Face to face with a foe who has not disarmed, who has renounced none of his schemes of domination, the only guaranty is the union of all nations, clothed with the duty and the power to which peace shall seem possible to us. This necessary solution is within our reach, since the essential mutual understanding is already achieved by the impressive union of the greatest nations of the world, leagued together in defense of liberty.
Before studying the first traces of the existence of the League of Nations in the past, and before discussing its probable future, we have thought it well to show that it does already exist. It was born of the very excess of suffering and tyranny imposed upon the world; ti has grown in the bosom of our worst distresses, as the noble prophetic verses of Victor Hugo proclaimed more than a half-century ago: —
Dès à present dans nos misères
Germe l’hymen des peoples frères;
Volant sur nos sombres rameaux,
Comme un frelon que l’aube éveille,
Le Progrès, ténébreuse Abeille,
Fait du Bonheur avec nos maux.
The experience of Rome in ancient times shows us what the Empire of the Cæsars did for the enfranchisement and peace of the universe, so long as it continued to be a league of nations. The people which made up that Empire did not depend upon an Emperor, but upon a political association, a body of senators, magistrates, and citizens; and they realized that they had at the same time a great and a smaller country.
This happy equilibrium was destroyed on the day when the Roman Empire undertook to transform itself into a single entity; when it ceased to be an organization of different nations and cities, and mingled all that it included in one confused whole, without proper differentiation.
In the Middle Ages we have the example of the Church, which exercised rights of sovereignty in each of the states under its jurisdiction. Its rôle in the termination of wars, in the conclusion of treaties, affords an example of numerous supra-national interventions which were effective down to the period when religious authority was checkmated by the coming of modern times and the development of lay elements.
More recently still, it has been impossible to disregard the scope of international conventions: for example, those which were created to abolish slavery and to establish the Universal Postal Union.
Since the meeting of the Anti-Slavery Conference at London, that is to say, from 1841 to 1910, there have been 175 inter-governmental conferences some of which have met with quasi-regularity; for instance, there have been fifteen geodesic conferences, thirteen sanitary, and eight penological.
Lastly, there have been the conferences at The Hague, where we find a significant alignment of the powers in making important decisions. When, in 1907, the nations had assembled to enter into compulsory arbitration treaties among themselves, the main principle was ratified by thirty-five votes, with only five in opposition—those of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Greece, Roumania, and Turkey. That is to say, only eleven years ago, at the time of signing the arbitration treaties, the Entente stood almost solidly on one side, with the neutrals, while on the other side were the Central Empires and their allies. In these beginnings, made in the face of oppositions, we see the first form of that League of Nations which, since the war began, has resolved itself into the present system of inter-Allied relations. In the federation of all the nations who are fighting for the Right, not one is, at this moment, acting with entire independence. They must, one and all, unite and act together, not only in what concerns their armies, but also in respect to the general conduct of all the diplomatic and political affairs of the Alliance.