Prospects of Universal Peace


IT is not easy for some of us to take the Peace Congress quite seriously. The abolition of war, with the consequent introduction of universal peace, is such a vast undertaking that it seems entirely impracticable, and hardly deserving of formal discussion. There has been nothing really similar to this gathering in the history of human society; international agreements have generally been framed with conscious reference to the prospective outbreak of war as a contingency that was by no means remote. Even the project of Henri IV. of France for promoting universal peace in Christendom had its main object in the militant desire to present a united front against the Moslem. There has been but little seeking for peace, absolutely and for its own sake, in the history of national relations. Hence it is that the aim set forward in the Tsar’s manifesto has very little relation to the ordinary business of the diplomatist, and takes us into spheres that are quite unfamiliar ; it seems to be a mere dream, like some of Jules Verne’s stories. Expeditions to the most distant and inhospitable parts of the earth may present great difficulties; still, we feel confident that none of them are entirely insuperable, and that sooner or later every portion of the globe may be traversed by men who persist in attempting it. But voyages to the moon or the planets are quite another thing : a scheme for a journey to Mars is not an extension of terrestrial travel ; it takes us beyond our experience. In similar fashion, a proposal not only to enter into alliances with reference to possible dangers, but to abolish war altogether, seems at first sight to be rather fantastic, it has so little to do with ordinary life. But, paradoxical as it may appear, this very apathy and incredulousness in the public mind are in themselves a complete justification for the action of the Tsar. Even if it accomplishes nothing else, the Congress at the Hague will have done a great work if it familiarizes men’s minds with the idea of universal peace as a thing to be consciously aimed at. So soon as this object is deliberately accepted, and the ambitions which interfere with it are honestly laid aside, the expedients for securing universal peace will certainly be found.

At present the prospect is not very hopeful. Practical schemes for procuring peace between civilized peoples who feel aggrieved with one another have not yet been devised ; what has been merely draughted on paper commands but little confidence, till it is tested, on a larger or smaller scale, in actual experience. Arbitration and boards of conciliation are not wholly new suggestions ; they have been tried over and over again in disputes between capital and labor, in England; repeated efforts in this humble field of social warfare do not give increased confidence in these methods of promoting peace. They have not proved so efficacious in allaying domestic difficulties as to give good grounds for hope that they will prove a panacea for healing international troubles. Even those who rely most strongly on the effectiveness of arbitration recognize that there may be difficulty in applying their favorite remedy. The zeal of the American people for settling the Venezuela dispute by enforced arbitration showed their passionate attachment to this principle ; but yet the government of the United States seemed unwilling to resort to it as a means of settling their differences with Spain. In the very country where the merits of this method of extinguishing war are most loudly preached there is no corresponding readiness to put it in practice ; while the ordinary citizen in England and other European countries has no confidence in it as a possible means of obtaining a fair settlement of international disputes.

The project of disarmament by common consent seems to be even more impracticable. If the strong man thinks that there is a sufficient ground for fighting, he will believe that he ought to put forth his full strength in the struggle. He would rather take a pledge never to come to blows at all than agree to settle a real dispute with one hand tied behind his back, as if he were giving an exhibition of sparring. Conventional rules for playing the game of war, under which the strongest party did not have free play to use its power, would hardly serve to restrain a free people whose passions were really roused in what they believed to be a good cause.

Under these circumstances the prospects of universal peace do not seem to be very bright; but those who are least sanguine about the effect of deliberation on this subject may possibly see more ground for hope when they look at the matter from another side. While conscious efforts for the abolition of military operations seem so futile, tendencies are at work which are steadily counteracting the causes that ordinarily make for war. In so far as changes in political aims and ambitions are doing away with the occasions of international conflict, there is less reason to feel despondent over the difficulty of creating machinery for constraining people to be at peace.


Two subjects of great human interest have been the chief occasions of international hostilities in the past, — commerce and religion. That they may serve as contributing causes of quarrels in the future is exceedingly probable; but still, there is reason to believe that the malignant influence of these factors in human life is on the wane. An attentive consideration of the line which has been taken by England in recent years brings out the striking fact that the European nation whose commercial and missionary activity is most vigorous is now refusing to pursue by military methods the objects she has so much at heart.

Some of the most bitter struggles that occurred in past ages were brought about by the conflict of commercial interests, and especially by the efforts of some prosperous community to maintain an exclusive trade. The long hostilities between the Greek and Phœnician colonies, like the subsequent contests in the same waters between the Venetians and Genoese, were ultimately due to mercantile rivalry. The struggles between the English and the Dutch, and the clashing of the French and the English, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries arose out of quarrels about the opportunities of commercial development and colonial expansion which had been opened up by the age of discovery. All of these countries were prepared to fight for the possession of exclusive advantages in some portion of the trade of the world. In the present day, however, and so far as England is concerned, that policy has been wholly abandoned, and can never be revived ; she no longer aims at having a monopoly of any trade, but only at taking her place in markets that shall be open to all the world. She certainly will not go to war, as the Phœnicians and the Venetians and the Dutch did, for the sake of maintaining a monopoly, since she has given up all attempts to retain exclusive privileges. Those who have noticed the manner in which she accepted rebuffs in China, and the tone of the grumbling in the English papers whenever she seemed to be outwitted by Russian diplomacy, will feel that the people of England are averse to fighting for the sake either of opening new markets or of maintaining access to territories where their manufactures are already in demand. The English are not careless of trade ; commercial prosperity is their most vital interest as a nation, but they appear to have learned that warfare is a costly method of promoting mercantile interests. According to English public opinion, it is not worth while to have recourse to arms in order to foster trade.

The religious policy of the English nation is even more obviously pacific. In bygone days, distinctive faiths and divergent interpretations of Christian duty have kindled the fiercest feuds. We have abundant illustrations of disastrous outbursts of religious zeal in the stories of the Crusades and of the wars of religion in France, as well as of the struggle which devastated Germany for thirty years. There are still many quarters in which religious passion may originate, or at least promote, an appeal to arms. It might do so in any part of the Moslem world ; even in the United States, there seems to be some tendency, on the part of those who dislike it on other grounds, to excuse the war in the Philippines as a sort of Protestant crusade. But present English public opinion is clearly against ever engaging in war in order to advance the interests of religion. That Christian power which is in most frequent contact with Mohammedan and heathen peoples is scrupulously on its guard against showing any hostility to their religions. To bring the influence of the civil magistrate to bear, within a Christian country, on behalf of religious instruction seems to many Englishmen to be a right and reasonable thing; but the attitude of the government to nonChristian peoples is another matter. To employ national arms or national prestige as a means of converting heathen tribes to an acceptance of Christian truths would be to fall back on methods that have been completely discredited.

This abandonment of militant Christianity is not a sign of a decrease in real religious earnestness. There never was an era in the history of England when approval of missionary effort was so general and hearty as it is at the present time. The feeling has shown itself in a remarkable manner at Oxford and Cambridge, where some of the ablest and most popular men have shared in the enthusiasm, and have gone out to work in the interior of China and in India. It finds expression, too, in the utterances of experienced administrators and statesmen, who recognize that railroads and steam engines are making havoc of the ancient social organization among the Hindus, and who know that the capitalistic system of industry may introduce a grinding tyranny which barbarous and half - civilized peoples are powerless to resist. They see that the work of opening up undeveloped countries is being pushed relentlessly on, and that the strides of economic progress cannot be arbitrarily checked ; and they seem to feel that the pressure of Western civilization in barbarous and backward countries will be a positive curse, unless its growth is consciously leavened by Christian influence. No previous century of English history has been so notable as the present for organized missionary effort, and the records of such an undertaking as the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa show that personal devotion and heroism are not dead, even in this decadent age. But the Englishmen who feel this missionary enthusiasm most strongly would be loath to appeal for military aid in the prosecution of their work, or to exact compensation for the lives of bishops and priests who were ready to sacrifice themselves. It may safely be predicted that England will never go to war on behalf of religion, — not because her people have become indifferent to it, but because they no longer believe that military undertakings are a legitimate method of advancing the knowledge of the Christian faith. The attitude of England in this matter became clearer when she held aloof from active intervention on behalf of the Armenians.


The recent policy of England, in deliberately refusing to take up quarrels on commercial or religious grounds, gives at least some reason for hoping that the causes which have most commonly led to the outbreak of war in the past are less likely to occasion it in the future. But even if other nations were more willing than they appear to adopt England’s cosmopolitan system of commercial intercourse, we cannot dare to be very optimistic in regard to the prospects of peace. Although there is less need for anxiety about the old causes of war, there are new dangers of which it is well to take account, if only that we may consider in what way it is best to guard against them.

A serious danger arises from national vanity, as a popular failing in countries that are democratically governed in form or in fact. Half a century ago, people who were otherwise intelligent used to speak as if war were always the sport of capricious princes and potentates, who recklessly gratified their personal ambition at the cost of the lives of their peoples and the ruin of the lands over which they ruled ; political philosophers used to explain that, as the spread of democratic principles put political power into the hands of the masses, who really bore the burden of fighting, war would necessarily die out. But national vanity under democratic forms may be quite as great a danger as the personal ambition of a crowned head ; for it may be very easily wounded. In ordinary social life, people who are not sure of their ground are always unduly sensitive and ready to take offense, and there is an analogous condition in public affairs. The French republic has shown itself extraordinarily nervous about its reception at courts and among diplomatists ; the interchange of civilities with Russia, some years ago, was the occasion of special rejoicing in France, as it seemed to give a fuller recognition of the status of the country in the circle of the great powers. But this feeling in France has since given place to disappointment and bitterness ; for no government can be more respected abroad than it is at home. If civil authority is not honored by the citizens of a state, it cannot enjoy a high prestige among its neighbors. So long as the French royalists carp at their rulers and mob them, and so long as the affairs of the country remain in the hands of politicians with tarnished reputations, France will count for little in the councils of European powers. She is likely to have to submit to be passed over and ignored ; and there must be among her people, who are conscious of her resources and remember her traditions, a constant sense of irritation that is always ready to take offense at fancied slights. As a republic France is as great a danger to the peace of Europe as she was in the days of Louis XIV., though from very different reasons. She is no longer capable of a persistent policy of aggression, but she is less sure of her ground, and therefore she is just as touchy and as easily offended. Nor is public humiliation a wholesome medicine for national vanity; it may only goad a people to more eager self-exertion ; the draped statue of Strassburg betokens a feeling that menaces the peace of Europe. The only possible cure lies, not in the triumphs of war, but in another direction altogether, — in peaceful intercourse. The better the people of different countries understand one another, the more capable they become of entering into one another’s aims and habits of thought, the less likely will they be to give or to take offense. It is in national as in private life, — where all is understood, all may be forgiven.

It is to be noticed, moreover, that popular governments are in greater danger than absolute rulers of drifting into war carelessly. The popular will can never be so fully informed as a ruler may be of the precise resources of the realm, and of the efficiency of the administration. There is a very real danger that a democracy, from its deficient knowledge of actual political and military conditions, may fail, under some strong wave of aggrieved sentiment, to make any adequate calculation of the probable risks and cost of entering on a war. The Greeks, arrogant of the traditions which belong to the soil on which they dwell, rushed into a contest for which they were totally unprepared. Italy, anxious to rival her more wealthy compeers by developing a colonial empire, succeeded only in exposing her inherent weakness. Popular and democratic governments have no immunity from the folly of engaging in war in a reckless and light-hearted spirit.

Another, though a cognate danger, which we may note in modern times, arises from the great influence exercised by irresponsible meddlers. Once more there is an analogy between quarrels in private and in public life; those who interfere in any delicate and difficult business, while they have no real power of giving effect to their views, are only too likely to do positive harm. The newspaper press exercises in many ways a great influence for good, and is especially useful in criticising bad administration ; but its power is wholly irresponsible, and therefore dangerous, and it is likely to do serious mischief when it attempts to control the direction of affairs and to force the hands of responsible authorities. A London evening paper has boasted that it compelled the government of the day to send Gordon to the Soudan ; but it failed to insure his being properly supported there ; and the expenditure of blood and treasure in a series of campaigns may be in large part debited to the editor who instigated the initial step. The shame and disaster of that incident have at last been wiped out, at a terrible cost, and England can once more hold up her head in Africa. But it has been a bad business ; outside agitation is a cumbrous method of conducting the affairs of state. It is the duty of citizens to exercise their responsibilities as electors with care, and to gauge the capabilities of the men to whom the policy of a country is committed ; but it is not wise for any individual or any section of the community to try to jerk the reins of government at a critical moment.

The risks which are due to national vanity and irresponsible meddling are very serious, but, like other dangers, they become less formidable when we face them consciously. There is no nostrum that will effect a sudden and complete cure ; but the more general diffusion of political intelligence and a stronger sense of civic duty, as it is diffused in any community, will serve as a safeguard. Some of the peoples who have attained to a great degree of freedom seem hardly to be fitted to enjoy it; they boast of their liberty, but they never appear in earnest about democratic institutions; they are not at pains that the business of state shall be well done as a regular thing. Free peoples must learn to take the duties of self-government as seriously as absolute monarchs and their ministers regard the work of ruling. Such increased political wisdom and earnestness will have excellent results on the internal administration of any country, and they also serve as an excellent prophylactic to guard the body politic against possible attacks of war fever.

John Fiske has well said (American Political Ideas, page 109) that “ the permanent peace of the world can be secured only through the gradual concentration of the preponderant military strength into the hands of the most pacific communities.” Three powers stand out preëminently in the world as being strong at the present time, and as having great possibilities of development before them : England, with her dominion on the shores of every sea; Russia, with her vast empire in the Old World; and America, with her magnificent union of states in the New. Each of these powers is aiming at peace, though by different methods : Russia proposes a self-denying ordinance of disarmament, America proclaims the sufficiency of arbitration ; but neither of these countries has as yet abandoned the effort to secure exclusive advantages for industrial and commercial development, and the possible clash of national interests still looms in the future for each; the thunderclouds have not dispersed. But there is a better method of pursuing the same end ; if we can prevent strife from arising, we need not concern ourselves about methods for keeping it within bounds or allaying it. England alone has entered upon a line of policy by which the old occasions of hostility are laid aside ; with all her national pride, she shows a genuine unwillingness to take offense. Perhaps this is the more excellent way.

William Cunningham.