Year XXXI, 1989, Number 2, Page 159

 

 

JOHN ROBERT SEELEY
 
 
“Few political historians have more felicitously carried out the avowed purpose of combining a lucid and connected narrative of a period of the past with a statement of conclusions bearing directly upon political problems of the present”. This judgement of Sir A.W. Ward[1] establishes the general nature of Sir John Robert Seeley’s contribution in the most precise terms.[2] Of liberal culture and inspired with strong civil commitment, Seeley was persuaded that “it is impossible that the history of any states can be interesting unless it exhibits some sort of development”,[3] and that “no one can long study history without being haunted by the idea of development, of progress”.[4] What is being discussed is not so much the practical problem of how to capture the reader’s interest more effectively or how to keep the historian’s active, but rather the theoretical problem of defining the nature of historical research.
It is evident, in fact, that this statement does not merely involve rejecting the so-called “histoire événementielle”, or certain extravagances of positivist historiography which tends to reduce the historian to the rank of a meticulous document collector and to consider any attempt to attribute a meaning to events as arbitrary. It also involves the persuasion that if historiography, on the one hand, must obviously use a scientific method of research, on the other hand it is not ethically and politically neutral in the choice of its object (which depends on the position and set of values the historian assumes towards the world) in the choice of events (the criterion of “importance” implies a value judgement) and in attributing a meaning to them (in other words, in their interpretation, which is necessarily linked to the “result”, the definition of which belongs to the field of philosophy of history). Seeley’s opinion, actually, was not different. His most serious work starts significantly with this statement: “It is a favourite maxim of mine that history, while it should be scientific in its method, should pursue a practical object. Thatis, it should not merely gratify the reader’s curiosity about the past, but modify his view of the present and his forecast of the future”.[5]
It is therefore on the basis of these opinions that the boundaries between history and politics vanish in Seeley’s theory.” The ultimate object of all my teaching here”, he writes in lapidary style, “is to establish this fundamental connexion, to show that politics and history are only different aspects of the same study. There is a vulgar view of politics which sinks then into a mere struggle of interests and parties, and there is a foppish kind of history which aims only at literary display, which produces delightful books hovering between poetry and prose. These perversions, according to me, come from an unnatural divorce between two subjects which belong to each other. Politics are vulgar when they are not liberalized by history, and history fades into mere literature when it loses sight of its relation to practical politics.”[6] In the presence of such assertions, it is only natural that suspicion will be aroused in anyone who remembers the historical falsifications produced by Nazi-fascism and more generally by Nationalism (not to mention the more recent ones of Stalinism). This suspicion is justified. But awareness of the aberrations to which subordinating history to politics has led — and continues to lead — does not eliminate the links uniting them. Seeley was deeply convinced of this: “If once we grant that historic truth is attainable, and attainable it is, then there can be no further dispute about its supreme importance. It deals with facts of the largest and most momentous kind, with the causes of the decay and growth of Empires, with war and peace, with the sufferings or happiness of millions. It is by this consideration that I merge history in politics. I tell you that when you study English history you study not the past of England only, but her future.”[7] If this is how things are, the real problem which has to be faced by any historian who does not hide his own political responsibility from himself, and indeed knows he cannot set aside his own viewpoint, is simply the purely ethical one of honesty; and its solution lies simply in declaring without any pretence what side one is on. Seeley did just that.
 
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Like many British Liberals of his time, and equally unknown from this point of view, Seeley was a federalist.[8] A great federalist. The essay “The United States of Europe”, whose text, published here in its unabridged version, reproduces in writing a lecture given in 1871 to the members of the Peace Society, can rightly be considered among the most lucid contributions to federalist literature. The reader who is patient enough to look through it may agree that when Beveridge presented Lord Lothian’s Pacifism is not enough calling it — for indisputable reasons — the lecture “better worth reading than almost anything else that has been said about international problems”,[9] perhaps he did not know about this essay of Seeley’s.
I do not wish to deprive the reader of the pleasure of discovering the clarity of reasoning in this essay for himself, or richness of its argumentation, its extraordinary perspicacity in singling out problems and pointing out those solutions found with great effort by some federalists during their long struggle in the postwar period. I would merely like to underline the key concepts that make up the structure of this essay and which are extraordinarily up-to-date in relation to the struggle led by federalists today, both in Europe and the rest of the world.
As in Lothian’s essay, here too — and it is a lesson that federalist militants should never forget — the most lashing controversy, although conducted in the moderate language of a scholar and with typically British courtesy, is directed towards pacifists: “You cannot think, when you look at the state of Europe, that your cause is making much way… I think you must yourselves admit that, whether it be defensible or not, war will not be abolished until some other method of settling quarrels has been introduced”. War in fact has a rationality of its own, because it always represents an instrument to remedy international injustice. Therefore it is useless to exorcize it. Instead, an alternative system must be identified, proposed and affirmed to achieve the same result. And there truly exists an alternative system to remedy international injustice which avoids resorting to the barbarous instrument of war. This is the federal system, the only one capable of achieving peace, as every other expedient which does not subordinate states to a supra-national power belongs to the system of absolute sovereignty, that is to the system of international anarchy or, to express it through an image, to the world of war. Seeley reminds pacifists, those beautiful souls who fight the hard facts of violence with nice words, that in diplomatic conferences, when an agreement is reached to avoid war, the settlement is an adjustment “of forces, not of rights”; that it is not enough to invoke international arbitration and the foundation of a court delegated to administer it because “a state is implied in a law-court, and, as a necessary consequence,… an international law-court implies an international or federal state”; that to achieve peace it is not enough to establish a simple league of states like the American Confederation or the German Bund, but it is necessary to create “a federation with a complete apparatus of powers, legislative, executive and judicial, and raised above all dependence upon the state governments”; that the indispensable condition for this independence is that “the power of levying troops be assigned to the federation only, and be absolutely denied to the individual states”.
One might remark that, except for the effective polemic against the pacifists, these concepts, illustrated in the first part of the essay, are already present for the most part in the Federalist Papers. The remark would not be groundless. However, it would not undermine the feeling of admiring surprise aroused by Seeley’s meditation because of its lively awareness of the supreme value of peace and the incomparable importance of the lesson of American federalism concerning it. And this in spite the European political culture of his time — all of it without exception: from Liberal to Democratic to Socialist — was debating which form of regime to set up within the existing states, considered the nation-state a natural, and therefore unchanging, framework of political struggle and considered peace a spontaneous by-product of the internal régime.
What is wholly original in Seeley’s analysis emerges in the second part of his essay. It is not enough to merely point out the suitable institutional solution to attain peace. In the first place, peace is becoming the supreme value. This is true not only because of the increasingly destructive nature of modern warfare, but also because the national principle is destined increasingly to poison international relations. “Wars, Seeley remarks, seem growing more frightful and more gigantic; the more victories the nationality principle wins, the nearer we seem to approach a period of energetic popular states waging war upon each other with the unrelieved fierceness of national antipathy”. Really, “half a century ago it might have been thought that war was merely the guilty game of kings and aristocracies, and that the introduction of popular government would make it obsolete: but I think we have seen enough to convince us that peoples can quarrel as well as kings; that scarcely any cause of war which operated in monarchical Europe will cease to operate in the popular Europe of the future; and that the wars of the peoples will be far more gigantic, more wasteful of blood and suffering, than ever were the wars of the kings.” And his historian’s eye that studies the past “to be wise before the event”,[10] looks so far as to see what a hegemonic attempt by Germany could mean for Europe: “The history of the last two centuries shows that the combined force of all the European states is not always clearly superior to the force of one. Louis XIV and Napoleon were humbled with the greatest possible difficulty, and we begin to doubt at the present day whether Europe could effectively resist united Germany, if Germany should enter upon a path of ambition.”
Therefore the Europeans must unite into a federation which “must have a constitution, as well as the states that compose it”. A difficult, but not impossible objective. First of all, as “the federation wanted is not merely an arrangement between governments, but a real union of peoples”, “it can never be attained by mere diplomatic methods, or by the mere action of governments, but only by a universal popular, movement”. And this movement, to be “created in each European state” will have to become “large enough in the end to impose the measure upon governments that would in many cases be from instinctive interest bitterly hostile to it”. This ambitious strategic objective is not utopian either. In fact ,”it is a mere misconception to judge of the possibility of a work merely by considering the weight to be moved; what has to be considered is the proportion between the weight and the power”. And in evaluating the possible consistency of this force one must consider the increasingly widespread awareness of the atrocity of war, of the universal values of culture, religious feelings, of oppressed peoples’ hopes.
The latter consideration regards the historical significance of the European federation. Unfortunately the American federation has not left any lasting mark on the course of history. “If the Americans have achieved what is here proposed for Europe, they did so in circumstances infinitely more favourable”; so much that “it may be said that the federation was given to them by Providence”. There would be an altogether different meaning in yoking “together indissolubly so many rival races and rival states and rival religions, the Englishman and the Frenchman, the German and the Slav, the German and Italian”. Although this might seem irreverent towards the fathers of the American federation, it is a fact that the European federation would represent the first grand construction on the road towards peace because it would arise “like a majestic temple over the tomb of war”.
 
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Because he adopted this point of view, Seeley was able to give an exceptionally valuable historiographic contribution. A brief account is sufficient.
Seeley had taken up from Leopold von Ranke the Hegelian principle that “history has to do with the state, that it investigates the growth and changes of a certain corporate society, which acts through certain functionaries and certain assemblies… history is not concerned with individuals”;[11] and he had also taken from Ranke the principle that not the state but the political system is the framework of the historical process. Ranke’ s analysis concerning this is, however, reductively Eurocentric, although not in the same sense as certain forms of contemporary historiography and cultural anthropology which, having affirmed the indifference of civilizations, deny the very concept of historical process. It is so because his disregard of historical phenomena outside Europe and its political system had prevented him from fully understanding the very historical process that he intended to understand and describe, a historical process fully revealed in Europe but which already had a worldwide dimension.
Seeley in fact observed that the struggles of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries “are treated by historians of the Balance of Power from a point of view much too exclusively European. This strikes me particularly in the picture they give of the career of Napoleon. They see in him simply a ruler who had the ambition to undertake the conquest of all Europe and who had the genius almost to succeed… He intended to make great conquests, and he made great conquests, but the conquests he made were not those he intended to make… His ambition was all directed towards the New World. He is the Titan whose dream it is to restore that Greater France which had fallen in the struggles of the eighteenth century, and to overthrow that Greater Britain which had been established on its ruins.”[12] And again: “Historians of those centuries have kept in view mainly two or perhaps three great movements, first, the Reformation and its consequences, secondly, the constitutional movements in each country leading to liberty in England and to revolution through despotism in France. They have also considered the great Ascendancies which from time to time have arisen in Europe, that of the House of Austria, that of the House of Bourbon, and again that of Napoleon. These great movements have been, as it were, the framework in which they have fitted all particular incidents. The framework is insufficient and too exclusively European. It furnishes no place for a multitude of most important occurrences, and the movement which it overlooks is perhaps greater and certainly more continuous and durable than any of those which it recognizes.
Each view of Europe separately is true. Europe is a great Church and Empire breaking up into distinct kingdoms and national or voluntary Churches, as those say who fix their eyes on the Reformation; it is a group of monarchies in which popular freedom has been gradually developing itself, as the constitutional lawyer says; it is a group of states which balance themselves uneasily against each other, liable therefore to be thrown off its equilibrium by the preponderance of one of them, as the international lawyer says. But all these accounts are incomplete and leave almost half the facts unexplained. We must add. ‘It is a group of states, of which the five westernmost have been acted upon by a steadfast gravitation towards the New World and have dragged in their train great New World Empires’.”[13] This is proved by the fact that “the hidden cause which made Ministers rise and fall, which convulsed Europe and led it into war and revolution was, far more than might be supposed, the standing rivalry of interests in the New World”.[14]
In this perspective a new vision of European events becomes possible for Seeley in the modern era: “In the history of the relation of the New World to the Old the three centuries, the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth, have each their marked character. The sixteenth century may be called the Spain-and-Portugal period. As yet the New World is monopolized by the two nations which discovered it, by the country of Vasco da Gama and the adopted country of Columbus, until late in the century Spain and Portugal become one state in the hands of Philip II. In the seventeenth century the other three states, France, Holland and England, enter the colonial field. The Dutch take the lead. In the course of their war with Spain they get possession of most of the Portuguese possessions, which have now become Spanish, in the East Indies; they even succeed for a time in annexing Brazil. France and England soon after establish their colonies in North America… During the course of this century a certain change takes place in the relative colonial importance of the five states. Portugal declines; so later does Holland. Spain remains in a condition of immobility; her vast possessions are not lost, but additions are no longer made to them, and they remain secluded, like China itself, from intercourse with the rest of the world. England and France have both decidedly advanced; Colbert has placed France in the first rank of commercial countries, and she has explored the Mississippi. But the English colonies have decidedly the advantage in population. And thus it is that the eighteenth century witnesses the great duet of France and England for the New World,”[15] a duel defined by Seeley as “the second Hundred Years’ War” starting with the 1688 Revolution.[16] It follows that von Ranke’s judgement of Napoleon, who according to him had exclusively a hegemonic European plan, is limited and for this reason incorrect. Napoleon “sees in England never the island, the European state, but always the World-Empire” and “accordingly he decides and convinces the Directory that the best way to carry on the contest with England is by occupying Egypt, and at the same time by stirring up Tippoo Sultan to war with the Calcutta government”.[17]
Together with the conflict of power between states, Seeley identified a fundamental factor of change in the development of science and technology. Thus trade, which already at the beginning of the 16th century began to spread worldwide, appeared to him as “a vast historic cause” which “had gradually the effect of bringing to an end the old medieval structure of society and introducing the industrial ages”.[18] But the development of science and technology is not only a fundamental factor of social change, it also marked the fate of political communities: “…the same inventions which make vast political unions possible tend to make states which are on the old scale of magnitude unsafe, insignificant, second-rate”.[19] This marvellous opening over the wide spaces of the world scene, which ever since the very beginning of the modern era have represented the actual framework of the historical process, in other words the framework of the development of productive forces and of the power conflict between states, allowed Seeley to predict something which, formulated as far back as 1883, seems simply wonderful: “If the United States and Russia hold together for another half century, they will at the end of that time completely dwarf such old European states such as France and Germany and depress them into a second class. They will do the same to England”.[20] “Russia and the United States will surpass in power the states now called great as much as the great country-states of the sixteenth century surpassed Florence”.[21]
Let us stop here. But not without having expressed one last consideration. It is well-known that it was Seeley himself who opened new horizons for Ludwig Dehio, not only because many of the crucial opinions mentioned above can be found in his Gleichgewicht oder Hegemonie,[22] but also, and above all, because it was in actual fact Seeley’ s analysis that allowed him to go beyond that limit of Ranke’s research that the English historian had so clearly identified and, as Seeley was able to interpret in completely new terms Napoleon’s grand design, thus Dehio was able to place William II and Hitler in the right historical perspective, that of the dawning of the world system of states and of the end of the European. system of states. In these two great historians, so closely linked, federalists can find precious elements to reflect on the past with new categories and from a new standpoint. “Renewal of the historical outlook is one of the great tasks of the present hour”,[23] said Dehio. And he was right; because, given the links between history and politics established by Seeley, renewing the framework to think over the past is the same thing as renewing the framework to think of the future.
 
 
 
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UNITED STATES OF EUROPE*
 
Gentlemen, — But for the request which you made to me I should not have undertaken to treat this subject. I do not profess to be able to treat it with the fullness and precision it requires, but I cannot refuse to communicate such views as I have at a time when every hint may be valuable, and when a society such as this, prepared and specially organized to avail itself of every hint, asks for my advice.
That war ought, if possible, to be abolished, you are convinced already; and as I am convinced of it too, we might take this point for granted. But I should like very briefly to answer one or two arguments by which many people persuade themselves that war is, if not a good thing, yet a thing which has so much good in it that, considering the immense difficulty of abolishing it, it may on the whole be allowed to continue; or that war is so deeply rooted in human nature, and so closely entangled with what is best in human nature, that the abolition of it would involve the remaking of man, and possibly upon a less noble type. It is very common, in the first place, to hear people say that war is but the natural expression of malignant passions, and therefore that you cannot abolish it except by eradicating those passions first. We must begin, people say, at the root.
 
“This huckster put down war! can he tell
Whether war be a cause or a consequence?
Put down the passions that make earth hell;
Down with ambition, avarice, pride;
Jealousy, down! cut off from the mind
The bitter springs of anger and fear;
Down too, down at your own fireside
With the evil tongue and the evil ear,
For each is at war with mankind.”
 
The poetry is good, but I cannot admit the reasoning. Is it impossible, then, to check or prevent bad actions except by eradicating the bad passions from which they spring? If so, civil society itself is based upon a mistake, for civil society has for its principal object the prevention of private war, and it does not proceed by this method. If war between individuals, between townships, between counties, can be prevented without eradicating the passions from which it springs, why not in nations? Yet war between individuals has been abolished. Nay, it is easy to point out instances in which war has been permanently abolished between particular nations. England and Scotland fought like cat and dog for centuries, and now they are bound together in an indissoluble concord. Here is a great political achievement. Here we have a triumph of that kind of skill which contrives the happiness of societies. And by what means was this secular feud healed? Was it by first eradicating out of the minds of Englishmen and Scotchmen their mutual dislike? No, but the political and material union came first. The sense of a common interest created a common government, by creating the habit of social intercourse, gradually obliterated hostile feelings. The mutual hatred was eradicated out of the hearts of the two nations, but this, instead of being the preliminary condition of union, was the last result of it. When we hear it said that Englishmen and Frenchmen, or Frenchmen and Germans, will not for hundreds of years lose their antipathies sufficiently to be united, let us remember the case of England and Scotland, and reply, But they may be united sufficiently to lose their antipathies.
Another argument is, that war, with all its horrors, has something grandly beneficent about it. It is not the mere medley of destruction and misery that it may appear at first sight. It is not a mere appeal to physical force. On the contrary, a Providential justice constantly guides the issues of war. The weaker side, being in the right, is found unexpectedly triumphant; the arrogant and oppressive power collapses suddenly in the moment of trial. Great entanglements in human affairs are cut through by the sword of war: international disputes that have lasted for ages are decided once for all, and on the whole justly. These appearances of Providential justice, acting on a vast scale, are so elevating and awe-inspiring, that we cannot help thinking the world would be a less sacred place, and human life meaner, if they were to cease. No more Marathons, no more Morgartens! No more plays like the Persae, no more hymns like Isaiah’s triumph over Sennacherib! Would not poetry and prophecy lose their highest theme, and mere comfort and vulgar prosperity reign where great conflicts of good and evil had raged, and great Divine dooms been pronounced?
It would be unjust to confound this theory with the mediaeval theory which lay at the basis of the wager by battle. Yet it is worth while to remember that our ancestors thought a Providential justice revealed itself in the conflicts of individuals as well as of nations, and yet that the wager of battle fell ultimately out of use, and no one at the present day wishes to revive it. Yet I suppose even that theory of our ancestors was not purely superstitious. The ordeal by battle was not quite simply an appeal to physical force. The consciousness of being wrong did often make one combatant weak, and the consciousness of being right make the other strong. Now and then, it is likely, there occurred some case like that of Scott’s Bois-Guilbert, when the spectators unanimously acknowledged with awe the judgment of God. Only, if in such decisions there might be some justice, on the other hand there was not nearly ,enough of it. The feeling of a good cause went some way, but physical strength, skill, agility, accident, might decide the contest also. In the meanwhile, was it not open to adopt another course by which the case would be decided on its merits alone? In the ordeal of battle, justice could be only an ingredient; in the legal investigation there might, if sufficient pains were taken, be perfect and unmixed justice.
No doubt in a contest between nations moral forces operate far more powerfully than in a contest between individuals. What makes a nation successful in war is self-devotion and capacity of discipline, quite as much as numbers, wealth, or military science. Now self-devotion and the capacity of discipline are almost identical with virtue, so that in war it may be most truly said that virtue is power. Moreover, the just cause will attract the sympathy of other states, while the unjust cause will alienate them. Again, the just cause will give to a nation unanimity while the war lasts, while the nation that is fighting for the wrong will be apt to grow discontented with the burdens of war, and to paralyse its government by disaffection and disunion. If, then, we may hold that the old trial by battle was not quite a simple appeal to physical force, it is certain that in the case of nations it is very far from being so, and all that poets and prophets have said about the Divine justice revealing itself in the decisions of war may very well be true.
If there were no other way of deciding international disputes, I should find consolation in this. It would be pleasant to think that in the midst of carnage and desolation justice is still, and every now and then signally, vindicated; that even where men abandon themselves to destructive passions, they cannot escape from those laws which are a curb upon destructive passions; that the spirit of order, constructiveness, harmony, broods marvellously over the very chaos of discord. This is just one of those contrasts that poetic imagination takes hold of — the dark cloud threatening to overwhelm the world, and then, while you wait in consternation, the soft rainbow suddenly and noiselessly girdling it.
But if those ancient prophets who spoke of the Lord of Hosts had lived in our day, I think they would have spoken a very different language. It is in comparison with no justice at all that the justice of war is admirable: compared with any properly organized legal system, it is surely deplorable. As in the other case, if there is some justice in war, there is not anything like enough of it. A proper legal decision is not one into which justice enters, but one into which nothing but justice enters. And unless we suppose in national affairs not merely a Providence, but such a special Providence as we consider it superstitious to suppose in the case of individuals, it is impossible to consider the decisions of war as answering that description. The virtue of a nation is one of its munitions of war: true, but only one among many. Moreover, it is distinct from the justice of the particular cause for which the nation fights. War is a judge that does not look very closely into evidence, but decides according to general testimonies to character. For instance, it may be argued that the defeat of the French in the present war[24] is due to their demoralization, and to the corruption which an immoral government had introduced into their military organization; but all these causes of defeat would have operated equally, had their case against Germany been just, and they would, to all appearance, have been equally unsuccessful.
But suppose war, instead of merely having an element of justice in it, arrived at the just decision as securely as a judge and jury; would it be defensible? You, I believe, say it is not defensible in any case. I should say, that if there were no other way of obtaining international justice, it would be defensible. I think you must yourselves admit that, whether it be defensible or not, war will not be abolished until some other method of settling quarrels has been introduced. You cannot think, when you look at the state of Europe, that your cause is making much way. Half a century ago it might have been thought that war was merely the guilty game of kings and aristocracies, and that the introduction of popular government would make it obsolete: but I think we have seen enough to convince us that peoples can quarrel as well as kings; that scarcely any cause of war which operated in monarchical Europe will cease to operate in the popular Europe of the future; and that the wars of the peoples will be far more gigantic, more wasteful of blood and suffering, than ever were the wars of the kings. Is it not, then, time to relinquish a course of argument which has been found hitherto convincing to so few — particularly if another course of argument be open to you which all alike are prepared to listen to? So long as you say, War is not defensible in any case, and nations must be prepared to take wrong rather than have recourse to it, you may know by long experience that you preach to deaf ears. But everyone has a sufficiently strong sense of the horrors of war to listen eagerly if you suggest a practicable way of settling international quarrels peaceably. If it once became clear to a large number of people that there is a satisfactory alternative to war, they would instantly begin to look upon war as you do — that is, as the most enormous and intolerable of evils. If people knew clearly what to put in its place, be sure that you would not need any longer to complain of their indifference or coldness in the cause.
Whether rightly or wrongly, most people think the tribunal of war, with all its faults, better than no tribunal at all. You will say, No one proposes to abolish war without substituting anything for it: as a matter of course, arbitration must be substituted for it. But the mistake of all peace advocates I have met with is, that they do not enter into details on the subject of this arbitration in such a way as to convince people that it is feasible. To establish a system of international arbitration is surely not so very simple a thing. It strikes most people as a mere chimera.
The common impression about it — utterly mistaken, as I believe — is that such plans suppose human nature to be far more virtuous than it is; that it will be time enough to take them into consideration when mankind have been softened by five centuries more of civilization. So long as people think this, and as you do not force them to think otherwise, they will never take seriously into consideration any scheme to abolish war, because they are not prepared to abolish war without an equivalent, and you propose no equivalent that they can regard as practicable. But this indifference that people show is not to be mistaken, as so many peace advocates mistake it, for an insensibility to the evils which war produces. The proper cure for it is not invectives against war or Erckmann-Chatrian novels, admirable as they are. The proper cure for it is a feasible and statesmanlike scheme of arbitration — such a scheme as should take account of details, and provide contrivances to meet practical difficulties.
If the Peace Society had such a scheme matured, and practical statesmen ready to defend it and push it, I believe the peace question would instantly pass into a new phase. It would no longer be, as it is now to most people, a question of quarrels settled by war or quarrels not settled at all, the ‘wild justice of revenge’ or no justice whatever, wild or civilized; it would then become a question of trial by battle or trial by law, a question to which only one answer can be returned. If it were once shown to be possible to decide international disputes by law, what argument would remain for war, and who would be so insane as to utter a word in excuse for it? You would see all the indifference you complain of pass away in the twinkling of an eye; you would find no more occasion for declamation upon the horrors of war, for computing the number of lives lost, the number of orphans made, the number of pipes of blood shed, the ruin of property, the retarding of progress, the prolonging of political servitude, and all the other consequences of this great plague of society. You would soon discover that the apathy you attribute to callousness was really due to hopelessness, and was dissipated like a mist by the first gleam of rational hope. Instead of meeting with no response, you would soon be astonished at the unanimity and the depth of the sympathy you would excite. You would find that if the work you have undertaken be greater than was ever undertaken before, there was at hand to help you a power far greater than ever politician wielded. If an opinion rising in the people and slowly gathering strength under the influence of rational argument from practical men was able to force the Emancipation of the Negro and Free Trade from cold or reluctant legislatures, be sure that the agitation then roused was an unformidable, an almost imperceptible movement, compared with that which would convulse Europe, and overawe governments, and make light of all the world-old traditions of military monarchies, if once men caught sight of the truth that war is not merely a terrible thing or a wasteful thing or an uncivilized thing — all this they have long known — but that it is an unnecessary and abolishable thing. The war-giant, whom now we keep as we keep the hangman, and regard as a detestable but necessary drudge, with what triumphant joy would the liberated populace turn on him! He would be “slain in puny battle by wives with spits and boys with stones”!
The object of this lecture, then, is to offer some suggestions to those who may wish to find out in what way a system of international arbitration can practically be realized. It will be seen that the introduction of such a system involves a number of vast political changes. This of course will be no news to you, accustomed as you are to hear your scheme called “Utopian”. But I shall venture to assert that the scheme, vast as it is, does not really deserve to be called Utopian, because a Utopian scheme is not merely a vast one, but one which proposes an end disproportioned to the means at command; while the means available here, the forces and influences that may be called in for the accomplishment of this work, are as enormous as is the difficulty of the work itself.
I shall endeavour to establish the following propositions.
1st. The international system wanted is something essentially different from, and cannot be developed out of, the already existing system by which European affairs are settled in Congresses[25] of the great Powers.
2nd. The system wanted necessarily involves a federation of all the Powers that are to reap the benefits of it.
3rd. In order to be really vigorous and effectual, such a system absolutely requires a federation of the closer kind; that is, a federation not after the model of the late German Bund, but after the model of the United States, — a federation with a complete apparatus of powers, legislative, executive and judicial, and raised above all dependence upon the State governments.
4th. The indispensable condition of success in such a system is that the power of levying troops be assigned to the federation only, and be absolutely denied to the individual States.
I do not think it can be necessary to be very minute or prolix in explaining that the present system of Congresses is not at all the thing we are in search of. That system is useful for a particular purpose, but our purpose is altogether different. We want something in the nature of a law court for international differences. Now a European Congress has nothing of the nature of a law-court, and when people call it an Areopagus, or apply to it other appellatives proper to judicial assemblies, they are surely guilty of an inadvertence which needs only to be very briefly indicated. A law-court may of course have many defects, and yet not cease to be a law-court; but the defect of the European Congress is not an incidental and venial but a radical, and therefore fatal defect. What should we think of a judicial bench every member of which was closely connected by interest with the litigants, and on which in the most important cases the litigants themselves invariably sat? There are cases where the European Congress has worn, perhaps, some superficial appearance of impartiality. When the kingdom of Belgium was constituted, it might be represented that the King of Holland was convened before a European Court, and judgment given against him in the name of the general sense of justice. Who does not know, however, how utterly untrue this description would be? Who does not know that the principal agents in that settlement were thinking of quite other things than the general sense of justice, that a diplomatic contest was waged between England and France, and that the question was not even of the interests, much less of the rights of the parties before the Court, but of reconciling the interests of two of the judges on the bench in such a way as to hinder them from fighting. The judges, in short, so far from being, as judges should be, personally indifferent to the issue of the process, felt the keenest possible interest in it, and never concealed that they did so. The settlement then made was an adjustment of forces, not of rights; it has proved a most important and beneficial settlement, but it does not at all the more on that account deserve to be called judicial.
But it is not principally for such cases that an international court is wanted. The world is in danger not so much from petty differences between Dutch and Belgians as from prodigious outbreaks of national jealousy between France and Germany, England and Russia. Now in these most important cases the European Congress ceases to wear even the superficial appearance of a law-court that it has in the less important ones. That the judges should be avowedly partial is quite enough to strip them of all judicial character; but when the litigants are among the great European Powers, they are judges in their own cause. Surely I need not say a word more on this head.
In short, an ambassador cannot possibly be at the same time a judge, and a congress of plenipotentiaries cannot possibly be a law-court. There ought to be no representation of interests on a judicial bench. You have a good court, not where both parties are represented, but where neither.
We are so accustomed to see law-courts which are admirably efficient for private litigation, that it does not at first strike us as a difficult thing to create a satisfactory court for international litigation. We think nothing but the will is wanting. Several new courts have been constituted in our own time in England, and they have worked well enough. What difficulty can there be in constituting one more? A very obvious difficulty! To establish a court within a state is one thing, and how to do it has long been well understood; but it is quite another thing, and a thing which hitherto has never been satisfactorily accomplished, to constitute a court outside the range of any political organization. It must be evident as soon as it is stated that the judicial system of a State is closely connected with its other institutions; that it grows with the growth of the whole, and is modified in its development. Can we imagine the law-courts at Westminster existing in an isolated condition, severed from their vital connection with the other organs of the State? Yet this is analogous to what is proposed when an international court is recommended. Because law-courts thrive under the shelter of a State, it is proposed to set up a law-court, as it were, in the open air — a law-court unconnected with any executive and with any legislative power.
I do not assert that such a court can never be established, simply because there has not yet been any example of it. But I point out that no presumption of its success can be drawn from the success of existing courts, since these courts have succeeded under widely different conditions. Because apples are easily and abundantly produced upon trees, you cannot presume — at least you cannot count confidently — upon producing them without trees.
But now I go further, and point out that the law-court is not only historically found invariably within the State, but also that it takes all its character and efficiency from the State. For judges cannot constitute themselves, nor can they regulate for themselves all the details of their procedure; and again, judges cease to be judges, and become something essentially different, if their decisions are not enforced. A judge is not simply a person who pleases himself with weighing evidence and pronouncing decisions; he is a person who has been invested with his office by a power recognized to be competent to confer office, and he is also a person whose decisions are regularly enforced by a power recognized to be competent to enforce them. A judge, therefore, or bench of judges, cannot exist in isolation, but stands necessarily connected with other powers — a nominating power, a regulating power, and an enforcing power. But where all these powers meet — a power of nominating officers, a regulating or legislative power, a judicial power, and a power of executing sentences — there you have the complete organization of a State, and thus it is matter of demonstration that a State is implied in a law-court, and, as a necessary consequence, that an international law-court implies an international or federal State.
Perhaps it will be answered, “A State, if you like to call it so, or something almost equivalent to a State, will no doubt be required, but there will be no occasion for anything half so cumbrous or elaborate as the organization of a State generally is. Some federal apparatus must be arranged to regulate and sustain the international court, but the machinery requisite will be of the slightest and most inexpensive kind.” Is this so certain? But even if it be certain, still we have a problem of federation before us, and not merely of constituting a law-court. The nations of Europe must constitute themselves into some sort of federation, or the international court can never come into existence. The judicial assembly is inconceivable without a legislative assembly of some kind, however limited in competence, however rarely summoned; it is inconceivable without officers of some kind executing its sentences.
When once we understand that the question is of forming a confederation[26] of the States of Europe, we naturally refer to the various experiments in federation that history commemorates. What we want to discover, is the slightest bond of federation that will be effectual, for it is evident that the closer the federal bond the more complicated will be the organization required, and the greater the sacrifice demanded of each individual State. Federation, but the slightest possible federation, will be our maxim: the work will be difficult enough in any case; let us reduce the difficulties to the lowest amount.
Now history will suggest to us — this is the most important thing I have to say to you — that we must abandon this plan, which it is so natural to conceive, of a slight but effectual federation. As we were driven by the very conditions of the problem to the notion of a federation, we shall find ourselves driven by history to the notion of a close federation as the only one which can possibly be effectual. Federation appears in history as a problem often undertaken but seldom successfully solved. We cannot pick from history a number of different types of federation all equally satisfactory and each suited to some particular exigency. On the contrary, what we find is one or two federations which have been successful, and several which have failed helplessly and ignominiously. This may show us that to say that the establishment of an international court involves federation, is to say that it involves the solving of one of the most difficult of problems; and that, so far from making light of the federal apparatus required as something easily arranged, we ought to bestow the most careful attention upon it as being the part of our task which is most delicate, and in which failure is most to be feared.
I need not go back for instances of unsuccessful federation to the helpless Amphictyonic league of ancient Greece, which afforded a most convenient weapon for the ambition of Philip, nor even to that Holy Roman Empire which was baffled and mocked by Frederick of Prussia. I shall refer to two more modern instances, the German Bund which fell to pieces in 1866, and that old American Confederation which gave way in 1789 to the American Union. Here you have two federations, both of which failed because they were not close enough. The American Confederation ought to be particularly instructive to us, because the causes of its failure were so clearly seen at the time, that it was found possible to replace it by an amended institution which has verified the calculations of its authors by displaying itself to mankind as the one pre-eminently successful federation of history. The German Bund is instructive in another way, as having embraced some of the very nations for whom our proposed federation is intended. Most of the schemes of international arbitration which I have heard broached since the calamities of the last half-year have forced the subject upon our attention, were realized, it seems to me, in the German Bund, and stand condemned in the history of its inefficiency and its fall.
As these two examples show us what to avoid in federation, the American Union shows us what to imitate. When I call this the successful federation par excellence, I do not mean to commit myself to a general eulogy of American institutions. The Americans are a nation absorbed in production, a nation, therefore, among whom the higher culture has had to contend with great difficulties: their political life is dragged down by the miscellaneous swarm of emigrants to whom they give power too easily and too soon. Their system may fail in a hundred points, but this does not prevent it from being gloriously successful as a federation. They have found a higher political unit for mankind; they have found a name greater than that of State; they have created a virtue beyond patriotism. That union of nations, which here is a wish, a Utopia, a religion, has advanced a great step towards practical reality on the other side of the Atlantic. There you have already what seems so chimerical here — States subsisting side by side as amicably as departments or counties; to protect frontiers like that of France no more need for a Metz or a Strasburg than on the boundary of Middlesex and Hertfordshire; and in the budget of States as large as England no grant for a war establishment. No doubt their circumstances were far more fortunate than ours in Europe, but what they accomplished was an unprecedented thing, while Europe has now the advantage of America’s example. But it will be said, If you would abolish war, look anywhere but in that direction. The United States have not long emerged from one of the most gigantic wars in history. True, their peace was interrupted, but they have recovered it: veritable American peace, a peace unknown in Europe, a peace without war establishments. And if their war was gigantic, it must not be confounded with the wars of Europe. No, remember that it was a war against war. It was a war for the principle of union, a war against the principle of division, no more like the wars of Europe than the violence used by a policeman is like criminal violence, or the homicide of the executioner is like murder. Had the Secessionists had their will, two standing armies, or perhaps more, would probably at this moment be confronting each other in America, and the miserable, ruinous system of Europe would be in full operation there. But because the Americans went through one gigantic war, they were able to disarm at the end of it, and may cherish a reasonable hope of never being obliged — at least, within the Union — to wage war again. Well did President Lincoln say that he fought to preserve the Union, and not to abolish slavery. The preservation of the Union was by much the more important object, for it was the greatest step mankind have yet taken towards the abolition of war.
In spite of their one internal war, then, I say the American Union may be said to have solved the problem of the abolition of war, and we may see there the model which Europe, far superior to America in perfection of culture and in literary and artistic wealth, should imitate in her international relations. Now, this great triumph of the Union was achieved on the very ground upon which an earlier confederation[27] had conspicuously failed in the same undertaking. The two federations may be compared; somewhere among their differences evidently lies the secret of success. Now, they differ mainly in the degree of force and independence given to the federal organization. Where the federal organization was lax, and not decisively disentangled from the State organization, the federation failed: it succeeded when the federal bond was strengthened.
The special lesson which is taught by the experience of the Americans is that the decrees of the federation must not be handed over for execution to the officials of the separate States, but that the federation must have an independent and separate executive, through which its authority must be brought to bear directly upon individuals. The individual must be distinctly conscious of his obligations to the federation, and of his membership in it: all federations are mockeries that are mere understandings between governments.
I infer that we shall never abolish war in Europe unless we can make up our minds to take up a completely new citizenship. We must cease to be mere Englishmen, Frenchmen, Germans, and must begin to take as much pride in calling ourselves Europeans. Europe must have a constitution, as well as the States that compose it. There must be a European legislature and executive as strong and as important as those that meet and act at Washington. Nor will all this succeed unless the discrepancies of language, race, culture, and religion can be so far overcome, that by slow degrees the members of the new State may come to value their new citizenship as much, and at last more, than their old; so that when any great trial comes, when State membership draws one way, and Federal membership another, they may, as the Americans did in their trial, deliberately prefer the Union to the State.
I infer, at the same time, that all schemes will fail which propose to unite Europe merely by adding together the States that compose it. The individual, and not merely the State, must enter into a distinct relation to the Federation. In the Federal Legislature of Europe, as in the American Congress, there must be representation by population as well as representation by States.
But still more necessary is it that the federation should have an executive force greater than that of any of its component States. I am at a loss to understand what people mean, who would establish an international court without giving it sufficient power to enforce its decrees, or even without the right of enforcing its decrees. Good advice! Is it by good advice that you think to put down war? If so, remember that you enter a path upon which you have no precedents and no analogies to guide you. If war had never been abolished in any case up to this time, I should not think it worth while to speculate upon the means of abolishing it. But I see that it has been abolished over and over again; that private war has been abolished, that small States constantly at war with each other have become provinces of large ones, and so have lost the right of making war; that England and Scotland, after centuries of war, have attained to a perpetual peace in relation to each other; lastly, that across the Atlantic a number of large States have succeeded, apparently for good, in destroying the possibility of war between each other. In all these cases the same result has been attained in the same way. And it has not been attained by good advice. Do not say, “This is a cynical view; human nature is better than you think; people will often take good advice if it is honestly offered”. When people’s minds are calm, I think they are generally very ready to take advice; but when a man’s passions are roused, or personal interests threatened, and still more when this happens to a nation, I do not think, I know, that good advice is thrown away. How can we talk of the efficacy of good advice, when we know that six months ago France impatiently refused it, and that Germany refuses it as impatiently now? And what is the use of quoting cases where good advice has averted war, so long as a number of cases can be quoted where it has not? Mankind will be glad to hear how war may be abolished and made obsolete, but you will scarcely get them to take a warm interest in schemes by which it may perhaps sometimes be averted.
There has been found hitherto but one substitute for war. It has succeeded over and over again; it succeeds regularly in the long run wherever it can be introduced. This is to take the disputed question out of the hands of the disputants, to refer it to a third party, whose intelligence, impartiality, and diligence have been secured, and to impose his decision upon the parties with overwhelming force. The last step in this process is just as essential as the earlier ones, and if you omit it you may just as well omit them too. This is the lesson we may learn from the fall of the German Bund. To expect that military Powers like Prussia and Austria could be coerced by the Bund, was to put the nurse under the orders of the baby on her lap. Accordingly the Bund existed just so long as Prussia and Austria shrank from a decided quarrel, and fell to pieces at the moment when the emergency arrived which it existed to meet.
For precluding war it is not sufficient that the power of justice should be a little greater than the power of the disputing parties. Justice must be so overwhelmingly superior that resistance may be out of the question. Therefore it was found impossible to tolerate the armies of retainers that the feudal lords of the Middle Ages kept on foot. Now, how to make the federal force of Europe superior to the force of anyone State, say France or Prussia? The history of the last two centuries shows that the combined force of all the European States is not always clearly superior to the force of one. Louis XIV and Napoleon were humbled with the greatest possible difficulty, and we begin to doubt at the present day whether Europe could effectively resist united Germany, if Germany should enter upon a path of ambition. It is evident that the course of international justice can never be irresistible so long as States have standing armies. The right of levying troops must belong to the Federation, and it must be denied to the States. The State is the feudal lord of modern Europe; the reign of anarchy will never be brought to a close until the State is forbidden to keep armed retainers.
I am fortunate in having an audience that is bound to listen to speculations which perhaps most English audiences would find insufferably fanciful. Europe constituted into a single State, with a Federal executive and legislature, located in some central Washington! Famous States like England and France forbidden to levy soldiers, and slowly shrinking into counties beside the Federation, which steadily grows in majesty, and constantly absorbs by its gravitation the genius and ambition that were attached before to the different national governments! Such a revolution in human affairs, I am perfectly well aware, has scarcely ever been witnessed. But it has not been my purpose hitherto to discuss whether these changes are practicable or impracticable; I am addressing those who have decide for themselves that war both must and can be abolished. Whether you are right or not in thinking so is a separate question. What I have attempted to show is that the abolition of war absolutely requires and involves certain vast political changes in Europe, and that it is only possible if they are possible. If I have thought it worth while to go into some detail about these changes, it is not in order that we may instantly set about the task, but that we may count the cost of it; it is that both you who are members of the Peace Society, and we who are not may have some just measure of the work that is either to be undertaken or to be abandoned in despair. Nevertheless it will be worth while, in conclusion, briefly to review the difficulties of the task on the one side, and on the other the forces, instruments, and appliances which a party undertaking it would command.
First, then, it is to be noted that if the Americans have achieved what is here proposed for Europe, they did so in circumstances infinitely more favourable. In fact, it may be said that the Federation was given to them by Providence, and that their achievement consisted in preventing it from falling to pieces. The problem proposed to them was, not to bring together different nations that had before been separate and mutually hostile, but to arrest a tendency to separation and dissolution which was beginning to show itself in a population homogeneous and united by language, institutions and religion. If it is a masterpiece to have solved even this problem, what would it be to yoke together indissolubly so many rival races and rival States and rival religions, the Englishman and the Frenchman, the German and the Slave, the German and the Italian! What would it be to find a federal name which should fall like a covering upon so many secular discards, and hide at once so many inveterate wounds; to reconcile in one act all the most rooted antipathies, to unite in common political action the subjects of a Czar, of a Kaiser, of a Constitutional Queen, and of a Swiss Republic; to accustom to familiar intercourse those whom difference of speech has so long made barbarians to each other? Nations that were united have before now been sundered by differences of religion; it has been hard to hold together nations that were in different stages of development; bitter jealousies have sprung out of different economical conditions; rival languages have caused the greatest embarrassments to governments; and the Federation of Europe is a work which must be accomplished, and when accomplished maintained, in spite not of one of these obstacles, but of all of them together.
Beside this intrinsic difficulty, the mere magnitude of the undertaking is an unimportant consideration. Yet how vast an enterprise merely to persuade so many populations of the desirableness of federation! — to create in each European State a federal party large enough to procure a hearing for the scheme, large enough in process of time to enlist the nation in its cause, large enough in the end to impose the measure upon governments that would in many cases be from instinctive interest bitterly hostile to it! But, in fact, it is hardly worth while to insist upon difficulties which no one can overlook. The difficulties we all of us see only too clearly, or rather too exclusively. The question rather is, why should they not at once be voted insurmountable?
In the first place, then, there is no question of realizing such a scheme at once or soon. If only it be true that the scheme would be infinitely beneficial to an infinite number of people, it may be assumed that the lapse of time will remove most of the difficulties that are caused by the mere multitude and inertia or indifference of those who are to be convinced. It is but to spread a new conviction over Europe. Such a thing has been done more than once before, and that when circumstances seemed even less favourable. New religious convictions passed with inconceivable rapidity over Europe in the sixteenth century; popular principles of government have spread over the greater part of Europe since 1789; who does not believe that federation too will have its day? Who doubts that this idea will some time or other come home to every heart, and be universally accepted — sic volvere Parcas? And if so, it depends surely in a great degree upon human zeal and energy how near that time is. It may be a long voyage with wind and tide, the steady wind and irresistible tide of manifest destiny. In the next place, it is a mere misconception to judge of the possibility of a work merely by considering the weight to be moved; what has to be considered, is the proportion between the weight and the power. If a vast work is an impossible work, then the federation of Europe is of course impossible, and so were the cutting of the Suez Canal and the laying down of the Atlantic Cable. But if vast works may be reasonably expected from vast powers, then those who have vast powers at command may attempt schemes more astonishing than that of Columbus, without a particle of that visionary and romantic enthusiasm which in Columbus was only justified by success. The projectors of the Atlantic Cable never, as far as I remember, endangered their characters for discretion and sober-mindedness. Such a scheme as the federation of Europe might perhaps be worth a little of the enthusiasm that refuses to see difficulties, and will see nothing but the infinite desirableness of the end to be attained. Such enthusiasm it would no doubt have required in past times; but are not the conditions changed? When we suffer ourselves to be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the weight to be moved, do we sufficiently consider the leverage that is at hand to move it?
As I have explained that the federation wanted is not merely an arrangement between governments, but a real union of peoples, so I think it can never be attained by mere diplomatic methods, or by the mere action of governments, but only by a universal popular movement. Now a hundred years ago such a popular movement, extending over Europe, was barely conceivable, but in the present day nothing is more easy to conceive. Such popular movements are just what the age understands. Scarcely any country in Europe but has been, sometime in this century, the scene of some great agitation, where some political reform, that was afterwards carried out by statesmen, was preached by great popular orators, and welcomed by the multitude. Over almost all the space between the scenes of O’Connell’s and of Kossuth’s triumphs the popular agitator has been abroad, and the people have learned the art of expressing their wishes, and in many countries also of expressing them with moderation. They have learnt how to agitate for definite changes, and to do so successfully, even when the changes they called for required in the execution machinery quite beyond the comprehension of most of the agitators. What is required, therefore, is not anything new in kind; it is but a movement such as every population in Europe has had experience of; a movement new only in being extensive beyond precedent, in including many nations at once, and therefore in demanding more careful guidance. And for an unprecedented movement you can surely furnish unprecedented motives. The evil you attack is no doubtful one, no partial one, no small one. It is the greatest evil of evils that we can conceive to be remedied; it attacks all classes of society, and all ages; it attacks them with no insidious weapons, and under no disguise, but with open massacre, starvation, and ruin. It calls the more urgently to be remedied, because it seems to be growing worse. Wars seem growing more frightful and more gigantic; the more victories the nationality principle wins, the nearer we seem to approach a period of energetic popular states waging war upon each other with the unrelieved fierceness of national antipathy. Had ever popular orators a better subject for their speeches? What was Catholic Emancipation, what were the Corn-laws, nay, what was the Slave-trade, compared to this? Would it be hard to excite a European movement against a mischief from which no one is safe, which threatens every man’s life, and every man’s children’s lives, and which brings in its train not only death but a host of other evils, some of them, perhaps, worse than death?
Again, there have been in this age great political movements and great religious movements. Countries in which the political consciousness has remained undeveloped, often have the religious consciousness in full vigour; and in individuals, too, the one is often to be found where the other is wanting. Now, there is just one question in which politics and religion absolutely merge, and are confounded. Religious feelings and political feelings are equally outraged by war. War tramples on the sense of right and wrong, and on the precepts of Christianity, as mercilessly as it crushes the physical happiness of individuals. And on this matter there are no sectarian divisions among Christians. One sect of Christians may denounce war more energetically than another; some sects may pronounce it justifiable for Christians to engage in it; but all alike regard war as an evil, all alike regard it as among the greatest of the future triumphs of the faith to exterminate war out of the world. In this matter all the great divisions of Christianity have something to boast of. The Greek Church protested vehemently against it, even in the darkest ages; the Latin Church furnished the first example of that federation of Europe, and that international court, by which the appeal to arms must be superseded; it was a Protestant sect that first made Peace the first of Christian dogmas, it was in the bosom of Protestantism that the great Republic of the West[28] grew up and prospered. If Christianity did in a manner reconcile itself to war, it was mainly for want of a machinery which could ensure peace: had the politicians been able to devise such machinery, religion would long ago have made an end of war within Christendom. In considering, then, the leverage which is at your command, you are to add the engine of religious agitation to that of political, and, besides appealing to the plainest interests of men, may reckon also among your resources the religion and the conscience of humanity.
Might you not also enlist in your cause the aggrieved races of Europe? All the grievances of races spring out of war, are perpetuated by it, and would perish with it. In the American Union, not only does one State not wage war with another, but no State holds a neighbour State in unjust dependence. There is no Poland in the Union, no Alsace and Lorraine. If any State there feels itself aggrieved, the injury came from the whole Federation, and can never be felt so keenly as an injustice. No State can reasonably complain of having to submit to the Federation, any more than a township or county resents the superiority of the State. Russia has no right to Poland, yet Russia cannot and will not yield Poland unless Poland can procure some unlooked-for ally. Europe has many of these chronic and incurable wrongs, and is just now increasing the number of them. They are incidents of the abusive system which nourishes the ambition and keeps alive the fears of States; they are results of war. In a federated Europe Poland and Russia might lie side by side like Maryland and Virginia, and the old international feud would come to seem an inexplicable and inconceivable feeling. Meanwhile, the prospect of a federation seems to offer to the Poles a solution of their difficulty. They might cease to claim their old independence — an independence which they forfeited by their own divisions, and which Russia can never grant — and they might become instead the apostles of a federation of Europe, in the attainment of which, along with all the traces of the old European anarchy, their own sufferings and wrongs would pass away.
It is evident, I think, that the forces at command are greater than were ever before invoked to achieve political change. Universal and pressing interest, religious feeling, the hopes of aggrieved races — these are great powers. And is not that which calls itself the Revolution in Europe bound also to promote the cause? Popular principles are nothing, without European principles; the liberty of peoples is nothing without their solidarity. Popular States fight more terrible wars than monarchical or aristocratical ones; it is therefore doubly necessary that they should federate themselves. The Republican party says much of its devotion to peace; it is bound, therefore, to do its part towards confirming peace by solid guarantees.
Such powers may be found more than a match for the centrifugal forces, the differences of language, of institutions, of economical condition, of religions. All these discrepancies have somewhere been overcome. Prussia has a Protestant region and a Catholic region. Different languages are united in Switzerland; different nationalities and even different governments in Austria-Hungary. The difficulties, in short, are unprecedented only in number and degree; they would certainly be insurmountable if the advantages of union were only moderate; it remains to be seen whether they would be insurmountable to a European public opinion gradually educated to see before it a new Federation rising like a majestic temple over the tomb of war, emulating the transatlantic Federation in prosperity and unity but surpassing it far in all the riches of culture, manners and science, and consecrated with all the traditions and reliques of the ancient world.
 
(Prefaced and edited by Luigi V. Majocchi)
 
 


[1] The Cambridge History of English Literature, vol. XII, p. 92, London, 1932.
[2] Born in London in 1834, he studied at Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he took classical languages and culture. From 1863 to 1869 he taught Latin at the University College in London, where he published Ecce Homo in 1865, a biography of Jesus that roused a storm of criticism. From 1869 he was Professor of Modern History at Cambridge, where his lessons at once found widespread favour. His concept of history, of its close ties with politics and his fondness for the European and world scenario openly contrasted with academic tradition. According to Carlo Antoni, Seeley is “the greatest English historian of this period” and “the one that is most influenced by Ranke” (Enciclopedia Treccani, vol. XXXII, p.788), the great German historian of the European state system, the one who promoted the historiographical trend that inspired the works of Ludwig Dehio (The Federalist, XXX, 1988, no. 2). Seeley’s most important works are The Life and Times of Stein, or Germany and Prussia in the Napoleonic Age (Cambridge, 1878), which considers the problem of the origin and character of early German Liberalism and its contrast with Ranke’s (and Bismarck’s) “supremacy of foreign policy”, and The Expansion of England (London, 1883), which is extensively mentioned in this text. He died of cancer at Cambridge in 1895, after completing the work The Growth of British Policy, which was to be posthumously published that same year.
[3] J.R. Seeley, The Expansion of England, Chicago and London, The University of Chicago Press, 1971, p. 96. To those who invited him to make history interesting Seeley, after stating that “interesting in the proper sense” is that “which affects our interests”, answered with a touch of impertinence: “I cannot make history more interesting than it is, except by falsifying it. And therefore, when I meet a person who does not find history interesting, it does not occur to me to alter history, — I try to alter him.” (p. 243). These are the last words of his work.
[4] Ibid., p. 9.
[5] Ibid., p. 7. Of the opinion that this was a central orientation of Seeley’s thought is also Sir A.W. Ward (The Cambridge History of English Literature, cit., p. 91). George Smith is of this opinion too: “In his lectures he adopted, though be did not formulate, the view that ‘history is past politics and politics present history’.” (The Concise Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford, 1882, p. 1175).
[6] J.R. Seeley, The Expansion of England, cit., p. 133.
[7] Ibid., p. 139.
[8] Credit must be given to John Pinder for having illustrated how lively the debate on federalist culture was in British Liberal thought in the second half of the 19th century up to the works of Robbins and Lothian. Pinder has shown how this debate, besides Lord Acton, whose theoretical contribution to the critique of Nationalism was already widely known, involved people such as J.S. Mill, W.E. Gladstone, J. Bryce, A.V. Dicey, P.A. Hayek, J. Bentham and E.A. Freeman (see “The Federal Idea and the British Liberal Tradition”, report presented at the Second Lothian Memorial Conference, held at the Royal Holloway and Bedford New College on April 3rd, 4th and 5th, 1989, through the initiative of the Lothian Foundation. The relative papers are being printed). It is John Pinder again who, in that same report, pointed out Seeley’s federalist contribution and in particular the work republished on this occasion in this magazine. This text, which I obtained from John Pinder, has never been quoted, as far as I know, in other works of federalists, to whom he was probably unknown till now. As well as in this text, Seeley quite openly took up federalist positions in his volume The Expansion of England, cit., in which he strongly hopes for the transformation of the British Empire, with the exception of India, into a federation. He was also a member of the Imperial Federation League which, from a different point of view, strove for the same goal from 1884 to 1893 (see Michael Burgess, “Imperial Federation. The Federal Plan of the Imperial Federation League: Milestone or Tombstone?”, report presented at the Second Lothian Memorial Conference, cit.) The action of this league was very important for the formation of the Kindergarten, the circle of young people gathered around Lord Milner, to which Philip Kerr and Lionel Curtis belonged and from which came the project for the South African Federation (see A. Bosco, Lord Lothian. Un pioniere del federalismo. 1882-1940, Milan, 1989, p. 36. For the influence exerted by Seeley over Kerr, see ibid., p. 17).
[9] Lord Lothian, Pacifism is not enough nor patriotism either, London, Oxford University Press, 1941, pp. 1-2.
[10] J.R. Seeley, The Expansion of England, cit., p. 136.
[11] Ibid., p. 11.
[12] Ibid., p. 85.
[13] Ibid., pp. 84-85. Always disputing the historiography dominant in his country (but are his statements not true, perhaps for different reasons, also for historians of other countries?), Seeley observed: “Now it appears to me that English historians fail in the later periods of England because they have traced one great development to its completion and do not perceive that, if they would advance further, they must look out for some other development. More or less consciously they have always before their minds the idea of constitutional liberty… It is a misrepresentation to describe England in George III’s reign as mainly occupied in resisting the encroachments of a somewhat narrow-minded king… England was then engaged in other and vaster enterprises” (pp. 96 and 97). And again: “I constantly remark both in our popular histories and in occasional allusions to the eighteenth century what a faint and confused impression that period has left upon the national memory. In a great part of it we see nothing but stagnation. The wars seem to lead to nothing, and we do not perceive the working of any new political ideas. That time seems to have created little, so that we can only think of it as prosperous, but not as memorable. Those dim figures George I and George II, the long tame administrations of Walpole and Pelham, the commercial war with Spain, the battles of Dettingen and Fontenoy, the foolish Prime Minister Newcastle, the dull brawls of the Wilkes period, the miserable American war; everywhere alike we seem to remark a want of greatness, a distressing commonness and flatness in men and affairs. But what we chiefly miss is unity… We have an unfortunate habit of distributing historical affairs under reigns. We do this mechanically, as it were, even in periods where we recognize, nay, where we exaggerate, the insignificance of the Monarch… For a plain example of the principle take the reign of George III. What can be more absurd than to treat this long period of sixty years as if it had any historical unity, simply because one man was king during the whole of it? What then are we to substitute for the king as a principle of division? Evidently great events.” (pp. 19 and 20).
[14] Ibid., p. 86.
[15] Ibid., pp. 86-87.
[16] Ibid., p. 29.
[17] Ibid., p. 31.
[18] Ibid., p. 89.
[19] Ibid., p. 62.
[20] Ibid., p. 62.
[21] Ibid., p. 237.
[22] Ludwig Dehio, Gleichgewicht oder Hegemonie, Kreteld, Scherpe Verlag, 1948. For an interpretation of Dehio’s text in the sense mentioned here see “Ludwig Dehio,” in The Federalist, XXX, 1988, no. 2. It is worth remembering how Dehio, in the introduction to his Gleichgewicht oder Hegemonie refers explicitly to Seeley in these terms: “He made his own a favourite thought of Ranke: that from the foreign policy of states derives the supreme principle of their actions; and guided by this principle he came to an outlook of the present tendencies of world politics that allowed him a prophetic glance at the future. We are accustomed to speaking of a Bismarck era of worldwide historical importance regarding the two decades following 1870. But Seeley does not even mention Bismarck’s name and passing over Germany, indeed, the old continent, as if it were a medium-height mountain, looks straight ahead at the two towering powers: Russia and the Union” (p. 17).
[23] Ibid., pp. 16-17.
 
* This text was published in March, 1871, in Macmillan’s Magazine, London, Vol. XXIII, pp. 436-448. Notes were added by the editor for an easier reading of the passage.
[24] Seeley clearly refers to the Franco-Prussian conflict and the French defeat at Sedan on September 4, 1870.
[25] The term “Congress” was commonly used in the 19th century to denote international Conferences. Take for example the 1855 Paris Congress which ended the Crimea war and the 1875 Berlin Congress which thanks to Bismarck initiative led to a new political set-up in the Balkans.
[26] The concepts of federation and confederation were defined rigorously for the first time in The Federalist Papers. Even Hamilton, however, while consistently using the terms “Confederacy” or “Articles of Confederation” to refer to the latter, i.e. the form of government that existed before Philadelphia, nevertheless uses the terms “federation” and “confederation” interchangeably every time he speaks of the Union, i.e. the new constitution. It is thus not surprising that this lexical ambiguity (but not the conceptual ambiguity, as is clearly demonstrated by the following passages and which relate to the American Confederation, its failure and the birth of the Federation) is also present in Seeley’s passage, as is demonstrated by the use of “federation” and “federal” in the following lines to denote both the “Articles of Confederation” (a federation with loose links) and the Union (a federation with strong ties).
[27] See note 3.
[28] The question is about the United States of America.
 

 

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