political revue


Year XXXIII, 1991, Number 3 - Page 264




During the second world war, as events seemed to be turning inexorably in favour of the Axis powers, Edward Carr,[1] one of Britain’s leading authorities on international relations, wrote an erudite book entitled Conditions of Peace.[2] The work represented a strong critique of nationalism, which was put forward as the root cause of the war.[3] Carr’s criticism was levelled chiefly at the principle of self-determination, which as the cornerstone of nationalist thinking had been adopted by the peacemakers at Versailles as the basic criterion for reshaping the European order, following the collapse of the Central European and Ottoman Empires. The fatal results of this choice were plain for all to see. But not all were convinced, and in fact there were those who continued to blame the war on the autocratic nature of regimes, on capitalism or even on the wickedness of the Germans. Because of such superficial interpretations, there was clearly a big risk that, once the monster Hitler had been defeated, the same errors, that had led to catastrophe before, would be repeated. This is the context in which Carr’s critique was written; a critique which due to the richness of its historical documentation and the wisdom of its arguments probably stands as the most complete analysis ever to have dealt with this subject; and moreover as an extraordinary contribution to federalist thought that has for many years now singled out the national state (and nationalism in general) as the historic enemy. The text of this critique is the third chapter of Carr’s book and we feel duty bound to propose it in its entirety to our readers, despite the fact that Carr has always been presented as having a totally different political stance and even of having derided the federalist position – as can be seen from several passages in the chapter. But, apart from statements that seem to be a little ill-considered (and which we will point out in the course of this brief introduction), Carr, as befits a great scholar and as often occurs in the Anglo-Saxon academic world, does not manage to lose sight of the fact that he is first and foremost in the service of his science, and to a lesser degree, if at all, his political convictions.
Clearly it cannot be argued that this commendable and extraordinary contribution of Carr’s produced the desired effect. When the peoples of the Third World realised that the collapse of the European system of states had swept away even France and Great Britain (which at one time had been the great powers of European history) and they began the process of decolonisation, the principle all chose to invoke was that of self-determination. The same principle has been invoked by all other peoples aspiring to independence. And it is plain to see the effect of this principle with regard to the collapse of the Soviet Empire and of the Soviet Union itself, with consequences which no-one is able to predict. The tragic conflict which has set Serbs and Croats against each other is clearly indicative of a much more disastrous scenario which will unfold if ex-Soviet republics (having become independent and sovereign states with their own currency and more significantly their own nuclear weapons) should choose to confront one another militarily.
We do not want to deprive our readers of the pleasure of discovering for themselves the well-developed and convincing arguments in this piece, whose tenor, even with regard to lexical features, is highly reminiscent of authoritative federalist texts. Rather, two points of great interest need highlighting, which even though they are very closely related to federalist culture, depart from it either in their formulation or conclusions.
The first concerns the concept of the nation. Carr uses Renan’s definition according to which the essential element is a “plébiscite de tous les jours”, although he notes this definition’s lack of success outside of a small group of intellectuals. “On this view, typical of nineteenth century rationalism, a Frenchman differed from an Italian or a German simply because he wished to be a Frenchman. By an act of will, he could presumably transform himself into a German or an Italian”.[4] The French are therefore those that wish to live amongst the French. Mario Albertini writing on this subject in 1960 commented that “... to give concreteness to the idea of Renan according to which nations are constituted of the desire to live together, it is necessary to specify the way of such living together, and hence to state as members of a nation, at which point the difficulty that one wanted to avoid resurfaces”.[5] On the theoretical plain, Albertin’s observation cannot be argued with. But this is not the level on which it seems Carr wanted to place it since he openly recognised the ambiguous (Albertini would use “ideological” in the sense that Marx intended it) nature of the term “nation”. Carr uses Renan’s formula rather as a suitable criterion for defining the dimensions and competences of states, giving individuals choice over the political community, which is understood as a machinery capable of protecting certain collective interests. Renan’s formula does not therefore define a principle for legitimising a power, as the national one does with its claim of exclusive allegiance, even if it is true that “there is every reason to suppose that considerable numbers of Welshmen, Catalans and Uzbeks have quite satisfactorily solved the problem of regarding themselves as good Welshmen, Catalans and Uzbeks for some purposes and good British, Spanish and Soviet citizen for others”.[6] Their will to live together is therefore a will to live together as citizens of a state. That leads to the affirmation of a right that should be granted to all people: that of choosing the political community.
This point of view can be confidently accepted. When the federalists began to claim recognition for the constituent rights of the European federal people, they claimed precisely the recognition of this right to choose (over and above existing political communities) a political community capable of guaranteeing their security and economic growth. It can be recalled how the Federalists claimed (how they claim) this right in the name of, and on behalf of, a potential people – a grouping of citizens of differing nationalities but sharing a common destiny as regards economic, social and security issues. These citizens will constitute a people in deed the day their demand to constitute a state is recognised. It is worth pointing out in this context that the use of a collective subject (the people) is legitimate here because, different from the term “nation”, which is usually thought of as a natural subject which exists and is the titular holder of rights aside from those of the individuals which form part of it, “people” in this context is a term that is used as a summarising expression that can be reduced to the specific individuals which form part of it. Moreover, this is precisely Carr’s point of view when he affirms that “self-determination is not a right of certain recognised and predetermined nations, but a right of individual men and women”.[7]
The second point concerns the “limits” within which Carr maintains that a recourse to the principle of self-determination is legitimate and effective. These limits are precisely defined with regard to the requirements of the international order. Self-determination can no longer be conceived of as an absolute right to independence, but as a right that can only be exercised within a framework of obligations: “the right of national self-determination can be valid only within a new framework of mutual military and economic obligation”.[8] In short, the right of independence brings with it the duty of interdependence. That is the extent to which the peacemakers at Versailles were negligent. The error was fatal, yet did not need to be repeated because the world of which Carr spoke (even though it was a world before Dresden, Hiroshima and Chernobyl) had already shown clearly the extent to which military and economic factors had rendered national sovereignty an anachronism.
Carr had no faith in international law which “though it provides machinery for the settlement of disputes, recognises no compulsory jurisdiction”.[9] This lack of faith, which recalls almost word for word the terminology of Kant’s critiques, also reveals itself in his radical opposition (inspired by the same principles) to a hypothetical revival of the League of Nations – even if this revival were to be subordinated to the introduction of “a few modifications designed to ‘strengthen’ it”.[10] This is not at all surprising. What is surprising instead is that Carr places these false prophets of the international order on the same level as those which propose a federal Union.[11] He loses sight of the fact (despite a vast body of literature which from the time of Hamilton onwards had strongly influenced British political thought) that cooperation between states and the institutionalisation of such cooperation (League of Nations and like organisations) is one thing, and the federation of states quite another. Such federation is statehood at the level of international relations, the only political formula capable of enforcing international law, of settling controversies between states legally, and of guaranteeing peace. That Carr knew of the Federalists and appreciated their influence is clearly stated in this passage: “One popular approach is to plunge immediately into the elaboration of some constitutional framework for the whole world or for whole continents – a federation, a revived League of Nations, a ‘United States of Europa’.”[12] But, “except insofar as they keep public opinion alive to the necessity of radical change, the supporters of projects like Federal Union exercise a pernicious influence by grossly over-simplifying the problem and by obscuring the need to study with patience and humility the historical perspective and the economic organisation of the world for which they prescribe”.[13] That was not enough: “There is a kind of naive arrogance in the assumption that the problem of the government of mankind, which has defied human wit and human experience for centuries, can be solved out of hand by some neat paper construction of a few simple-minded enthusiasts”.[14] Hence Spinelli, besides his naive arrogance, was a simple-minded enthusiast along with Lord Lothian, Clarence Streit, Emery Reves, Albert Einstein and others!
Carr cannot extract himself from having to justify such a sweeping statement. But the justification has too much of a sense of dejà vu about it: “A constitution, in Burke’s famous phrase, is ‘a vestment which accommodates itself to the body’.”[15] This is a clichéd assessment which Montesquieu had proposed even before Burke. Marx also expounded this view (influencing in a disastrous manner the attitude of the left towards the problem of European unity after the second world war) when he relegated political institutions to the rank of mere superstructures. Theoretically, the fact that the statement is clichéd proves nothing about its substance or lack of it. In practice, however, this cliché of Carr’s lacks substance. Let’s follow his reasoning. What is the “body” that must be built? The answer is simple: a series of sectoral authorities which organise military, economic and monetary cooperation in Europe and, using Europe as a base, throughout the world.[16]
For these authorities to be effective two conditions need to be met. First, “Great Britain and the United States, together with Soviet Russia, should place their overwhelming military and economic power and resources behind the new Authority and make it effective over the area in which it operates”.[17] Even here there is a sense of dejà vu: Vienna defined a stable order in Europe rather than Versailles because the great powers committed themselves to guaranteeing it.[18] But stability is one thing, peace another. Perhaps Carr is not concerned here with the conditions for peace? And again: the body which he talks about also does not need a vestment, a vestment which lacks the democratic institutions capable of enforcing international law, and thus coincides with the “concert” of the great powers to which that capability is attributed? In short, faced with the dilemma: “federation or hegemony”, Carr opts for the latter.
Even more interesting is the second condition which shows clearly how Carr, while not neglecting in the slightest the importance of the democratic element, interpreted its function in a peculiar way: “It may be appropriate to begin by regarding these various ‘European’ authorities as representing for the time being, not so much the governments or the nations or even the peoples, but simply the people, of ‘Europe’.”[19] But why and how could intergovernmental cooperation bodies be more representative of the people than an institution whose decisions are based on electoral fact? This Carr does not explain. On the contrary he is convinced that “it is by some such direct appeal to the people themselves, to the ‘little men’ of all countries, rather than through any constitutional process of league or federation, that a European order, and ultimately perhaps a world order, may come into being”.[20] In short, better the OEEC and NATO with their strong popular support (for Atlanticism and anti-Communism) than a European federation, with its government responsible to an elected parliament and actively promoting federalism in the world and opening the way for world federation!
This affirmation is truly paradoxical. One could argue that, on the conclusion of the war, events went exactly as Carr predicted. But in this case, one could also argue that, as happens often in history, the events themselves were paradoxical as well.
From the time of the French Revolution onwards, it came to be accepted that nations like men have rights, above all, the right of freedom or, as it was afterwards called, self-determination. The liberation of “oppressed peoples” went on, amid the applause of radicals everywhere, throughout the nineteenth century. In this triumphal progress national self-determination and democracy went hand in hand. Self-determination might indeed be regarded as implicit in the idea of democracy; for if every man’s right is recognised to be consulted about the affairs of the political unit to which he belongs, he may be assumed to have an equal right to be consulted about the form and extent of the unit. “The proclamation of the sovereignty of the people led undesignedly but inevitably to the question, What people? … The abstract logic of democracy may tend towards cosmopolitanism, but the practical working of it had, and was bound to have, the psychological effect of intensifying nationalism”.[21] The analogy between men and nations was regarded as complete. The community of nations, like the democratic community, was a community of members each enjoying certain indefeasible rights which other members of the community were under an obligation to respect. In nineteenth-century liberal philosophy, freedom was the cardinal right of the nation as of the individual.
The settlement of 1919 was the apogee of the right of national self determination. The sequel has tarnished its splendour. Intelligent people can no longer believe that the breakdown has been due merely to failure to apply the principle of self-determination widely or impartially enough. The principle itself – far from providing, as Woodrow Wilson and others believed in 1919, the infallible short cut to a political paradise – has incurred discredit as the apparent cause of some of our most intractable political and economic problems. The crisis of national self-determination is parallel to the crisis of democracy. Self-determination, like democracy, has fallen on evil days because we have been content to keep it in the nineteenth-century setting of political rights. We have failed to adapt it to the twentieth-century context of military and economic problems; and we have failed to understand that the right of nations to self-determination, like every other right, is self-destructive unless it is placed in a framework of obligation. National self-determination requires to-day to be reinterpreted in this new light. There is no task which imposes itself more urgently on those engaged in formulating the outlines of the new world which must emerge out of the war.
Self-Determination and Nationality.
The first stage in our investigation must be to clear up an important ambiguity as to the nature of the right itself – an ambiguity which arises from a common confusion between the subjective right of self-determination and the objective fact of nationality. The principle of self-determination, strictly defined, requires that a group of people of reasonable size desirous of constituting a state should be allowed to constitute a state. But this proposition, as enunciated in the nineteenth century, more often took the form that a “nation” had the right to constitute a state. The belief in self-determination as a natural corollary of democracy found concrete expression in an alliance between democracy and nationalism or, as it was commonly called, the “principle of nationality”. This alliance, which identified self-determination with nationalism, and treated the nation as the natural basis of the state, continued to dominate political thought down to 1918.
The words “nation” and “state” carry with them a number of undefined and shifting implications which have led in the past, and still lead, to much confusion of thought. The state, whether we think of it as the apparatus of government or as the field in which that apparatus works, is the unit of political power. The nation is a community of men; and though modern usage restricts it to communities of a political character or having political aspirations, the nation is still a group of human beings, not a territory or an administrative machine. Hence the state may, in a loose way, be described as “artificial” or “conventional”, the nation as “natural” or “organic”. A state can be created, mutilated or destroyed overnight by a document drawn up in due form prescribed by international law. A nation grows or decays by a process which is independent of any single conscious act of the human will.
The French Revolution gave birth to the view, which in the nineteenth century came to prevail over a large part of Western Europe, and which was regarded merely as another way of defining the principle of self-determination, that “states” and “nations” ought to coincide, that states should be constituted on a national basis, and that nations ought to form states.[22] This appeared to be a natural coronary of the right of self-government which was as valid for nations as for individuals. This view leads, however, to an awkward dilemma. If we define a nation as a voluntary association of people who wish to live under a form of government uniting them, and distinguishing them from the rest of the world, on a basis of nationality, then the fundamental identity of self-determination and nationality, of democracy and nationalism, is saved, but the natural or organic quality of the nation is denied. If on the other hand this quality is asserted as something independent of the will of the individual, then the principle of nationality is, as Acton maintained, potentially incompatible with democracy since it “sets limits to the exercises of the popular will and substitutes for it a higher principle”.[23] Most nineteenth century thinkers had no doubt which horn of this dilemma to embrace. A nation was simply a group of people who wanted to be a nation. In Renan’s famous phrase, the very existence of a nation was “un plébiscite de tous les jours”. On this view, typical of nineteenth century rationalism, a Frenchman differed from an Italian or a German simply because he wished to be a Frenchman. By an act of will, he could presumably transform himself into a German or an Italian. This theory had its application in the not uncommon practice, recognised by all states, of “naturalisation”. In Western Europe, the assimilation of Jews went on apace and was approved by most enlightened Jews and non-Jews: the Jew, by an act of will, became a German, a Frenchman or an Englishman. In the Western hemisphere dissident Englishmen and voluntary migrants from other parts of Europe were creating a new American nation. Membership of a nation was an act of voluntary allegiance, and the right of a nation to self-determination was a corollary of the democratic principle.
It seems doubtful whether outside a limited circle of intellectuals, this rationalistic estimate of the nature of nationality ever really carried conviction. Most Englishmen who chanted the Gilbertian chorus
In spite of all temptations
To belong to other nations
He remains an Englishman
probably treated as ironical not only the suggestion that an Englishman might prefer to be a Russian, a Frenchman or a Prussian, but the whole implication that nationality was decided by personal choice. Whether national distinctions were based on differences of physical type, or on differences of language, culture and tradition, it was apparent to most people that they had an objective character so far as the individual was concerned. Nationality was not simply a matter of political opinion or of voluntary allegiance. A Frenchman could not become an Englishman in the same way as a monarchist might become a republican or a free-trader a protectionist. In most countries, an increasing spirit of national exclusiveness made admission to membership a matter of difficulty even for the most eager recruits. Once nationality was recognised as an objective attribute, there was always a potential incongruity between it and self-determination. If the individual Frenchman or Italian was a Frenchman or an Italian for reasons independent of his own volition, it could not be assumed as a logical and necessary corollary of the existence of a French and an Italian nation that the members of these nations desired to create or maintain an independent French or Italian state.
This potential incongruity appears to have been ignored by the peacemakers of 1919, who were unconscious of any discrepancy, or indeed any distinction, between the principle of self-determination and the principle of nationality. Woodrow Wilson had emphatically insisted, prior to the entry of the United States into the war, on the right of self-determination: “Every people has a right to choose the sovereignty under which they shall live”.[24] Yet when he came to elaborate the Fourteen Points, he spoke in terms not of self-determination, but of objectively ascertainable nationality: “A readjustment of the frontiers of Italy should be effected along clearly recognisable lines of nationality ... The relations of the several Balkan states to one another [should be] determined by friendly counsel along historically established lines of allegiance and nationality”. Others concerned in the drafting of the peace settlement were equally blind to any inconsistency between the two principles. Some discussions took place as to the admissibility of derogations from the principle of nationality or self-determination on strategic and economic grounds. But it was assumed without more ado that nationality and self-determination meant the same thing and that, if a man had the objective distinguishing marks of a Pole or a Southern Slav, he wanted to be a citizen of a Polish or Southern Slav state. The confusion continued to prevail many years later. “The new political frontiers of Europe are Wilsonian”, wrote Fisher in his History of Europe, “and so drawn that 3 percent only of the total population of the Continent live under alien rule. Judged by the test of self-determination, no previous European frontiers had been so satisfactory”.[25]
The failure to make any distinction between the principle of self-determination and the principle of nationality was due to one simple cause. In Western Europe, and in most of those overseas countries whose civilisation was derived from Western Europe, the distinction had ceased to have practical importance; and the political thought of the nineteenth century, which was still unchallenged in 1919, was the product of Western civilisation. It was characteristic of these countries that national feeling had grown up with, and within the framework of an existing state. Nationalism meant loyalty to the state; and though it would not have been true to say that men were Frenchmen or Dutchmen simply because they wanted to be Frenchmen or Dutchmen, it was true on the whole that Frenchmen and Dutchmen did in fact want to be citizens of independent states called France and Holland. In Germany and Italy, the historical background was different. German and Italian nationalism came into being before the German Reich and the Italian Kingdom existed, and helped to create them. But between 1870 and 1914 it became, within the frontiers of both countries, indistinguishable from loyalty to the state (though it left a problem, virtually unknown in Western Europe, of German and Italian irredentism outside those frontiers). Most Germans and Italians wanted to be citizens of Germany and Italy. Across the Atlantic it could be assumed with even greater certainty that the people of the United States wanted to be American citizens. Throughout the area occupied by the most advanced and progressive peoples of the world, the principle of nationality and the principle of self-determination were in substance identical. Advanced and progressive thinkers, such as those whose teachings inspired the peace settlement of 1919, assumed therefore that the two principles were identical elsewhere.
This assumption was a symptom of the profound ignorance prevailing in Western Europe about conditions east of Berlin and Vienna. In Eastern Europe, as well as in many parts of Asia, national feeling was rife. But except perhaps in the Far East, there were hardly any of those nation-states which were the characteristic feature of Western civilisation. In some cases national feeling held together a ruling group exercising sway over an alien population. In others national feeling united a subject population struggling to throw off alien rule. In these cases, social issues complicated national issues and tended to overshadow them. Elsewhere national differences were intertwined with religious differences and were scarcely distinguishable from them. In all these countries national feeling was far less widely disseminated than in Western Europe and affected a far smaller proportion of the population. If a peasant of what used to be the eastern marches of Poland were invited to express his view of self-determination, he would probably think of his desire to use his own particular forms of speech, to maintain the local customs of his village, to receive the ministrations of the Catholic or the Orthodox Church according to his own choice, to exchange a bad landlord for a good one, or perhaps – if he were capable of so daring a flight of imagination to own his own land. It is unlikely that membership of a Polish or Russian national state would enter into his calculations at all. The conception, applicable in the Western world of closely integrated communities held together by the joint principle of nationality and self-determination, was almost wholly irrelevant elsewhere.
Before they had finished their work, the peacemakers of 1919 had some inkling of the complications of the problem. They fully understood that the territorial intermingling of different peoples made the drawing of frontiers in Eastern Europe on the basis of nationality a matter of extreme difficulty. They understood in part that the objective marks of nationality were not always clearly defined, so that it was impossible to say dogmatically whether the Ukrainians were a separate nation or merely Russians speaking a variant dialect, and whether Slav-speaking Macedonians were Serbs, Bulgars, or just Macedonians.[26] What they hardly understood at all was that, even where the objective marks of nationality were perfectly clear, the possession of these marks did not necessarily give the clue to the state of mind of their possessor. Mesmerised by the assumption that the principle of nationality and the principle of self-determination were indistinguishable in their results, and by the fact that this assumption on the whole worked in Western Europe, politicians and propagandists alike were content to believe that the man whose mother-tongue was Polish or Serb or Lithuanian wanted to be a citizen of a Polish or Serb or Lithuanian state. Only where the “lines of nationality” were not “clearly recognisable”, or where for some other reason the fate of an area was especially debatable, was the expedient of a plebiscite adopted. To ascertain the will of the people was a method of applying the principle of nationality, only necessary where simpler methods of determining nationality were for some special reason inadequate.
The result of these plebiscites, which were conducted with sufficient fairness to ensure that all, or virtually all, the voters recorded their political preference without interference or intimidation, was most illuminating. Two were held within the confines of Western Europe: in Slesvig and in the Saar. In both the results showed no appreciable divergence from the language statistics. It was, broadly speaking, true that people who spoke German or Danish or French wanted to be citizens of a German or Danish or French state. The results of the remaining plebiscites – in Allenstein, in Marienwerder, in Upper Silesia and in Klagenfurt[27] – were equally conclusive in the opposite sense. In Allenstein, the 1910 census showed, by the test of mother-tongue, 46 per cent of Poles; in the plebiscite just over 2 per cent of the votes were cast for Poland. In Marienwerder, the corresponding figures were 15 and 7.5 per cent; in Upper Silesia 65 and 40 per cent. In Klagenfurt, census figures showed 68 per cent of Slovenes, the plebiscite figures just under 40 per cent. The expert who has surveyed these results observes that “language statistics gave little indication of national sympathies”. Indeed, “in certain sections in Upper Silesia, Allenstein and Klagenfurt the results of the voting were the exact opposite of what the language figures seemed to portend”.[28] One positive conclusion may however perhaps be drawn. The divergences, though variable in extent, were all in one direction. It seems justifiable to infer from these figures that, whereas people speaking German as their mother-tongue did as a rule desire to be citizens of a German state, only a proportion of people speaking Polish or Southern Slav as their mother-tongue (in one of these cases, a negligible proportion, in none of them a proportion exceeding two-thirds) preferred to be citizens of a Polish or Southern Slav rather than of a German state. This inference tallies with the conclusion already reached on other grounds that the supposed coincidence between the principle of nationality and the principle of self-determination is, generally speaking, valid for the peoples of Western Europe, but not elsewhere.
This conclusion is obviously one of considerable importance. In a sense all government rests on the consent of the governed. No political unit will be strong or durable which cannot count on the more or less spontaneous loyalty of a considerable part of its component population. The most effective unit will tend to be one made up of people who want to form a unit and are prepared for the necessary amount of self-sacrifice to maintain it. There is therefore much to be said for the principle of self-determination. But there is hardly anything to be said for the principle of including people in a particular political unit merely because they speak a particular language. In future, when we seek to apply the principle of self-determination outside the limits of Western Europe, we should be careful to disentangle it from those misleading associations with nationalism which nineteenth-century Western thought fastened on it.
The recognition of a right of self-determination for nations thus involves the question, What nations? And this question requires not a theoretical general answer, but particular answers based on the facts of particular cases. In the last resort the only rights are the rights of men. In order to assert the right of a nation to self-determination, we must first enquire whether the men on whose behalf the claim is made want to be a nation, and what kind of rights they want to claim. The problem is one of great difficulty and of immense practical importance. The peacemakers of 1919, obsessed with the belief that nations were clearly defined entities possessing clearly defined rights, sometimes uncritically accepted self-appointed groups of men, many of whom had long been exiles from their native country, as repositories of these national rights, and shirked the admittedly thorny question how far the claims made corresponded to the wishes or interests of the “nation” in whose name they were made. This mistake must not be repeated. It can be avoided by keeping constantly in mind the truth that self-determination is not a right of certain recognised and predetermined nations, but a right of individual men and women, which includes the right within certain limitations to form national groups. It will probably conduce to clear thinking on this subject if we speak less than we are at present in the habit of doing of the rights and claims of Ruritania as such and more of the rights and claims of individual Ruritanians.
The Limits of Self-Determination.
Apart from the Wilsonian confusion between national self-determination and nationality, it is now clear to most observers that the peacemakers of 1919 attached too absolute a value to self-determination as a key to all political problems. Woodrow Wilson described it as “an imperative principle of action”;[29] and even those who remembered the importance of other criteria for the fixing of state boundaries almost apologised for mentioning them.[30] Self-determination is one important principle which should be taken into account in deciding the form and extent of the political unit. But it cannot be safely treated as the sole or overriding principle to which all other considerations must be subordinated. There can be no absolute right of self-determination any more than there can be an absolute right to do as one pleases in a democracy. A group of individuals living in the middle of Great Britain or Germany cannot claim, in virtue of the principle of self-determination, an inherent right to establish an independent self-governing unit. In the same way, it would be difficult to claim for Wales, Catalonia and Uzbekistan an absolute and inherent right to independence, even if a majority of their inhabitants should desire it; such a claim to exercise self-determination would have to be weighed in the light of the interests, reasonably interpreted, of Great Britain, Spain and Soviet Russia. The same consideration of what is reasonable in the interest of others is also applicable to units which already enjoy an independent existence.
In these circumstances, a certain amount of fluctuation and inconsistency is inevitable in the meaning given to the right of self-determination. There can be no fixed standard of number or size establishing a right to form an independent unit; for the limit of what is possible and reasonable varies from one place to another and from one period of history to another. In classical Greece, 100,000 people could easily form an independent unit. Nobody would pretend that this is possible to-day. Hence every country tends to be inconsistent in affirming or denying the right of self-determination. The American colonists claimed and exercised it against Great Britain in 1787. Three-quarters of a century later the descendants of some of them refused it to the descendants of others. This did not deter a Democratic President of the United States, half a century later still, from maintaining, in the phrase already quoted, that “every people has a right to choose the sovereignty under which they shall live”. Lansing’s cogent, though belated, comment is well known: “When the President talks of ‘self-determination’, what unit has he in mind? Does he mean a race, a territorial unit, or a community? Without a definite unit which is practical, application of this principle is dangerous to peace and stability”.[31] Even Lansing, however, does not seem to have realised that this uncertainty was not a quality of Wilson’s mind, but was inherent in the principle itself. Though the inconsistency with which the principle of self-determination was applied in the peace settlement of 1919 has been frequently censured, few of the critics have grasped that the principle is one which in the nature of things does not admit of consistent application.
If then we ask why “the liberation of oppressed peoples”, which had rightly been regarded as a progressive principle in the nineteenth century, came to appear a reactionary and retrogressive principle which helped to put the clock back after 1919, the simplest answer is that Woodrow Wilson and his associates failed to recognise that the principle was a variable one requiring constant modification in the light of political and economic conditions, and that the extension given to it at Versailles was utterly at variance with twentieth-century trends of political and economic organisation. By treating the principle of national self-determination as absolute and by carrying it further than it had ever been carried before, they fostered the disintegration of existing political units, and favoured the creation of a multiplicity of smaller units, at a moment when strategic and economic factors were demanding increased integration and the grouping of the world into fewer and larger units of power. The makers of the 1919 settlement did indeed recognise that the effective self-determination of small nations was incompatible with unbridled military power and with complete independence in the military sphere. But they had no inkling of the developments of modern military technique; and the safeguards which they provided in the Covenant of the League of Nations were inappropriate as well as inadequate. What proved, moreover, equally serious was that they altogether failed to recognise that the self-determination of small nations was incompatible with unbridled economic power and complete economic independence. “You cannot create a large number of new states”, said Stresemann towards the end of his life, “and wholly neglect to adapt them to the European economic system”.[32] But the peacemakers of 1919 understood nothing of the European economic system or of the need of adaptation to it; and they were content with a pious, and not wholly sincere, aspiration in favour of “the equitable treatment of the commerce of all members of the League”. Thus national self-determination, as applied in 1919, came more and more into conflict with the realities of military and economic power. The future of self-determination must be studied primarily in its relationship to power in these two forms.
Self-Determination and Military Power.
The crisis of self-determination in relation to military power lies in the fact that the principle of self-determination has been invoked to justify the creation of an ever larger number of small independent states at a time when the survival of the small independent state as a political unit has been rendered problematical by developments of military technique.
The problem of the small independent state first emerged at the Congress of Vienna, where the affairs of the small Powers were settled over their heads by decisions of the Great Powers. The system then pursued, unsatisfactory on paper but tolerable in practice, was that of the nineteenth-century “Concert of Europe”. Small Powers were encouraged to conduct their own affairs on the assumption that they had no voice in the affairs of Europe as a whole. In wars between Great Powers, their status was one of neutrality. During the nineteenth century, the practice of states and the zeal of international lawyers built up a substantial code of rules for neutrality in time of war; and these rules were on the whole tolerably well observed in the spacious period of local and limited wars. In these conditions a real though limited right of independence could be enjoyed by small states.
The first serious blow to this conception of an honourable and ordered status of neutrality and independence for small states was struck by the war of 1914-18. Two small countries, Belgium and Greece, were directly forced into the war by military action. Others were induced to participate by extensive promises or by various forms of military or economic pressure. Others felt that, as their interests were bound up with the victory of one side, it was both profitable and honourable for them to fight on that side and hasten the victory. Those which remained neutral found that the exigencies of the blockade strained almost to breaking-point many of the rights which neutrals had hitherto enjoyed, and that they were hardly more immune from the consequences of war than the belligerents themselves. A considerable number of small countries did succeed, even in close proximity to the principal war zones, in upholding their neutrality throughout the war and in avoiding at any rate the direct ravages of military operations. Nevertheless there was no doubt that the neutrality, and therefore the effective independence, of small states had received a severe shock.
At the close of the war, there was a vague realisation in many quarters that the concept of the neutrality and independence of small states had somehow been destroyed or modified. At the same time, the peacemakers were committed, in virtue of the principle of self-determination, to the creation of more and more small states. A supposed solution of this dilemma was found in the League of Nations, whose Covenant declared that any war was “a matter of concern to the whole League” and that any member of the League resorting to war in defiance of its obligations under the Covenant” shall ipso facto be deemed to have committed an act of war against all other members of the League”. “Between members of the League”, declared the British Government on one occasion, “there can be no neutral rights, because there can be no neutrals”.[33] The small states, no longer assured of independence by the maintenance of a strict neutrality, were to take sides in any future war between Great Powers, fighting in alliance with the “victim of aggression” against the “aggressor”. This was the system which came to be known as “collective security”.
There were several fallacies in this system. The first was the illusion that an arrangement whose basis was necessarily the preservation of the status quo could ever be universal: in fact there was never a time when the League of Nations included more than five of the seven Great Powers, and even this maximum was achieved only for a short period. The second fallacy was to suppose that the criterion of “aggression” was either equitably applicable or morally valid. The third and most important fallacy lay in the fact that modern warfare requires months or years of preparation, that if states are to collaborate effectively in war they must concert their preparations in advance, and that it is impossible, especially for a small country situated in proximity to one of the belligerents, to wait until an “act of aggression” has brought about a state of war before deciding on which side to fight. The only conception of collective security which was not hopelessly unrealistic was the French conception of a European alliance against a specific enemy under French leadership; and this conception was unacceptable to the small Powers. The doctrine current in the ’twenties that neutrality was obsolete, though in substance true, was discredited by the only alternative doctrine offered as a substitute for neutrality. Recognition of the hollowness of this substitute, combined with natural conservatism, led small states to cling fervently to the shadow of their nineteenth-century independence. In the ’twenties, when the prospect of war seemed mainly academic, Switzerland and Germany – then a weak state – cautiously contracted out of any League obligation which might involve them in a breach of neutrality. In the ’thirties, when the prospect of war became real, the small Powers emphatically proclaimed their intention to remain neutral.[34]   The doctrine of collective security embodied in the League Covenant was already bankrupt. It required the experience of 1940 to demonstrate that a return to the nineteenth-century conception of neutrality and independence for small states was equally impracticable.
Two factors in modern warfare have combined to destroy the independence of small states based on the principle of self-determination. The first of these factors has been the rapid growth of military disparity between strong and weak Powers. In the days when the rifle was the main weapon of offence and a fortress an impregnable barrier, a resolute small Power could offer serious resistance to a much stronger attacker, particularly if the main forces of the attacker were occupied elsewhere. In such conditions the strongest Power would have an inducement to respect the independence of small neutral countries and not add more of them than he could help to the list of his enemies. In 1914 these conditions were already passing away. But even then the gallant delaying actions of the Belgian army were an important factor in the campaign which ended with the Battle of the Marne. In 1940 the resistance of small Powers had no more than a nuisance value. By this time the conduct of war depended primarily on the accumulation and marshalling of a vast mechanical equipment far beyond the industrial resources of a small country. Denmark did not attempt to defend herself; and the defences of Norway, Holland and Belgium, even with such hastily improvised assistance as could reach them from outside, did not delay the German forces long enough, or exact sufficient sacrifices from them, to affect in any material way the course of events. Henceforth the only way in which a small country could hope to defend itself against Great Power A would be to hand over the charge of its defences well in advance to Great Power B. But such action would not only be resented as a breach of neutrality by Great Power A,[35] but would constitute a virtual surrender of independence to Great Power B, since the Power which is responsible for the defence of a territory must necessarily control its policy in essentials. “Absolute neutrality”, wrote the Izvestia in April 1940, “is a fantasy unless real power is present capable of sustaining it. Small states lack such power”.[36] In modern conditions of warfare a small state cannot defend its independence against a Great Power except by methods which in themselves constitute a surrender of military independence. Interdependence has become an inescapable condition of survival.
The second factor which has destroyed the effective independence of small and weak states is that, in the highly developed conditions of modern warfare, the mere existence of neutral territory in proximity to the belligerents is likely to prove an embarrassment to one side and an asset to the other, so that neutrality, however passive, is rarely neutral in effect.[37] The intensification of economic warfare has probably contributed more than anything else to this result. Prior to 1914 a belligerent might well hesitate, even if some military advantage were involved, to attack a neighbouring country which, so long as it remained neutral, would constitute a source and channel of supplies. When in the early years of the present century, the German General Staff elaborated its plan for invading France through Belgium, Holland was excluded from the plan because a neutral port at Rotterdam was essential if Germany was to receive adequate supplies from overseas. The creation during the war of 1914-18 of a wholly new kind of blockade which prevented Germany from drawing the expected economic advantages from the neutrality of Holland revolutionised the position. When the German General Staff drew up its plans for the invasion of 1940, it may safely be assumed that there was no inclination to exclude Holland. It was now clear that the countries of the Western European seaboard could no longer serve in time of war as channels for overseas supplies to Germany. On the contrary, owing to British command of the sea, they were sources of supply to Great Britain; and what was more important still, they helped to shield the coasts of Britain from German attack. A neutral Rotterdam could not serve as an entrepôt for German war trade. Rotterdam in German hands might serve as a valuable base against Great Britain. Dutch, Belgian, Norwegian and Danish neutrality was, quite apart from anything these countries might think or do, an asset to Great Britain. The German General Staff drew the necessary conclusion.
The present war has revealed the empty character of the formal independence enjoyed by small states. The only choice now open to them is a policy of peace at any price, which is the negation of a policy; and the humiliations entailed by it, even where it succeeds in sparing them the physical horror of war, have been amply illustrated by such countries as Sweden and Turkey. Small states can no longer balance themselves in dignified security on the tight-rope of neutrality. Still less can they rely on an indeterminate system of collective security which leaves open the identity of the future enemy and the future ally. The small country can survive only by seeking permanent association with a Great Power. The mutual obligation which such association will involve cannot be limited to the contingent liability to do certain things in certain eventualities the most that the League Covenant ever sought to achieve. It must be a continuing obligation to pursue a common military and economic policy and to pool military and economic resources under some form of common control. Experience has shown conclusively that nothing less than this can in modern conditions assure a reasonable degree of military security. The right of national self-determination is conditioned by this military necessity.
Self-Determination and Economic Power.
The threat of military power to the right of national self-determination and to the independence of small states was at any rate recognised by the peacemakers of 1919, though they had little understanding of the nature of the problem created by modern military technique. But wedded as they were to nineteenth-century conceptions of laissez-faire and of the divorce between economics and politics, they failed to detect the more recent and more insidious threat of economic power. It is one of the anomalies of the Covenant that, while practical experience of the warof1914-18 had made its framers well aware of the potentialities of economic power as a weapon of defence, it never occurred to them to consider it as a potential weapon of attack. When some years later Soviet Russia proposed to remedy this omission by a pact of economic non-aggression, the suggestion was ill received. It is indeed true that the definition of economic aggression would meet with still more insuperable difficulties than the definition of military aggression. But the theoretical justification of the proposal was undeniable. The system of the Covenant was defective not merely because it failed to cope adequately with the problem of military power, but because it ignored the problem of economic power. A similar lacuna may be discerned in the minorities treaties concluded in 1919-20. “In their view of what was essential”, remarks Mr. Macartney of the framers of these treaties, “they were naturally guided by their own experience. Now the minorities struggle in the West had for a long century past been essentially political ... Liberal thought had naturally come to attach the greatest importance to the problems of which it had the chief experience”.[38] States bound themselves to accord to minorities the cherished political rights of nineteenth-century democracy. But these did not include the right to work or the right not to starve. Petitions against racial discrimination in such matters as evictions and land settlement were received and discussed at Geneva. But there were a hundred ways in which a well-organised state, which punctually discharged its treaty obligations, could still reduce a minority to penury and despair by such simple devices as refusal to allocate contracts, or to grant financial credits, to firms managed by, or employing, members of the minority. The minorities treaties, like the Covenant, afforded no protection against the oppressive use of economic power; and during the years from 1919 to 1939 it was economic power which counted most.
This fatal neglect of the economic factor by the peacemakers of 1919 was the main theme of Mr. Keynes’ famous book on The Economic Consequences of the Peace: “To what a different future Europe might have looked forward if either Mr. Lloyd George or Mr. Wilson had apprehended that the most serious of the problems which claimed their attention were not political or territorial, but financial and economic, and that the perils of the future lay not in frontiers and in sovereignties, but in food, coal and transport”. And again: “The fundamental economic problem of a Europe starving and disintegrating before their eyes was the one question in which it was impossible to arouse the interest of the Four”.[39]
In retrospect it is not difficult to see that the prudent course would have been – and the same would be equally true to-day – to attend first, as an immediate practical measure, to the urgent needs of economic recovery, and then to evolve, in the light of the experience gained, the necessary compromise between the claims of national independence and the imperative exigencies of economic interdependence. What was in fact done was to give unconditional priority to the claims of national self-determination, so far as they could be satisfied at the expense of the defeated Powers, and leave the economic consequences to look after themselves. The growing importance of economic power, and its revolutionary consequences for unqualified political independence and for the right of national self-determination, were ignored.
The causes of this blindness can be easily diagnosed. The peacemakers of 1919 were living in a past world, whose transient conditions they assumed as a postulate of the future settlement. In the nineteenth century, economic interdependence was in some measure a reality. Great Britain, whose commercial and financial predominance made the free flow of goods and credit a paramount British interest, was powerful enough to secure the general acceptance of certain standards of international economic behaviour. There were certain conventional limits beyond which states did not use economic weapons against one another. There was a tacit understanding that certain kinds of economic unity would be maintained. Civilised countries accepted the gold standard, did not depreciate their currencies and did not disown their debts. Moderate protective tariffs were in use almost everywhere. But they were commonly mitigated by acceptance of the most-favoured nation clause; and the ingenious dodges by which this clause can be rendered virtually meaningless had not been discovered. Quotas and subsidies were in their infancy. The potentialities of national economic power as a weapon of outstanding importance in international politics were undeveloped and almost unthought of. In these relatively idyllic conditions, British predominance assured a certain minimum of real economic interdependence, and even a weak independent state had nothing to fear from economic discrimination. The peace-makers of Versailles assumed that these conditions were perpetual, and that no economic factor militated against the unqualified recognition of the right to national independence.
The settlement of 1919 was thus valid only for economic, as well as for military, conditions which no longer existed. The history of the twenty years between the two wars showed the Great Powers using the new economic weapon against one another and against the small Powers, and the small Powers using the same weapon against one another. There was no profit in the endless controversies on the issue who began first. The question was not a moral one. Modern industrial conditions had enormously developed economic power and the importance of the economic factor, both in national and in international politics. In the midst of political disintegration and the multiplication of political units, economic power had undergone a rapid process of concentration. As an American writer puts it, “the contemporary evolution of nationalism has reached an impasse between a popular determination to have smaller cultural units and a will to effect larger economic aggregations”.[40] It soon became clear that the satisfaction given in the name of self-determination to national aspirations had aggravated economic problems; and the economic crisis of 1930 revealed the hollowness of the structure long before the iron hand of Hitler supervened to dash it brutally in pieces. The wielding of unlimited economic power by a multiplicity of small national units had become incompatible with the survival of civilisation.
The economic repercussions of the unrestricted right of national self-determination are perhaps in the long run more significant than the military repercussions; for they impinge directly on the daily life of the ordinary man. The world has been changing its shape. A recent Irish writer quotes the observation of a young Irishman that the world is not “the same size as it was in 1916”. The demand for prosperity has spread and deepened. “With the change this small country grew a shade smaller; it could no longer provide more than a fraction of its children with the standard they had been taught to expect”. The young generation had begun to be dissatisfied with a “walled-in Gaelic state”.[41] Political rights have failed to provide a key to the millennium. Just as the right to vote seems of little value if it does not carry with it the right to work for a living wage, so the right of national self-determination loses much of its appeal if it turns out to be a limiting factor on economic opportunity. The rights of nations, like the rights of man, will become hollow if they fail to pave the way to economic well-being, or even to bare subsistence, and offer no solution of the problems which most affect the man in the street and the man in the field. Just as political democracy must, if it is to survive, be reinterpreted in economic terms, so the political right of national self-determination must be reconciled with the exigencies of economic interdependence.
The Future of Self-Determination.
Recognition of the nature of the disease may give us a clue to that re-definition of national self-determination which, like a re-definition of democracy, is so badly needed. If we remember that the principle at stake is the principle of self-determination, and avoid confusing it with the principle of nationality, we shall be clear that this principle is not necessarily one of disintegration. Men may “determine” themselves into larger as readily as into smaller units; and the reaction which we have already noted against the principle as applied in 1919 is the symptom of a movement in that direction. It is true that the individual wants to see the group of which he is a member free and independent. But it is also true that he wants to belong to a group large and powerful enough to play a significant role in a wider community and thus lend a sense of reality to the service which he renders to it. If the activities of his group seem trivial and ineffective, his membership of it will become meaningless to him, and he will be open to transfer his loyalties to a larger unit. Where the individual himself is incapable of making this adjustment, it may occur readily enough in the next generation. Once the crabbing and confining effects of small national markets, small national political systems and even small national cultures come to be felt as restrictions on a larger freedom, the days of the small independent national state, the embodiment of the ideals of 1919, are numbered.
These trends have been intensified since the outbreak of war, both in those countries which have been direct victims of military attack and in those which have maintained a precarious neutrality, by a consciousness of the military helplessness and the economic confinement of the small national unit. In December 1940, the acting Norwegian Minister for Foreign Affairs, in a remarkable broadcast from London, spoke of the war-time cooperation between Norwegian and other “freedom-loving forces in the world” as “a work which is at the same time forming the basis for a state which must and shall endure after the war – a political cooperation which will secure our national freedom and protect us from attacking tyrants, and which economically establishes social security and prevents financial crises from destroying economic life and stopping social developments”.[42] There is everywhere increasing recognition that self-determination is not quite the simple issue – not the clear-cut choice between mutually exclusive alternatives proclaimed by a cross on a ballot paper – which it seemed in 1919. If it is true that the multiplication of independent states was in fact what the peoples concerned then desired, it is by no means certain that this would be their desire to-day. It is a matter of vital interest to consider here and now what conditions for an effective future organisation of the world are dictated by military and economic exigencies, and how to reconcile these conditions with the strong tendency of human beings to form independent, and potentially hostile, groups for the preservation and cultivation of a common language and tradition, common customs and ways of life, and common interests.
Certain tentative conclusions emerge quite clearly. In the first place, we must discard the nineteenth-century assumption that nation and state should normally coincide. In a clumsy but convenient terminology which originated in Central Europe, we must distinguish between “cultural nation” and “state nation”. The existence of a more or less homogeneous racial or linguistic group bound together by a common tradition and the cultivation of a common culture must cease to provide a prima facie case for the setting up or the maintenance of an independent political unit. Secondly, we must lay far less stress than was done in 1919 on the absolute character of the right of self-determination and far more on its necessary limitations. The conception of obligations must be invoked to counteract the undue nineteenth-century emphasis on rights. The right of self-determination must carry with it a recognised responsibility to subordinate military and economic policy and resources to the needs of a wider community, not as a hypothetical engagement to meet some future contingency, but as a matter of the everyday conduct of affairs. Both these conclusions require further elaboration.
The divorce between nation and state, or between “cultural nation” and “state nation”, would mean, expressed in simpler language, that people should be allowed and encouraged to exercise self-determination for some purposes but not for others, or alternatively that they should “determine” themselves into different groups for different purposes. There is nothing in such a division incompatible with human nature or with normal human aspirations. Almost all civilised men and women are members of different groups formed to satisfy different needs, and find no difficulty in reconciling the claims of a church, a sports club, a horticultural society and a trade union. Indeed, it can be plausibly argued that healthy social life can exist only where there is some such intertwined network of loyalties and interests, and where no one institution – whether state, church or trade union – makes an all-embracing demand on the allegiance of its members in every field of their activities. Moreover it is clear that such a compromise really can be effected even when one of the loyalties concerned is loyalty to the state. There is every reason to suppose that considerable numbers of Welshmen, Catalans and Uzbeks have quite satisfactorily solved the problem of regarding themselves as good Welshmen, Catalans and Uzbeks for some purposes and good British, Spanish and Soviet citizens for others.
An extension of this system of divided but not incompatible loyalties is the only tolerable solution of the problem of self-determination; for it is the only one which will satisfy at one and the same time the needs of modern military and economic organisation and the urge of human beings to form groups based on common tradition, language and usage. The difficulty of such an extension is doubtless very great at a period when the power and authority of the state are everywhere increasing and are covering, more and more effectively, more and more departments of life, and when economic organisation, education and the direction of opinion on matters vital to security have become recognised functions of government. It would be rash to look for a reversal of this trend. But the very process of concentration and centralisation which this development entails inevitably ends by setting up a compensating process of devolution; for the more far-reaching and more ubiquitous the activities of government, the more necessary does it become to decentralise control in the interests of efficient administration. It is in this interplay between centralisation and devolution, in this recognition that some human affairs require to be handled by larger, and others by smaller, groups than at present, that we must seek a solution to the baffling problem of self-determination. “The troubles of our day”, writes Mr. Macartney, “arise out of the modern Conception of the national state: out of the identification of the political ideals of all the inhabitants of the state with the national cultural ideals of the majority in it. If once this confusion between two things which are fundamentally different can be abandoned, there is no reason why the members of a score of different nationalities should not live together in perfect harmony in the same state”.[43] Once the broader military and economic framework is securely established, there is no limit to the number or to the functions of the smaller national units of self-government which may be built up within it. In this context the natural and ineradicable desire of the human group for self-determination in the conduct of its affairs can be given the fullest scope and expression.
The other conclusion which requires emphasis is that national self-determination, like democracy, must be re-defined in terms which match the assertion of rights with the equally valid assertion of correlative obligations. In 1919 it was assumed that, once a “nation” was recognised as such, the right of self-determination conferred on it an absolute claim to national independence, and that the concession of this claim must have priority over any serious discussion of mutual obligations between nations. This neglect of the correlation of rights and obligations, based on acceptance, tacit or avowed, of the doctrine of the harmony of interests, was characteristic of the thought and policy of Woodrow Wilson, who assumed, with an unquestioning readiness which seems incomprehensible to-day, that the universal recognition of the right of national self-determination would bring universal peace. Rights were absolute; to recognise a right and make it effective was a good in itself; the assumption of a countervailing obligation was voluntary, and the recognition of the right could not be made dependent on it.
It would be foolish to underestimate the extent of the revolution in men’s ways of thinking which will be required to restore the issue of national self-determination to its true perspective as a right exercised within a framework of obligation. For the small nation, it involves the abandonment of the exceptionally favoured position, enjoyed by small countries in the nineteenth century, when neutrality was the only price asked of them for military security, and when their territories and their interests (including, sometimes, wealthy overseas possessions) were protected by an overwhelmingly powerful navy for which they were not responsible and to which they made no contribution. For the Great Power, it involves the assumption of a direct and permanent share of responsibility both military and economic – such as Great Powers have rarely been prepared to undertake – for the welfare of other nations. For Great Britain – to take the concrete case – it means making the defence of, at any rate, some European countries a common unit with the defence of Britain, and accepting the principle of a common economic policy which will take into account the interest of, say, French, Belgian and German industry or of Danish and Dutch agriculture as well as of British industry or agriculture. The military security and economic well-being of Great Powers, not less than those of smaller countries, is bound up with the acceptance of a new conception of international obligation.
The same principles will also apply to the difficult problem of the right of national self-determination for colonial peoples. It has often been said that the Allied Governments behaved inconsistently in 1919 when they asserted the right of self-determination in Europe and rejected it in Africa and Asia. Logically, this charge is irrefutable. Yet apart from the still undeveloped capacity of many of these peoples for self-government and from such special problems as that created in India by the diversity of races and religions, it is clear that to break up existing military and economic units in the name of national self-determination would in fact have been a reactionary measure. In Europe the present need is to build up larger military and economic units while retaining existing or smaller units for other purposes. In Africa and Asia it is to retain large intercontinental military and economic units (not necessarily the existing ones in every case), but to establish within these units a far greater measure of devolution and an immense variety of local administration rooted in local tradition, law and custom. The heedless and unwitting extermination of native ways of life and the imposition of a mechanically uniform system of administration has perhaps been as great a factor in the decay and depopulation of many colonial areas as direct and deliberate exploitation by economic interests. The conception of Africa as a series of vast and more or less uniform areas divided from one another by arbitrary geometrical frontiers must give place to an administrative patchwork based on the self-determination of the tribal unit. In this sense, the “balkanisation” of the tropics is a consummation devoutly to be wished.
It would seem therefore that the international relations of the future must, if the alternatives of complete chaos or brutal domination are to be avoided, develop along two lines: recognition of the need for a larger unit than the present nation for military and economic purposes, and within this unit for the largest measure of devolution for other purposes, and recognition that the right of national self-determination can be valid only within a new framework of mutual military and economic obligation. The crisis of self-determination, like the crisis of democracy, turns ultimately on a moral issue. But it expresses itself in military, and above all, like the crisis of democracy, in economic, terms. There can be no solution of it unless we can solve the economic crisis which is the most conspicuous and most far-reaching symptom of the troubles of our time.
(Prefaced and edited by Luigi V. Majocchi)

[1] E.H. Carr is primarily famous as a historian of the Bolshevik revolution, but at the time of writing Conditions of Peace he was professor of International Politics at the University of Wales and had already published important works on this subject.
[2] Conditions of Peace, London, MacMillan, 1942.
[3] Between 1936 and 1939 Carr was a member of a Study Group of the Royal Institute of International Affairs. This renowned London-based institute of international politics (also known as Chatham House) was founded by Lionel Curtis together with Lord Lothian and the Astors. The Study Group, of which Arnold Toynbee was also a member, produced a report on the theme of nationalism (cf. E.H. Carr, The Twenty Years’ Crisis. 1919-1939, London, Macmillan, 1941, p. XI).
[4] Conditions of Peace, cit., p. 40.
[5] M. Albertini, Lo stato nazionale, Milano, Giuffrè, 1960, p. 23.
[6] Conditions of Peace, cit., p. 63.
[7] Ibid., p. 47.
[8] Ibid., p. 66.
[9] The Twenty Years’ Crisis, cit., p. 246 and on.
[10] Conditions of Peace, cit., p. 165.
[11] Ibid., p. 165.
[12] Ibid., p. 164.
[13] Ibid., p. 164.
[14] Ibid., p. 164.
[15] Ibid., p. 165.
[16] Ibid., p. 242 and on.
[17] Ibid., p. 270.
[18] L. Dehio, “Versailles after Thirty-five Years”, in Germany and World Politics in the Twentieth Century, English translation by D. Persner, New York, N.Y., Alfred A. Knopf, 1960.
[19] Conditions of Peace, cit., p. 271.
[20] Ibid., p. 271.
[21] William Temple, Archbishop of York, Thoughts in War-Time, pp. 112-13.
[22] How deeply this idea has taken root is shown by the linguistic confusions to which it has given rise. Thus the English language, never having taken the trouble to evolve derivatives from the word “state” speaks of the “national debt” and the “nationalisation” of railways. The French language forms no adjective from Etat, but can speak of “Biens d’Etat” (though there are also “Domaines Nationaux”) and has the useful if clumsy words étatisme and étatisation. In the United States of America, “state” is necessarily reserved for the component states of the Union, and “nation” is now frequently used to designate the Union as a whole. The “League of Nations” is a notable example of this confusion of terminology.
[23] Acton, History of Freedom, p. 288. Cf C.A. Macartney: “To claim ... that every nation must form an independent state is to substitute for true self-determination a very different thing, which should rather be called national determinism”. (National States and National Minorities, p. 100).
[24] Public Papers of Woodrow Wilson: The New Democracy, ii, p. 187.
[25] H.A.L. Fisher, A History of Europe, iii, p. 1161.
[26] It was confidently assumed that the principal objective mark of nationality was language. “In Central and Eastern Europe”, wrote Professor Toynbee, reflecting the assumptions of Peace Conference, “the growing consciousness of nationality had attached itself neither to traditional frontiers nor to new geographical associations, but almost exclusively to mother tongues.” (The World After the Peace Conference, p. 18). Mr. C.A. Macartney traces back to Schlegel and Fichte the recognition of language as the essential criterion “both as constituting the spiritual link between the members of a nation and as offering proof of common origin.” (National States and National Minorities, p. 99).
[27] A plebiscite at Sopron was conducted in markedly different conditions from the other plebiscites, and its results could scarcely be regarded as a safe guide.
[28] S. Wambaugh, Plebiscites Since the World War, i, pp. 202, 493. The figures cited above are taken from this monumental work (i, pp. 133-4, 198, 350).
[29] Public Papers of Woodrow Wilson: War and Peace, i, p. 180.
[30] For example Balfour wrote to House in the following terms: “Strong frontiers make for peace; and though great crimes against the principle of nationality have been committed in the name of ‘strategic necessity’, still if a particular boundary adds to the stability of international relations, and if the populations concerned be numerically insignificant, I would not reject it in deference to some a priori principle” (Intimate Papers of Colonel House, ed. C. Seymour, iv, pp. 52-3).
[31] R. Lansing, The Peace Negotiations: a Personal Narrative, p. 86.
[32] G. Stresemann: His Diaries, Letters and Papers, ed. and transl. E. Sutton, iii, p. 619.
[33] Memorandum on the Signature of His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom of the Optional Clause, Cmd. 3452, p. 10.
[34] A typical pronouncement was one made by the Netherlands Foreign Minister in the Lower House on November 24, 1934: “Holland will never surrender her traditional policy, and it is a mistake to believe that Dutch territory can be disposed of by other parties for the defence of another state ... Our country has no desire to follow in the wake of anyone European state or group of states”. In July 1940 when the unreality of such a position had been conclusively and dramatically demonstrated, Mr. De Valera was still assuring the world that his Government was “resolved to maintain and defend the country’s neutrality in all circumstances” (The Times, July 5, 1940).
[35] In a note of May 10, 1940, to the Netherlands and Belgian Governments, the German Government made it a ground of complaint that they had concerted plans of defence with Great Britain and France and had thus forfeited their neutral status. This charge was unfortunately ill-founded. The Netherlands Minister for Foreign Affairs has since revealed that, in the week preceding May 10, the Netherlands Government received from its intelligence service information about the impending invasion “enough to cause the most serious alarm”. But “even then the Government did not warn the Allies; we wanted to be absolutely certain that a founded accusation could never be made against us for having secretly abandoned the neutrality we had so consistently observed”. (E.N. van Kleffens, The Rape of the Netherlands, p. 110). M. van Kleffens appears somewhat apprehensive of the impression which may be made on his countrymen by this confession; for he proceeds to argue that help could not in any event have reached them in time. This may have been true in the particular case, but hardly affects the moral.
[36] Izvestia (leading article), April 11, 1940.
[37] Switzerland is perhaps, thanks to her geographical situation, one of the rare exceptions.
[38] C.A. Macartney, National States and National Minorities, pp. 281-2.
[39] J. M. Keynes, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, pp. 134, 211.
[40] C.J.H. Hayes in International Conciliation, No. 369 (April 1941), p. 238.
[41] Sean O’Faolain, An Irish Adventure, pp. 304-5.
[42] The Times, December 16,1940.
[43] C.A. Macartney, National States and National Minorities, p. 450.



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