their independent rights and powers,
for they have a firmer grip of their own resources,
a security of tenure and a consciousness of
power, enabling them to judge how wide a
range of sovereign functions they can exercise
in co-operation with their fellow-members of
the family of nations without lessening their
independence or detracting from their freedom
of action. Germany is perhaps the only conti-
nental nation in a similar position, and she is for
that reason quite genuinely the only one that


appreciates the idea of the League. Among all
the charges that may justly be levelled against
Bismarck, one thing should be remembered in
his favour. He was wrong, irretrievably wrong,
in his conflict with the Prussian Diet, but on the
whole he was right in his opposition to the
Parliament at Frankfurt. The liberals who led
that body could not, he felt, construct an endur-
ing union out of the spirit of emancipation.
With all his crimes, he was the only European
statesman of the nineteenth century who realised
a political union in fact as well as in name
the only one who did not fall, as the uninspired
disciples of Mazzini and Kossuth have fallen,
into a mere pit of geography, making a map and
calling it a nation. Herein lies the great source
of Germany's strength as revealed by the war.
Her propaganda has been effective because she
always had a clear policy springing from a real,
if perverted, political life. She has had a co-
herent philosophy in which her people passion-
ately believed, and the debate between her
representatives and Trotzky at Brest-Litovsk
really stands to-day as the only lucid answer
made by any government to Bolshevist argu-
ments. These qualities may well enable Ger-
many to dominate the League, as they have
enabled her hitherto to escape internal chaos, if
Britain and America remain aloof ; but it is Britain
and America who are best fitted by their history
and constitution to set a new example and give
a new doctrine to Europe, putting the philosophy
of emancipation in its due perspective as only a
fragment of a wider philosophy of government.


Unfortunately, the tendency of the nineteenth
century has been to over-Europeanise British
political thought and the war has done much
to accentuate this tendency. The influence of
the Italian Risorgimento on men like Gladstone
and Russell was seen in their curious misjudg-
ment of the American Civil War. While English
Tories favoured the South largely from aristo-
cratic prejudice, Gladstone, confusing Davis
with Cavour and perhaps even Lincoln with
King Bomba, hailed it as a new " nation," and
probably never entirely realised to the day of
his death how alien was that word to every
American conception of political society so
alien that, though it is sometimes used in oratory,
as in Lincoln's second inaugural, the American
Episcopal Church, as Lord Bryce has pointed
out, recently hesitated to apply it to the United
States as a whole. Yet American ignorance
of this particular phrase was inherited from
England. The Englishman, long accustomed to
the idea of an Irish nation and having recently
heard the name applied to Scotland and Wales,
has never quite grasped its meaning and remains
congenitally incapable of regarding himself in
the same light. Indeed, both Scotch and Welsh
nationality, in their present form, are little more
than shadowy imitations of Europe. The Union
with Ireland and, to a less degree, the separation
of Upper and Lower Ontario were, down to the
time of the Transvaal and Orange River Colony
constitutions, the only instances where England
had consciously given political recognition to
nationality, and it does not to-day play any real


part in the Englishman's attitude towards politi-
cal problems. The Dominions have only recently,
partly perhaps under Dutch South African
influence, begun to speak of themselves as inde-
pendent " nations/' and the phrase does not
yet come easily to their tongue. For, before
all other things, the English mind, like the
Roman, has been absorbed in the effort to
govern. It has been mainly impressed by the
simple and abiding difficulty of inducing men to
live soberly and peaceably side by side, of hold-
ing them together in a united community, under
an appropriate system of laws. This attitude
of mind has been the supreme contribution
which Britain has made to political progress
throughout the world. While Burke, the con-
servative Whig, was its most brilliant exponent,
it marked also the thought and methods of the
distinctively English radicals like Bentham and
Cobbett. It has, indeed, always been strongest
in the strata just below the " governing classes "
of the day stronger in Cromwell than in Vane,
in the City which Chatham chose to lead than
in the Pelhams or the Temples, in Burke than
in Fox, in Bentham than in Canning, in the
average " ten-pound householder " than in Pal-
merston or Gladstone, and to-day in the ranks
of labour than in the educated classes. It is
indeed in its way narrow and, if you please,
unenlightened ; it has tended to ignore educa-
tion and is more at home in the adjustment of
material interests, the remedying of material
grievances ; it is always on the verge of a
dangerous self-complacency, as for instance in



the case of the government of India. But in
some of these respects it has been modified and
improved by transplantation to the New World.
During the nineteenth century it was in America
that the characteristic British conception of
government was best realised and developed.
The United States remained untouched by
European influences ; with all her faults, she
supplemented British deficiencies in some direc-
tions, notably in regard to education ; and
above all she gave, through the mouth of
Abraham Lincoln, the clearest interpretation
since Burke of the ideals she had inherited from
Britain. The underlying instinct for the com-
monwealth that has guided Britain became in
America the centre of her constitutional system,
the doctrine of Union.

The territorial expansion of the British Com-
monwealth and the American Union has played
a great part in determining these ideals. In
Canada, in South Africa and in India, Britain has
had to work out the problems of government on
a stage too vast for mere nationalism. She has
gained a vision of community life transcending
the comparatively narrow bounds of race, and
as she has seen her conceptions of government
follow her flag into the far corners of the earth
she has come to regard her own constitution,
not as a private possession to be manipulated
and modified at will, but as a solemn trust con-
fided to her keeping, as the source of streams
which have fertilised and still water a hundred
kindred commonwealths. America, too, has
served her apprenticeship in government on her


western plains, and it was here that the great
controversy between North and South came to
its crucial issue. The Civil War was not
brought on by the efforts of the Emancipationists
to abolish slavery in the South, but by the
resistance of the West to the expansion of slavery
beyond the limits of the Southern States. It
was the practical problems of Kansas, not the
mass meetings of Boston, which forced on
Lincoln the conviction that the Union could not
continue " half slave and half free/'

The figure of Lincoln has acquired a new ^
meaning for us in England since 1914. We have
realised the value, and felt the lack, of a leader-
ship such as his. Yet it is remarkable that the
Douglas debates, in which he first made his
name, have rarely if ever been quoted in con-
nection with the problems of Europe, and that
their moral has not been applied to the con-
troversies of our day. The whole -doctrine
of self-determination is here, in Douglas' thesis
of " popinax~ioYereigntyr Mt ~^ft seemed modest
and unanswerable, a claim that the Southern
people had a right to maintain the institutions
with which they had freely entered the Union,
both within their own state frontiers and in any
district of the new West where they might settle
as colonists. Lincoln, step by step, in the sim-
plest language, exposed its real meaning as an
imperialist claim to expansion and increase of
power ; as an assertion of group right as against
community right and, in the last resort, as an
attempt to limit the rights of popular govern-
ment by the selfish interests of the individual.


His definition of popular sovereignty as a claim
that, if one man chose to enslave another no
third man had a right to interfere, sums up
the instinct of all just men when confronted
by the extreme doctrine of self-determination.
Lincoln never put his case too high ; he never,
like Burke, appealed in lofty language to the
ultimate ideal of the state ; rather, he used good-
humoured banter to demonstrate the childish-
ness of " secession " and was content, in his first
inaugural, to remain strictly on the defensive,
claiming to do no more than discharge the
ordinary administrative duties confided to the
Union by the Constitution and requiring from
his " dissatisfied fellow-countrymen " no higher
test of loyalty than recognition of the custom
house officer and the postman. But behind his
speeches there loomed always, half expressed, the
two guiding principles which distinguish the doc-
trine of commonwealth and union from the nar-
rower idea of emancipation and freedom of choice
a belief in the indestructibility of government
and a sense of the standards to which it should
conform. Sovereignty must reside in a fixed
local habitation ; the popular will must be
embodied in definite organs of government,
however varied, however decentralised; and,
once so embodied, it is to that Jerusalem that
the people must go up. Thereafter, the popular
will cannot express itself in arbitrary high
places, on every high hill and under every green
tree. It is better that justice should be attained
and right done through the slow labour of
generations at the centre of the commonwealth,


that the popular will should be gradually
wrought into form and tempered by such
common labour, than that a fragment of one
generation should seize for itself in one day
possessions which, if they have any value,
should be the common heritage of all. Some-
times indeed this centre of the commonwealth
may become corrupt, embodying no longer in
any true sense the popular will but sectional
interests or mere soulless majority rule, and
minorities may then be forced to sever their
connection with it. But and here comes in
the second principle such secession can never
rightly be a mere assertion of a claim to inde-
pendence and freedom of choice, but must
spring from a definite conflict between right
and wrong, justice and injustice. Lincoln very
rarely discussed the ethics of slavery but he
knew clearly that, in the last resort, the doctrine
of popular sovereignty must be judged by the
ends at which it aims, that the right of secession
must be determined by the Tightness of the
seceders. Once or twice, therefore, he put the
conflict between North and South in its historical
perspective as a moral issue between liberty
and oppression and once, in a peroration so
quiet that its weight is almost lost in print,
he appealed even from the people of the United
States, whose supreme authority he recognised,
to the ultimate standards to which their decisions
must conform and by which they must be
judged. "Be ye perfect even as My Father
in Heaven is perfect " was the last test he pro-
posed to an audience of electors, the test before


which all assertions of freedom of choice and
the supremacy of the popular will must fade
into comparative insignificance.

Lincoln's teaching has had a powerful in-
fluence on American thought and has recently
been reinforced by the conditions of American
political life. As we have already seen, immi-
gration from Eastern and Southern Europe
has accustomed Americans to regard nationality
as a disturbing element in true progress. The
social reform movement has at the same time
discredited the whole theory of fixed constitu-
tions with their " eighteenth century system
of checks and balances . . . the legal, political
and philosophical charters called bills of right
by which our fathers sought to confine courts and
legislatures and sovereign peoples for all time
within the straight and narrow course of indi-
vidualist natural law/' If the restricted Zionist
policy of a " national home " is accepted without
afterthought by any section of Jewry, it is by
American Jews like Judge Brandeis who are
keenly impressed by the evils arising out of
European attempts to convert nationality from
a cultural conception into a political dogma.
And the strength of this American thought, like
the strength of Lincoln's speeches, lies in the fact
that its tone is not controversial but practical ;
it makes no frontal attack, like Lord Acton's,
on the theory of nationalism as repugnant to
the highest ideals of religion, morals or political
philosophy, but tends to counteract its ex-
aggerations by emphasising the more permanent
and everyday needs of human society. Indeed,


the doctrine of commonweath and union is not
far removed from Mazzini's own teaching,
balanced as that teaching was by a fervid idea
of patriotism and devotion to an organic
national society. What it does contradict is
the later glosses placed upon that teaching by
its uninspired disciples; the constant emphasis
on the rights of groups, the avowed selfishness
of Sinn Fein, the reasoning which has made the
idea of independence a general rule of society
instead of the last refuge of the oppressed.
It does, however, go further than either Mazzini's
national patriotism or the Prussian conception
of loyalty to an infallible State, and in the
advance it makes upon these lies its chief
significance for us at the present day.

Mazzini and Hegel were alike concerned
with the subordination of the individual to
the nation or the state. They only reinter-
preted the old Tory doctrine of loyalty and
patriotism and even their reinterpretation did
little more than revive the still older philosophy
of the Greek city state. Britain and America,
however, have for generations been absorbed
in the larger task of subordinating communities,
and even states and nations themselves, to the
commonweath and the union. They have
worked out the discovery that organised groups,
no less than individuals, can only realise full
freedom by restricting their own liberty of
action. The imperfect machinery of the repre-
sentative system, the distribution of powers
between local and central, state and federal
governments, are, whatever their historical


processes of growth, but so many formal limita-
tions on the self-determination of local com-
munities, many of which are themselves so
highly organised and possess such distinct and
important interests as apparently to justify
a claim to decide their own policy and to live
unto themselves alone. These limitations may
indeed often seem to operate at a given moment
against good sense and progress, but such
defects are accepted as the price paid for the
far greater benefits of continuity and union.
In any given constituency or municipality the
electoral machinery or the local administration
may go wrong, but it remains superior to the
loose freedom of a soviet ; even the bosses who
gain power by long training in the manipulation
of an intricate system of suffrage are sounder
guides than commissaries selected by hap-
hazard acclamation. Temperance legislation
may be difficult, but local option is only a
fraudulent short cut to it. Britain has not yet
applied to this problem the federal solution
by which the American union lives, but the
process in her case has been fundamentally the
same. This process has to be applied to-day
not only to local communities but to occupations
and class interests. Britain's success in dealing
with her industrial problem depends upon her
ability to handle it on these lines, avoiding
both the anarchy of self-determination by
direct action and the autocracy of State owner-

The strength of this British-American ten-
dency lies in the fact that it corresponds with


popular interests and inclinations. There is
no widespread desire among men to-day to
absorb themselves in the life of small com-
munities and to assert the rights of those
communities against outside interference. On
the contrary, their impulse is to find a wider
scope for their efforts and to look further afield
for the satisfaction of their needs. Nationalism
throughout Europe to-day is revealing itself,
as Southern particularism revealed itself in
Lincoln's day, as a camping ground on the march
towards imperialism. The fundamental differ-
ence between British and Polish or Italian
claims to territory at the Peace Conference was,
generally speaking, that, while they may have
been equally selfish, Britain rested her case on
her capacity for absorbing new communities
in the British Commonwealth to the mutual
benefit of all concerned, while Poland and
Italy insisted that the coveted lands were
theirs by inheritance and absolute right.
Britain, with all her ambition, can compromise
her claims and can combine imperialism with
toleration. But nationalism, recognising only
one kind of citizenship, has only one way of
proving a claim to expansion. Its claims thus
become irreducible irredenta and its actual
expansion tends to uniformity and subjugation.
Britain and America alone can offer to smaller
communities membership in place of absorption,
for the limitations and restrictions which their
sovereignty imposes on Samoa or Hayti are in
their essence the same as those by which alone
Wales or Virginia is able to realise its freedom


and express its will in a wider commonwealth
and union.

But, to complete the doctrine, one thing
must be added. The wider community by
which group liberties are restricted in order that
they may be reconciled and realised, must be an
organic society. In it all smaller groups must
be really conscious of a common life and therefore
of a common allegiance. It must not only be
a community but a communion. No haphazard
agglomeration of people, no artificial league
of governments, can thus take precedence of
the individual and the group. The standard
by which commonwealth and union must be
measured is not less than that proposed by the
thinkers of the Greek city state that really
and actually, in it and through it, its members,
individual and corporate, can realise the " good
life " as they cannot do in any smaller group or
looser association. Only, on the other hand,
we must be on our guard in this matter against
superstition or sentimentalism. The common
life must not be a mere " social myth " as it
tends to be in nationalist theory. It does not
spring automatically into being out of the mere
fact of a common race or even of a common
history and culture. If it did so politics would
become an endless clash of conflicting claims.
Any man might at any moment propose some
other theory of the law of its birth, asserting,
for instance, as many loose thinkers have as-
serted, that the common humanity of mankind
is its true source. Any group might at any
moment break away from one state in the belief


that it might find a nearer affinity in another,
It is no such metaphysical abstraction as this.
It is a thing painfully and slowly attained by
experiment and practice. A fusion of wills
is the product of actual self-sacrifice in work
undertaken for the common benefit. The final
argument against secession is this, not that
it involves the severance of a group from some
body to which it naturally belongs and on
which its health depends, but that it cuts the
thread of continuous effort by which alone
men can discipline themselves to liberty and
amounts, moreover, to a denial of man's prac-
tical duty to his neighbour an assertion that
he is actually justified in living unto himself

This doctrine applied to the League of
Nations clearly rules out first of all any en-
croachment upon the sovereignty of its members.
The claim of the State against any group of its
citizens is a claim also against any outside

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Online LibraryEustace Percy Percy of NewcastleThe responsibilites of the League → online text (page 16 of 20)