Eustace Percy Percy of Newcastle.

The responsibilites of the League online

. (page 19 of 20)
Online LibraryEustace Percy Percy of NewcastleThe responsibilites of the League → online text (page 19 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the general mass of mankind, who have tasted
only its bitter fruits in the ruin and miseries of
war. To the former the imperfections and
errors of the peace are seen as part of that
fruit itself, born, no less than the war, of the
impoverished thought and perverted action of
nineteenth century Europe ; while the League
of Nations appears as the first essential step
towards correcting some of these accrued evils,
repairing some of the ruin they have caused,
holding together the changed and weakened
members of the family of nations in some
degree of mutual understanding and tranquillity,


and regularising the methods by which they
transact their necessary business with each
other. To the latter, long buoyed up in their
sufferings by the idea of " a war to end war/'
the peace appears merely as the betrayal of a
trust, the League as the child of timidity and
lack of imagination. The League is, indeed,
strongest on its humdrum practical side ;
weakest as an agent for fundamental reform.
Given peace, even such an imperfect peace as
has now been established, we have here the
means of organising it and making it efficient,
and thereby we may certainly remove many of
the commonest incentives to war ; but the
peace we now enjoy was not attained by this
means, but by war and victory, and we have
not found in the League the germ of any new
principle or any new authority that can change
its nature or convert it into a reign of accepted

Indeed, the sword that has won peace, so far
from being turned into a ploughshare, is con-
secrated anew by the League in its service.
This essay has not dealt with the provisions
of the Covenant for the enforcement of peace,
except incidentally ; but while they are far
from being the essence of the League, they are
in the last resort the unmistakable mark of
its character. It is not merely that the Covenant
does not pretend to avert " private war " in
every instance. Its moderation in this respect
may very possibly prove more apparent than
real, for the history of the last few years shows
clearly the increasing difficulty of isolating war,


and the consequent reluctance of nations to resort
to it save in the cause, either of national exist-
ence, or of ambitions so universal as to justify the
supreme gamble of a world conflict. There is
good reason to anticipate that the League will
be successful in averting minor explosions,
and that any general upheaval will take the
form, not of a " private war " conducted out-
side the obligations of the League, but
of a deliberate breach of the Covenant by
a section of its members. But it is the sanc-
tion of force given by the Covenant to the
authority of the League itself which marks its
real character. The sword, whether of com-
mercial blockade and boycott or of actual
armament, is recognised as the ultimate guaran-
tor of our peace, and to any individual state
that means, not a diminution, but an increase
of its possible liabilities. Britain has added
Bohemia, Poland and China to Belgium as
nations for whose integrity her people must
in the last resort face the perils and sufferings
of war. And this liability is not merely the
counterpart of that which, in every civilised
country, falls on each citizen as towards his
state. Force may be the first foundation of
the state and its last recourse, but the structure
of a more enduring union has been built upon
that foundation, enforced service has passed
into voluntary allegiance, and law has become
tempered into the habit of a common life. It
is at this point that the League breaks down*
We have found in it none of the deep alchemy
of union, for it h?ts rather been called into being


as an essential business link by nations whose
individuality is being ever intensified by the
acquisition of new corporate powers and the
socialisation of all the activities of their citi-
zens. The liabilities of the Covenant are the
signs, not of social union, but of continued

Those who, like the writer, regard the League
as the creation of a high order of statesmanship
and the way to many much needed reforms,
have a special duty to measure the distance
between it and the passionate hopes that had
centred round the Congress of Christendom at
Paris hopes nursed in the mud of the trenches,
by tireless hearths, through winters of threatened
famine and the piled agony of succeeding
summers. ' It must never happen again"
''once for all ""this must be the last time "
it was to meet resolves such as these that the
idea of the League was conceived and preached.
There was to be a regeneration of the whole
political world, a change which should extend
from the simplest citizen to the whole machinery
of government. The League as accomplished
is no answer to these hopes, and those, and they
are many, who still offer it as such, who still
attribute its defects to the folly of statesmen
and still tender their own amendments or
substitutes in full satisfaction of popular claims,
are either blind to its inevitable limitations or
too dull to perceive the true nature of the
idealism they profess to share. Their teaching
usually springs from what can only be called
afl idolatry of internationalism, and such


idolatry can have but one result. We have
already indicated why we believe the League to
be infinitely superior to the more alluring idea of
a universal state reached through international
revolution the grounds on which, indeed, we
regard the one as definitely right and the other
as definitely wrong. But if the aim of a just
and enduring peace, secure for all time, can be
attained by any internationalisation of the
powers and authority now possessed by national
states, then the international revolution is
assuredly the only bold and honest policy. If we
do not believe that men's political allegiance is
due to the state, to commonwealth and union, to
the exclusion both of sectional rights and am-
bitions of wider activity, then let us seek in the
revolutionary self-determination of groups the
way to the universal state. If the sword can win
peace for all humanity, let us not only combine
the swords of the nations in one League, but let
us rather take them from the hands of the
nations and give them into the keeping of one
general authority, to be wielded no longer in
the making of war but in the administration
of universal justice.

In truth, however, this idolatry of internation-
alism falls wider of the mark than does our
modest and practical League. It affronts the
very core of the sentiment it seeks to satisfy,
for it jars the harmony between peace and
patriotism, humanity and home, which made
that sentiment a bond of union and gave it its
sustaining power. The passionate sense of the
beauty of England and the value of English


life was not merely felt by a few soldier-poets
of the public schools and universities, nor even
shared with them only by men of the same class
and education ; it was perhaps strongest among
the least articulate and among those who had
enjoyed the least part in their country's heritage.
" It must never happen again " did not stand
alone in the mind of the men or women of any
nation ; it was filled out by the words " to
England," " to France." It was indeed an
" England " and a " France " very remote from
the politics of parliaments and the regulations
of executive departments, tinged pretty deeply
in fact with dislike and distrust of them ; but
on the other hand it was, especially to the
dweller in towns, something infinitely more
than a locality, a Grant Chester or a " Gloucester
lane." Its memories and meaning centred in a
state of society in reality inseparable from the
frame of laws within which it had grown up, and
sharply distinguished from other influences and
institutions, however good, recognised as alien
and uncongenial to it. Distrust of government,
impatience with its methods, disbelief in its
efficiency all these feelings, instinctive to most
Englishmen, confirmed by the hardships of
war and expressed in every variety of tone,
from grumbling banter of " brass-hats " to
cursing of politicians and defacement of ballot
papers, apply with triple intensity to any kind
of foreign authority. Contempt for politics
might lead such men for a moment into " direct
action," but when they realised what such action
had destroyed and what it was designed to


create, they would assuredly turn and rend their

The real strength of the idea of the social
revolution, however, is one that it shares with
ultra-nationalism and militarism. War dis-
credits compromise and the League, if not
entirely a compromise, is at least that first cousin
to it, a practical expedient, valid only over a
restricted field. It is easier to exaggerate its
possibilities than to explain its justification in
principle. If honestly put in its true light
public opinion, w r hen it fully understands its
nature, may well tend to split on either side
of it. If the harmony spoken of above cannot
be expressed in action, better either a return to
a system of national alliances or a bolder bid
for a new world either Roosevelt or Lenin.

There is an historical answer to this dilemma.
It is one which, after many years of oblivion,
men were already before the war beginning to
remember and investigate as a half-forgotten
theory. The war, with its rejection of compro-
mise, has perhaps tended to focus it more clearly.
Remote as it has long been from the calculations
of politics, it can no longer be ignored at this
hour when politics itself is on its trial before
the tribunal of human desires, disappointed by
failure and sharpened by suffering. And there
is a special reason why any study of the League,
such as has been attempted in these pages, must
conclude with a consideration of it. During
recent months there have been no stronger
supporters of the Covenant, in Britain and
America at any rate, than the clergy of the


Christian Church, and many who are not them-
selves members of that Church have enforced
their advocacy of the League by appeals to
Christian teaching and Christian morality. It
is, indeed, from this quarter that many of the
most extravagant conceptions of the League's
functions and possibilities have been derived
and fostered. But history indicates that the
Church claims to have its own answer to such
expectations an answer on which much of the
structure of Western civilisation is founded.
Is that answer to be left in abeyance or aban-
doned in favour of hopes which, as we have seen,
if they lead anywhere, lead, aside from and
beyond the League, to social revolution and the
international state ?

During the nineteenth century the conscious-
ness that the Church, in so many ways the centre
and moulding influence of European society from
the dark ages to our own days, claimed to
represent, not only an ideal towards which it
spurred men's efforts, but a definite law of
corporate human development, faded more and
more into oblivion. The shock of the French
Revolution and the social earthquakes that
succeeded it concentrated men's minds on the
task of saving society from immediate evils
and dangers, and the attention of the Church
swung in the same direction. Protestant Eng-
land and Catholic France shared this tendency,
especially during the years immediately pre-
ceding the revolutions of 1848, when Chartism
was giving birth to Christian Socialism and the
Gallican revival, under Lacordaire and his


associates, was striving vainly to cope with the
volcano of destruction which was to break loose
at last on Paris in the " days of July/' The
attitude of Kingsley's Scotsman, " I will hear the
parsons anent God when they hear me anent
God's people/' was spreading through all classes
and all sections of the Church, and Ruskin set
the standard for a whole generation in his appeal
to " modern Christian religion " to " give up its
carburetted hydrogen ghost in one healthy
expiration and look after Lazarus on the

There was in this a very real religious revival,
and its extravagances, such as they were, were
a necessary reaction from respectability, from
a Church too closely identified with the rich
and ruling classes. As such, it had its counter-
part in more than one earlier movement,
notably on the eve and during the early period
of the Reformation. There was then the same
violent reaction against the " preachers " who
bade " poor folk in great number to pay all with
patience that their landlords demand, for they, for
their sufferance in such oppression, are promised
reward in the resurrection " ; the same warning
in Latimer's sermon before the King, f>( you
have for your possessions yearly too much " ; the
same protest from the Scots poet-clerk, " your
profit daily does increase, your godly works less
and less." But the movement in our own days
went much further, at least in Britain and the
United States where, in this sphere also, aloof-
ness from the currents of European thought and
history made room for compromises hardly


conceivable in continental countries. While
France plunged deeper and deeper into the
fight against clericalism, radical thought in
Britain and America extended a friendly
patronage to the Church as an important agent
of social welfare. The United States came into
the movement rather later and, so far as its
non-Catholic population was concerned, carried
it to much greater extremes. A few random
quotations from American books and periodicals
immediately before the war may serve to illus-
trate how completely the reformers had come
to regard the Church solely from the point of
view of a potential political auxiliary.

" The spiritual force of Christianity should be
turned against the materialism and mammonism
of our industrial and social order/'

" The preacher's function is to touch the
heart and imagination, and most of all to
inspire conscience with zeal for that service
which consists mainly in promoting social

" The whole industrial situation is veiled in
a mysterious darkness. We have little means
of knowing the real proportion or disproportion
between dividend and wage, between selfishness
and human sacrifice. It is time for the Church
to say to the State in the name of her Master,
' There is nothing covered that shall not be
revealed and nothing hidden that shall not be
made manifest/ '

Now, the earlier movement of the pre-Reform-
ation period had a rather remarkable result,
already touched upon in a previous chapter.


Notwithstanding the zeal for the poor showed
by some Anglican reformers like Latimer, the
Reformation was in a certain aspect a reaction
from such preoccupations. It did not indeed
deny their justice, but it left them on one side.
The bettering of the condition of the poor,
though a nobler aim than the defence of the
rich, was felt to be itself only the obverse side
of the worldliness which had overtaken Roman
Christianity ; it was a sound policy for a Church
laying claim to temporal rule, but the very fact
that it was necessary to urge it forced the merits
of that claim into the forefront of men's minds.
By the eye of faith the Church was seen as an
organism of almost unimaginable power, drawn
from the very well-springs of eternal life ; in
actual fact and experience its strength was
immense ; if a civilisation so largely its own
creation, and so completely dominated by it,
exhibited such appalling and deep-rooted evils,
was it not a sign that its spiritual sources must
have become tainted by other streams ? In the
course of inquiry stimulated by these con-
siderations, the Reformation turned aside, to a
very real extent, from preoccupations of social
betterment and, down to the later nineteenth
century, Roman Christianity remained in many
ways more closely identified with the life of the
poor than Lutheran or Anglican Protestantism.
There were signs of a similar reaction just
before the war, and it found expression in
quarters where, perhaps, it might have been
least expected. In IQI3 a young American
writer, observing the Church from the outside,


merely as an interesting social phenomenon,
remarked the gulf which seemed to separate
its origins and constitution from its present
activity. " To-day," he wrote, " traditional
Christianity has weakened in the face of man's
interest in the conquest of the world. The
liberal and advanced Churches recognise this
fact by exhibiting a great preoccupation with
everyday affairs. Now, they may be doing
important service I have no wish to deny that
but when the Christian Churches turn to
civics, to reformism or socialism, they are in fact
announcing that the Christian dream is dead.
They may continue to practise some of its moral
teachings and hold to some of its creed, but the
Christian impulse is for them no longer active."
As, amid the doubtful struggles of politics,
men began to feel a dawning dissatisfaction with
their progress in the " conquest of the world/'
this recollection that, historically, the Church
represented something more than a stimulus
to philanthrophy or a standard of " social
justice " became more general and the
war has done much to spread it even more

Indeed, if there is one respect in which the
press and public debate has, more than in any
other, misrepresented the feelings of the mass
of the younger generation, which has borne
the brunt of actual fighting, it is in the demands
made on the Church to lead \var propaganda
and preach allied war aims as a crusade. And
those others, moderates or outright pacifists,
who have, on the contrary, appealed to the


Church to subject the war policy of govern-
ments to moral criticism, have been equally
unrepresentative. Any chaplain at the front
knows that men did not expect from him either a
crusade against the enemy or a crusade against
the government. With the return of the armies
to civil life, amid the accumulating doubts and
fears of reconstruction, when the sufferings of
war are being sharpened by the disappointments
of peace, the experience of the chaplain is likely
to be increasingly that of the Church as a whole.
Contentment with compromise has yielded to a
very real spirit of inquiry, and that spirit,
directed upon the Church no less than upon
the alternative theories of the state and the
social revolution, pierces behind that easy
quotation, the current coin of inaugural addresses
at The Hague before the war and of well-meaning
advocates of the League to-day, " peace on
earth and good-will towards men." There was
peace on earth already when those words were
spoken the pax Romana of organised politi-
cal power. Is this the goal of the Church or
does it offer a definite alternative to Caesar ?

This essay has been concerned throughout
with political reasoning and history, but no
keen inquirer, approaching this question from
these standpoints alone, can have any doubt
as to the answer. Even if he is content with
Gibbon's ingenious doctrine of concurrent causes,
he may find in it an explanation of the rise
of Christianity, but not of its persistence. He
will, indeed, Yind that the Church has often
used the weapons of Caesarism at their worst ;


he may even agree with Carducci's invective
that it " has made a desert and called it the
reign of God," or with Dostoieff ski's protrait
of the Grand Inquisitor ; but he cannot fail
to see that those weapons were used to further
a conception of human destiny, remote alike
from the ambitions of tyranny and the dreams
of democracy. The whole of European history
is incomprehensible if we leave this conception
out of account as a factor in its development.
Without it Europe could have had neither the
theocracy of the Middle Ages nor the revolt
from it in the Reformation ; and not only the
divine right of kings but the divine claims of
nationality would have taken a very different
form. To the continental mind, however scep-
tical or hostile, this is obvious obvious alike
to the Belgian freethinker confronted with Car-
dinal Mercier and to the Czech politician who
meditates a new concordat with Rome. For in
Europe a united and self-organised Church is still
a ubiquitous power, a formidable factor in the
political life of every state, and reason, which
might find a dozen ready explanations of the
existence of state churches or of scattered and
ephemeral sects, is forced to seek a more
potent motive to account for such continuity of
existence and concentration of strength. But
the English mind, confronted to-day with the
reassertion by the Anglican Church of its
independence from the State, the American
mind disturbed by the rapid growth of the
Roman Church in the United States, and the
Protestant mind as a whole, influenced by the


revived ideas of catholicity and reunion, must
now be impressed by much the same considera-
tions. We have here clearly no code of morality
at the service of government, no mere
sectarian fashions in doctrine, but a corporate
consciousness persisting from century to cen-
tury and based on some universal conception
of corporate life and growth. The existence of
such a conception once deduced, the spirit of
inquiry prompts a narrower investigation into
its nature.

The same course of reasoning may carry the
investigator a little further. This conception
must be something more than what is known
as the " saving of souls/' The Jesuit missionary
among the Hurons might risk his life to " turn
little Indians into little angels/' to quote the
words of one of them, by surreptitious baptism
of dying infants ; he might be satisfied to win
a convert at the torture-stake by the promise
of the " French heaven" ; but, both as a matter
of reasonable deduction and of historical fact,
it was no such restricted policy that had created
the tremendous organisation of his Order and
inspired its Generals, or that gave to the New
France of the seventeenth century the character
that endures in the province of Quebec to-day.
In our own times, the colonial administrator in
Africa knows from experience that missionary
teaching, even when deliberately confined to the
plainest moralities and the simplest hopes of
heaven, is inseparable, in the mind of the native
learner, from ideas of corporate life and
effort which distinguish it sharply from


Mohammedan proselytism and, in some cases,
still more sharply from the official view of the
proper relations between Western civilisation
and backward races. Much the same facts
had long been familiar to students of conditions
in Asiatic Turkey before the war. In the same
way, other explanations of Christian philosophy
fail, on examination, to fit the facts. It is,
above all, no mere " rich source of ideology "
on which, as another American writer has
recently put it, men may draw " to effect a
redeeming transformation in a real world/*
to deliver them " from choice between unre-
deemed capitalism and revolutionary socialism.
Put in the simplest terms, in the terms of the
ordinary man or woman to-day, it seems clear
that the Church must have something more
definite and distinctive to go on, something
that lurks, for the most part, in the background
of its worship and its work, and the question
what this is comes more and more to occupy
the thoughts of many who are the least able
to put them into words.

At this point all methods of deduction and
comparison fail. The investigator has, indeed,
at his disposal the whole literature of Christian
apology, but he is easily lost in its mazes ; he
knows of no one recognised summary of
Christian teaching, for the authority of Rome
and the learning of the modern critics combine
to warn him off the Bible. If he, the man in the
street and at most a moderate church-goer,
ever hears any comprehensive exposition of the
Church's claims, it is in the doubtful heat of


debate, as an argument against the diversion
of Anglican endowments to secular education
or against the establishment of ' societes
cultuelles " in France. If, as is most likely in
England at this moment, he turns to the
freshest and warmest expressions of Christian

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 19

Online LibraryEustace Percy Percy of NewcastleThe responsibilites of the League → online text (page 19 of 20)