The Idea of a League of Nations

"What has happened is essentially this, that the natural limitations upon warfare which have existed hitherto appear to have broken down."
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III.

Let us now look a little more closely between the two extremes of possibility we have stated in the preceding section, between a world-unanimity for peace, on the one hand,—Everyman's World League of Nations,—and a world-collapse under the overgrowth of war-organization and material, on the other.

The affairs of the world are now in a posture which enables us to dismiss the idea of a world hegemony for Germany, or for any other single power, as a fantastic vanity.

We have to consider, however, the much greater probability of a group of the more powerful states, including perhaps a chastened Germany, agreeing among themselves to organize and enforce peace in the world for ever. This would give us still a third type of league which we may call the League of the Senior States. It is perhaps the most probable of all the possibilities.

And, on the other hand, we have assumed, quite crudely, in the first section that the forces of popular insurrection are altogether destructive of organization, whereas there may be as yet unmeasured constructive and organizing power in the popular mind. There is a middle way between a superstitious belief in unguided democracy and a frantic hatred of it. Concurrently, for example, with the earlier phases of Bolshevik anarchy in Petrograd and Moscow, there seems to have been for a time a considerable development of cooperative production and distribution throughout European and Asiatic Russia. Mingled with much merely destructive and vindictive insurrectionism, there may be a popular will to order, reaching out to cooperate with all the sound and liberal forces of the old system of things. We can only guess as yet at the possibilities of a collective will in these peasant and labor masses of Europe which now read and write and have new-born ideas of class-action and responsibility. They will be ill-informed, they may be emotional, but they may have vast reserves of common sense. Much may depend upon the unforeseeable accident of great leaders. Nearly every socialist and democratic organization in the world, it is to be noted, now demands the League of Nations in some form, and men may arise who will be able to give that stir quite vague demand force and creative definition. A failure to achieve a world guaranty of peace on the part of the diplomatists at a peace conference may lead, indeed, to a type of insurrection and revolution not merely destructive but preparatory. It is conceivable. The deliberate organization of peace, as distinguished from a mere silly clamor for peace, may break out at almost any social level, and in the form either of a constructive, an adaptive, or a revolutionary project.

We have not, therefore, here, a case of a clear cut choice of two ways; there is a multitude of roads which may converge upon the permanent organization of world peace, and an infinitude of thwarting and delaying digressions may occur. Complicating and mitigating circumstances may, and probably will, make this antagonism of war and peace a lengthy and tortuous drama. There may be many halts and setbacks in the inevitable development of war; belligerence may pause and take breath on several occasions before its ultimate death flurry.

Such delays, such backwater phases and secondary aspects, must not confuse the issue and hide from us the essential fact of the disappearance of any real limitation upon the overgrowth of war in human life. That unlimited overgrowth is the probability which is driving more and more men to study and advocate this project of a League of Nations, because they are convinced that only through counter-organization of the peace-will in mankind can the world be saved from a great cycle of disasters, disorder, and retrogression.

And it does not follow, because the origins and motives of the will for such a world-league are various, that they involve a conflict over essentials, as to the character of the final result. It is the declared belief of many of the promoters of the world-league movement that a careful analysis of the main factors of its problems, a scientific examination of what is possible, what is impossible, what is necessary, and what is dangerous, must lead the mass of reasonable men in the world, whatever their class, origins, traditions, and prejudices, to a practical agreement upon the main lines of this scheme for the salvation of mankind. It is believed that the clear, deliberate, and methodical working out of the broad problems and riddles of the world-league idea will beve a sufficient compelling force to bring it within the realm of practical possibility.

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