Our Relations With France

PRESIDENT WILSON’S address before the League to Enforce Peace, and his acceptance speech, were significant. For the first time in our history official sanction was given to a new policy of accepting the responsibilities of active participation in world-politics. If we are to seek alliances in Europe, it is of prime importance that we should choose our friends carefully. It is the object of this paper to present arguments in favor of giving our preference to Republican France.

This war is bringing a larger and ever larger number of our citizens to the conclusion — now expressed by the President—that Washington’s advice in regard to ‘ entangling alliances ’ has lost its reason. The policy of isolation which he advocated was obviously dictated by weakness. To-day we are strong. In the early years of our national life, if we had entered a European alliance, it would have been to seek protection. We would have had to go — cap in hand — begging alms. We could have had no influence in forming the policy of the allies who consented to shelter us. To-day, with no false, spread-eagle pride, we can claim a larger measure of equality. Our friendship is now desired. Our wishes will receive due consideration.

Mere mechanical progress — quite aside from our accession of strength — has also lessened the force of Washington’s advice. Steam and submarine cables have made the world smaller by knitting it more closely together. Before many years aircraft will cross the ocean. Such isolation as the founders of our country found wise is no longer possible. So the desirability of definite understandings — in one form or another — with some of the European nations becomes every day more evident.

Many advocates of this new policy have centred their efforts on propaganda for an Anglo-American accord. Friendship with the British Empire — more especially with the self-governing dominions — is almost a necessity for us. It is hard to imagine any satisfactory future which is not based on cordial coöperation with the great Canadian commonwealth. But, in a previous paper, I have tried to point out that Britain — like our own country, like every country — is a house divided against itself. Every nation is the theatre of an internal war, the ceaseless conflict between progress and reaction. If the British Tories maintain the supremacy which the stress of this war has — perhaps only temporarily — given them, there is little hope of cordial relations, and less hope of utility from a paper accord. If, as we must hope, liberal democratic counsels prevail in Britain, the mutual advantages of an Anglo-American understanding are obvious. In so many ways there is direct contact between our two peoples. Hostility would be as tragic as civil discord, as distressing as family quarrels. But our desire for friendly relations with the mother country is not based on the ties of blood. It is not England, but English Liberalism that we admire. We are not Anglophiles, but lovers of liberty.

The arguments in favor of close cooperation with the French Republic have not been so often stated, but they are none the less compelling. We have no long land frontier with France as we have with the British Empire. But surely the fact that we cannot do each other immediate hurt is no cause why we should not be friends. France should have a first place in our consideration of European accords, because she was our first friend. The military aid which the court of Versailles gave us — to spite their rivals of Windsor — is the smallest part of our ancient debt. This help was of very real value to us, but small indeed compared to the wealth of ideas we borrowed so freely from the French thinkers of those days.

Our political institutions are a medley. Some of them, like our language, we inherited, willy nilly, from England. Some of them we consciously chose from France. The ideas of Rousseau, much more than the political theories of the mother country, inspired us in our first efforts toward democratic liberty. The things which have given us a national individuality, which have differentiated us from ‘colonials,’ — who in Vernon Lee’s epigram are ‘people who mispronounce English,’ mere unsuccessful imitators, — are the ideals we borrowed from France.

And such ideals were of more value to our fathers, are of more value to us, than the military assistance of the French monarch. It is to the spirit of the Encyclopædists much more than to the sword of Lafayette that we are so deeply indebted.

A second reason why we should give preference to France in considering European accords has to do with present utilities and future hopes rather than with the debts of the past. If we are in earnest about our republicanism, we should choose republicans for our friends.

Do we to-day believe passionately in the Republic? Do we wish to hand down to our children the liberties our fathers bought us with their blood? If so, we must not hide our convictions and desires. We shall not help the cause of republicanism at home by pretending that we are indifferent about it abroad.

Our fathers believed that kings and castes were impediments in the development of human liberty. Earnestly and outspokenly they believed that their ideals of popular government would triumph. The record is plain: they hoped that the free people for whom they were forging institutions would be the leaders and light-bearers of republicanism the world around. It was manifest weakness that dictated Washington’s cautious advice. It was necessary for us to solidify our own political life before risking adventures — even in the Good Cause — abroad. For the thirteen original states to have offered their support to the struggling republicans of Europe would have been merely laughable — as though Liberia should espouse the cause of the black folk against the whites. But as soon as we had grown a little stronger, Monroe dared to pledge our protection to the republics of this hemisphere. Our strength has multiplied since then. Have we lost our ardor for political liberty?

The Great War has accelerated the evolution which was inevitably drawing us from isolation to an active rôle on the stage of world-politics. The old, comfortable policy no longer suffices. More sharply defined relations with the nations of Europe are necessary. We are strong enough to choose our friends. Shall we give our preference to those most heavily armed or to those who sympathize most heartily in our political aspirations?

This is an issue we cannot evade. If we are to enter into closer contact with the peoples of Europe, we must inevitably throw our influence — and it will be great — for or against the political theories we profess to revere. The conflict between equal citizenship, republicanism, and the rule of privileged classes in the monarchies, is too bitter to permit neutrality. If we, the greatest republic, pass by those who cherish our ideals to seek friendship with those who despise them, it will be a bitter blow to republicanism in Europe. And such abject renunciation will have its inevitable result at home.

It was from the philosophers of the French Revolution that we learned these ideals. It is in France that they are most honored in the Europe of today. The Divine Right of kings has few defenders left. But, outside of France, the republicans of the Old World are everywhere in desperate struggle with the theory that government should be by, for, and of the better born. We cannot enter the council of world powers without taking sides in this controversy. We shall cut a sorry figure indeed if we assume an apologetic attitude toward our homespun institutions. We shall be denying our dearest aspirations, if we do not proudly give our preference to those who share them.

There is a realpolitik argument in favor of an alliance with Republican France, which will perhaps have more weight with some than a sentimental appeal for loyalty to our ideals. History abundantly proves that the strength of coalitions lies, not in the number of soldiers, but in the similarity of desires which inspires the constituent nations. Current events point the same moral. To the mere statistician, the Powers of the Entente were always immensely stronger than the Germanic Alliance. But it is obvious that Britain and France and Russia, Belgium and Servia, Italy and Portugal — and now Rumania — have not been fighting in unison, have not been inspired by the same ideals. It has taken them two years to acquire a tardy and precarious unity. The Central Powers have been stronger in action than on paper because their desires, even if more predatory, are more uniform. The durability and strength of an alliance depends more on similarity of aspirations than on mere numbers.

In superficial ways we differ largely from the French. They are an ancient people and we very young. They are homogeneous and we so ‘hyphenated.' The structure of their economic life is different from ours. France has been worked over so long that wealth is only acquired by industry and thrift. No Frenchman has ever discovered gold in his backyard; none hopes to. We rely overmuch on such luck. But when subtraction is made of such surface differences, the residue is strikingly similar. We have more in common with the French than with any people of the Old World.

The war has brushed away an old prejudice. No nation of degenerate pleasure-lovers, no people enslaved by vice, could have stood up with such sublime and simple heroism under this storm of war. The mass of our people to-day recognize as never before that ‘frog-eaters’ is an inadequate epithet. It is regrettable that opportunity has not been given us to live down our bad reputation in France. Such ill-repute is always mutual. Those of our tourists who have brought us back descriptions of the French, based on experience in the night cafes of Montmartre, are those who spent much money and time in such resorts. We have too often judged the French by their stories. But just as often the French have judged us by them. The current French opinion of us is not flattering. We can only hope that, if some great misfortune, such as war, falls upon us, we may disprove their estimate of us, as they are in these days so nobly disproving our light judgment of them. The present universal admiration of the way in which the French have borne the first shock of the war, and held the pass till their more slow-moving allies could come up, is a sound foundation for a new and more intimate friendship.

But even admiration is not so firm a basis for international friendship as similarity of political aspirations. The French have kept faith with the ideal — which we borrowed from them and have made fundamental in our own institutions — of respect for the citizen, of the common dignity of man. It is rather the fashion nowadays for the erudite to scoff at the unscientific idealism of their Declaration of Rights and of our Declaration of Independence. But a habit of mind exists in both countries — and it is a small matter whether it was the cause or is the result of these old manifestoes — which is the basis, the necessary basis, of true republicanism. That General Joffre should chance to be of humble parentage no more surprises the French than it surprises us. In the rest of Europe, where the gradations of the social hierarchy are so minute and precise, such democracy has never taken root. Robert Burns’s statement that a man’s a man for a’ that ’ is true to life in France. In England it is still poetry — an unrealized aspiration.

Once the barrier of language is passed, the American in France finds himself at home in political matters. The difference in speech is a very real handicap. If we read French books and newspapers as easily as we read those printed in London, there would be no novelty in the idea that our political life is essentially the same. The French have not realized their ideal of ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ any more successfully than we have provided an equal chance for ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ to all our citizens, but the same basic assumption of equal human dignity is as ingrained in their politics as in ours. It was from them that we learned such aspirations.

With a somewhat different constitution and better electoral machinery, the French voters are facing the same issues as we. Their republican experiment has been more stormy than ours. They had, first of all, to free themselves from a stubborn past. But these battles with kings and nobles and priests, which we never had to face, they have won. And to-day the common people of France are face to face with a plutocracy surprisingly—and depressingly — like ours. We are not only in accord on the basic principles of government. Our methods of political graft are as like as two peas. Such similarities are inherent, for after all the problems of republicanism are everywhere the same — the same high idealism, the same faulty human material.

France also — to a degree unknown in the other Great Powers of Europe — shares our devotion to the principle of democratic education. The City of Paris has raised a statue to Danton. On its pedestal are his words: ‘Après le pain, l’éducation est le premier besoin du peuple.’ The statue of another great Republican, Gambetta, stands before the Louvre. Out of his thousand speeches they have chosen to carve in the stone one on behalf of free, universal public schools. The French, as clearly as our fathers, have realized that free, democratic education — equal intellectual opportunities for all citizens — is the cornerstone of the Republic. There is deep significance for all lovers of liberty in the dry statistics which show the per-capita expense of the national schools of France. And their ideal of education — like ours — is to make, not efficient, loyal subjects, but free men and citizens. France is our logical ally.

A third reason — the strongest of all — why we should include France in any project of European accords is to avoid the obvious danger of AngloSaxon Imperialism which is involved in a dual alliance with Britain.

After this war, if the Entente is victorious, Great Britain, with her colonies and dominions, will be the most powerful political unit in the world. If we reach a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ with her, there will be no material reason why we should not rule the world for a space and divide between us the fullness thereof. Moderate military development on our part would make possible an Anglo-American empire more complete than the dream of any Cæsar. Calling it a ‘League to Enforce Peace’ would not alter the facts.

Once established, such a regime would last as long as the people of the East found it tolerable. If our statesmen were wise enough to share the profits with the Slavs, it might perpetuate white domination for many centuries. It is so feasible a project that it inevitably tempts our own imperialists and those of Britain. Calling it by its right name might defeat its purpose. So ‘ trade supremacy,’ the ‘conquest of foreign markets ’ are the phrases in current use. An official of the United Fruit Company once told me that his corporation owned two thirds of the active capital in Costa Rica. Sixty cents out of every dollar produced by the Costa Ricans goes to absentee American stockholders. There is no impossibility in the way of generalizing this situation. The International Corporation— a dozen similar enterprises here and in England — is working in this direction. Such commercial Cæsarism would require military strength to defend its investments, but, combined with Britain, we would have that. We could live at ease, as the Athenians, Romans, and Venetians did of old, on the immense tribute of wealth that such a traders’ empire would bring us. We should rarely have to fight, and we could hire mercenaries for that. We could quiet all social discontent at home by largess of bread and circuses. And there would be enough glory to satiate even the most hungry.

But democracy has never survived such imperial adventures. There is no reason to suppose it ever will. Nothing breeds tyrants at home so surely as the practice of tyranny abroad. We are too deeply attached to our hardwon liberties, too strongly resolved on winning new freedoms, to embark consciously on such a course. The danger to us lies in the chance that we may ignore the danger. If we fall before the temptation of Cæsarism, it will be because— like former democracies — we did not in time realize that our Caesar was ambitious. Even after a hundred years of historical research it is hard to tell when Bonaparte ceased to be a sincere republican.

But no matter how unconscious we may be of such a danger, it is the constant preoccupation of Continental statesmen. No matter how innocent our intentions might be, the announcement of a British-American alliance would mean to the rest of the world that the menace of Anglo-Saxon domination was real and immediate. It would be resisted more bitterly, if less hopefully, than the threat of Germanic hegemony.

We are an enigma to the people of Europe. Our ideals and aspirations are little known. But they have seen us acquire Texas and California, the Philippines and Porto Rico. They expect us to ‘take’ Mexico. They have also watched the growth of the British Empire. It will occur to very few of them to hope that the Liberals of America and Britain might combine to establish a League to Enforce Justice. All the world would see in such an accord the triumph of imperialism in both countries. The seeds of new jealousies, heavy with the inevitable harvest of war, would be sown.

It is possible, even probable, that the diplomats who arranged the Triple Entente — France, Britain and Russia — really desired to establish a peace of justice. But the better their intentions were, the more lamentable was their failure to make their professions convincing. It was not altogether the fault of the Germans that they believed that Delcassé, Lord Lansdowne, and King Edward were hostile to them. Professions of good intentions are of small value unless they are believed. Probably the greatest weakness of Sir Edward Grey is that few people outside of England believe what he says.

The possible dangers to the rest of the world from an Anglo-American alliance are so great that it would be naïve folly not to foresee the suspicions and fears and hatreds it would generate. No matter how vociferously we announced our love of peace and equity, nobody would believe us. There is no better way to avoid such misunderstanding of our intentions than to openly proclaim our friendship with Republican France.

The old brand of alliances has been sadly discredited by this war. Their framers always overflowed with oratorical assurances that their object was to ‘ preserve the peace of Europe.’ But the alliances they made were — in spirit, if not frankly in works — offensive as well as defensive. They were always aimed against some rival. ‘The Balance of Power’ implied opposition, the weighing of one hostile army against another. It is not too much to hope that the accords of the future may have a different tone. If we are able to maintain our neutrality to the end of this struggle, we shall be peculiarly well placed to aid in drawing up the formulæ of the New Diplomacy.

We should seek inclusive, not exclusive, accords. Our arbitration treaty, which we were willing to sign with any nation which accepted its principle, was a step in the right direction. We should carefully avoid in our treaties clauses which might be construed as exclusive, as against any peoples. We should make our liberal purpose clear by seeking first a formal understanding with the great Republic of Europe. But we should so frame the document that any other nation — belligerent or neutral — which loved liberty might sign it. That must be the far ideal of all who seek peace — an equitable accord with all the world.

Our immediate diplomatic programme — if we decide to give up Washington’s policy of isolation — should be a treaty with France, so drawn that all the Liberals of Britain would see in it an invitation to cordial cooperation, so worded that our own imperialists and those of England would recognize that it was a deathblow to the dream of Anglo-American Cæsarism. When the war is over the party truce, made in the face of danger, will be broken at Westminster. The Coalition Cabinet will fall. The old, old struggle between aristocratic imperialism and democratic liberalism will begin again in England. An invitation to join a Franco-American accord will be of great value to the British Liberals in this conflict. They could offer their voters peace, and their opponents could offer only new armament taxes, new wars. France, as ardently as we, must hope for a Liberal victory in England. There is no way in which we could more directly and effectively help to this end than by offering to Great Britain a definitely liberal alliance.

A Franco-Anglo-American agreement would be free from the imperialistic dangers of a dual alliance with Britain. By its liberal tone it would disarm the suspicions of the rest of the world. It would benefit the two European partners by putting us as a buffer between them in the inevitable frictions of colonial competition. Unless it became unbearably aggressive and unjust, no one would risk attacking it. It would prove a magnet, drawing to it other nations. Such an alliance, if it welcomed all who shared its ideals, might develop into a true League of Peace — a federal organization of the world.