Upon this point we cannot be too clear: it is not nationality that is threatened by the League of Nations, it is this ‘power’ obsession, which used national feeling in an entirely Machiavellian spirit. And this power idea carries with it much more mischief than the threat of sudden war and the attendant necessities of armament. It is about the nuclei of these European power systems that the current conceptions of economic warfare and territorial exploitation have grown. It is to them that we owe the conception of peace as a phase of military preparation during which there is a systematic attempt to put rivals at an economic disadvantage. And it will be clear that an abandonment of the idea of the world as a conflict of powers involves not merely the abandonment of ideas essentially militarist, but also the abandonment of the idea of the world as a conflict of economic systems.
So, as we penetrate these common prepossessions of an age which is now drawing to a close, the positive as compared with the negative side of the League of Nations proposal opens out. Behind the primarily negative project of ’no war upon earth,′ appears as a necessary corollary a new economic phase in history, in which there will be a collective regard for the common weal of mankind. The examination and elaboration of the possibilities of economic world-control, already immensely foreshadowed by the gigantic poolings that have been forced upon the powers allied against Germany, is one of the most rapidly expanding chapters in the study of the League of Nations project.
Another considerable body of criticism hostile to the League of Nations proposal is grouped about certain moral facts. Before concluding these introductory remarks, it is advisable to discuss this, not merely in order to answer so much of it as amounts to an argument against the world-league project, but also because it opens out before us the real scope of the League of Nations proposal. There seems to be a disposition in certain quarters to underestimate the scale upon which a League of Nations project can be planned. It is dealt with as if it were a little legal scheme detached from the main body of human life. It seems to be assumed that some little group of ’jurists,′ sitting together in a permanent conference at The Hague or in New York, will be able to divert the whole process of humanity into new channels, to overcome the massive, multitudinous, and tremendous forces that make for armed conflict and warfare among men, and to inaugurate a new era of peace throughout the world.
The change we contemplate here is not to be so easily achieved. It is a project of world-politics, and there is no modest way of treating such a project. It would be better left alone than treated timidly. It is a change in which nations and political and educational svstems are the counters, and about which we must think, if we are to think effectively, in terms of the wealth of nations and millions of men. It is a proposal to change the life and mentality of everyone on earth.
Now the thought of those who direct their attention to the moral probabilities of a world-peace turns largely upon the idea of loyalty. They apprehend man as a creature of intense essential egotism, who has to be taught and trained very painfully and laboriously to unselfishness, and the substitution of great and noble ends for base and narrow ones. They argue that he was in his origins a not very social creature who has been forced by his own inventions into a larger circle of intercourse. He had learned his first unselfishness from his mother in the family group; he had been tamed into devotion by the tribe and his tribal religion; the greater dangers of a solitary life had enforced these subjugations upon him. But he still relapses very readily into base self-seeking. His loyalty to his nation may easily become a mere extension of his personal vanity; his religious faith a cloak for hatred of and base behavior toward unbelievers. In times of peace and security, the great forms in which he lives do so tend to degenerate. And the great justification of war from this point of view is that it creates a phase of national life in which a certain community of sacrifice to a common end, a certain common faithfulness and helpfulness, is exacted as a matter of course from every citizen. Men are called upon to die, and all are called upon to give help and suffer privations. War gives reality to loyalty. It is the fire that makes fine the clay of solidarity. The war-phase has been hitherto a binding and confirming phase in the life of communities, while peace has been a releasing and relaxing phase. And if we are to contemplate a state of the world in which there is to be no warfare, we must be prepared also, these critics argue, for a process of moral disintegration.
The late Professor William James found enough validity in this line of thought to discuss it very seriously. In his essay on ‘The Moral Equivalent of War’ he deals very illuminatingly with this question. He agrees that to relieve the consciousness of ordinary men from the probability of war without substituting any other incentive to devotion, may be a very grave social loss. His own suggestion for giving every citizen a sense of obligation and ownership in the commonwealth for weaving the ideas of loyalty and service, that is, into every life, is to substitute the collective war of mankind against ignorance, confusion, and natural hardships, for the war between man and man; to teach this, not only theoretically, but by the very practical expedient of insisting upon a period of compulsory state service for every citizen, male or female. He proposes to solve at the same time this moral problem and an equally grave social problem by making the unskilled or semi-skilled part of the labor in the (nationalized) mines, in the (nationalized) fisheries, in hospitals, in many types of factory, and so forth a public service. Personal freedom, he insists, has invariably been bought, and must always be bought by responsible participation in the toils and cares of that system of law and service which constitutes the framework of human liberty.
It would be idle to deny the substantial truth in this type of criticism of peace. To recognize it is to sweep out of one’s mind all dreams of a world-peace contrived by a few jurists and influential people in some odd corner of the world’s administrative bureaus. Permanent world-peace must necessarily be a great process and state of affairs, greater, indeed, than any warprocess, because it must anticipate, comprehend, and prevent any warprocess, and demand the understanding, the willing and conscious participation of the great majority of human beings. We, who look to it as a possible thing, are bound not to blind ourselves to, or conceal from others, the gigantic and laborious system of labors, the immense tangle of cooperations, which its establishment involves. If political institutions or social methods stand in the way of this great good for mankind it is fatuous to dream of compromises with them. A world peace organization cannot evade universal relationships.
It is clear that, if a world-league is to be living and enduring, the idea of it and the need and righteousness of its service must be taught by every educational system in the world. It must either be served by, or be in conflict with, every religious organization; it must come into the life of everyone, not to release men and women from loyalty, but to demand it for itself.
The answer to this criticism that the world-peace will release men from service, is therefore, that the world-peace is itself a service. It calls, not as war does, for the deaths, but for that greater gift, the lives, of men. The League of Nations cannot be a little thing; it is either to be a great thing in the world, an overriding idea of a greater state, or nothing. Every state aims ultimately at the production of a sort of man, and it is an idle and a wasteful diplomacy, a pandering to timidities and shams, to pretend that the World-League of Nations is not ultimately a state aiming at that ennobled individual whose city is the world.