Peace, or War Everlasting?

[It seems important for an understanding of this article to know that the author, a Russian by birth and a philosopher by profession, showed no proGerman sympathy during the war. His previous article in the Atlantic (February, 1916) was characterized by a remarkable detachment. As will be seen, his position, like that of many Europeans, is greatly affected by the terms of peace and the events of the last year.— THE EDITOR.]


IN August, 1915, the present writer (then a Russian, now an Esthonian subject) sent an article to the Atlantic Monthly, entitled ‘A Philosopher’s View of the War.’ Most of his prognostications have proved so correct, so far as general solutions go, that he feels sure that the same will, in due course of time, be equally true of those which seem, so far, refuted by subsequent events: that is to say, that the state attained to-day, owing to the Treaty of Versailles, cannot, be considered as a final state. I wrote then: —

‘We are assisting at a show that would appear comic, were it not for the tremendous tragedy it involves. All contending nations are playing with the same ideals, like tennis-players with the same set of balls, and all have in reality a scope altogether independent of the ideal: they just want to win. . . . Is there no reality, then, behind the professed ideals? There is indeed; and the very figure I was using will make clear at once in what sense. Since all players are using the same balls, victory will belong to the balls, whoever wins. That is to say, the ideals, for which we fight, are sure to triumph, whatever be the material issue of the war. We are not essentially fighting against, but in common with, one another, for the selfsame end. During war . . . humane notions have little hold on the struggling parties; after, none will be strong enough to withstand universal public opinion. To-day high ideals may no longer be frivolously evoked and gayly dropped again, when wanted no longer, as was the case before the conscience of the people awoke; to-day they mean forces of tremendous power, which, once evoked, will work themselves out. The ideals at stake will have to be realized one day or another; if the terms of peace do not provide for this, then new wars, new revolutions will follow, and this until they have been realized.'

The terms of the Peace of Versailles do not provide for what alone can be considered as a final aim of the Great War. Therefore the latter has not come to its real end as yet. Nothing seems, nay is, more certain, than that we are not emerging from, but rather entering into, a period of universal strife.

How could this misfortune happen, the misfortune of perhaps the greatest lost opportunity since the creation of the world? For we were quite near to a solution which would have established International Life on a new and solid basis. It has happened because the victory of the Allies has been too complete.

The ancient Greeks held that fair and just solutions of contests were to be reached only as compromises between parties equally strong: there was no justice possible, in their eyes, toward the weak; the idea, as applied to the latter, had to them no meaning. This conception of justice, however strange and even cynical it may sound to modern ears, is none the less much deeper than any based on an abstract code of morals. Justice does mean balance; a just treaty is one which gives expression to the true state of equilibrium between the contending forces. The ancients were mistaken only in this, that they knew only of physical, not of moral forces. If the physically weak are being increasingly protected in our day, this means that mankind is beginning to realize increasingly the might of moral forces.

Now, since the true state of equilibrium (always both morally and physically speaking) is hidden by momentary advantages of the one party, a solution, meant to be lasting, based on these, cannot be just. And for that very reason it cannot last, unless, indeed, it be made corresponding to facts by extermination or complete ruin of the weak, as was usual, and quite logically so, among the ancients. However much the Allies may have thought themselves the executors of Abstract Justice, the Treaty of Versailles is profoundly unjust in the concrete, for it does in no way give expression to the true balance of power. It tries to realize an abstract programme, irrespective of life. So it is bound to remain one of the most valueless scraps of paper the world ever saw, besides being the most fatal, perhaps, in its inevitable consequences.


What is the real state of things? Not Germany alone, but the whole European continent has been beaten; not Old England, whose foundations seem shaken in no less a degree than those of Germany, but the young Anglo-Saxon world, — whose most experienced member is America, — together with Japan, appearing as the winner. So far as this goes, the treaty of peace corresponds to the true state of things and can last. But inside Europe no more absurd arrangement could have been thought out than that which the consequences resulting from the treaty involve. Germany is being treated as if she were really annihilated — an absolute impossibility in a nation of seventy millions, which has not lost in quantity during the war, — owing to the fact of the expulsion of most German elements from other countries, — nor essentially in quality, for it has remained, what it always was, more diligent and efficient than any other European nation, whatever may have appeared to the contrary during the last year.

On the other hand, France has, through the treaty, attained such a position as if she were as great and strong as a century ago, although she is far more nearly ruined, so far as blood and natural resources go, than the Central Powers, and will undoubtedly prove unable to maintain her artificially created predominance, because of lacking that youthful initiative which alone could find a way out of the present state of affairs.

Italy can recover only by gravitating back to the north and northeast, and knows this well. The successorstates of Austria-Hungary are all of them (not only the German-speaking parts) bankrupt, and must either reunite or change their orientation altogether, if they are to survive. The same applies to Poland and to the Baltic States. And as for Russia — the fact alone that the Entente seems to be repeating the mistake committed by Germany, when the latter concluded the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, speaks volumes.

Now the victors are aware to a notable extent of the difficulties created by the course they have taken. But instead of drawing from this the only reasonable inference,— that is, that the treaty must be revised and made to correspond to facts, which is always possible owing to the gentle art of interpretation, — they are using violence in an increasing degree, in order to make possible the impossible. Now the latter can be done, if violence be used to the extreme. This is not practicable in a Christian world. Then it cannot be done at all. And the one result is the increasing mobilization, against the Allies, of the very moral forces to which they owe, in great part, their material victory. It was unwise to continue the merciless blockade of a disarmed Germany; the starving-out of defenseless Austria should have been avoided; the holding of five hundred thousand German prisoners in France after the Armistice, and treating them as slaves, has produced a much worse impression on the working classes of all the world, than the deportation of Belgians by the German authorities ever did.

More and more people in all countries are beginning to think that the only explanation of this policy is the fact that its inspiring force is not reason, but simply hate. Now hate, unless directed against absolute evil, is not only a base and sordid passion — it is the worst of practical advisers. Few Russians will ever forget that the great Council preferred the death of hundreds of thousands of their compatriots to their salvation by German arms — the only ones at hand.

More and more members of the liberated small nations are beginning to wonder whether they are to be thankful for an emancipation which, in ruining their countries, has made every single one of their inhabitants a slave of the Entente. And the feeling is becoming fairly general outside England and France, that, whatever may have been Germany’s initial wrongs, the fate imposed upon her is much harder than she deserved; all the more so, as nations cannot be fairly judged like individuals, since those who suffer for a wrong committed are not, or at any rate not principally, those who wrought it — they are in the majority of cases, indeed, entirely innocent.

This feeling is already overwhelmingly strong, as may reasonably be expected, in Germany itself. And, as Buddha has said, ‘If hate responds to hate, where shall hate end? ’ It may, indeed, transform the whole earth, in the long run, into a lasting hell. This world of ours is to an ever-increasing extent the effect of the thoughts and feelings of its inhabitants. If they sow love, love they reap; if hate, the Powers of the Dark become supreme.

Now assuming that the Europe created by the Treaty of Versailles is, at any rate, a true expression of the new balance of physical power, peace might last in spite of all this. But it is not. And less still is it a true expression of the balance of moral forces. Hate working, by cosmic law, against the hater, the moral forces are going over in crowds to the other camp. So there is no real equilibrium of forces, even for the time being; we are at war, whether it appears so or not. And the constellation is very different from what it was in 1914 and 1915. Initially, the Entente stood for the Ideals of the Age. Since Germany laid down her arms, the former has become untrue to them.


In November, 1918, Germany capitulated, not before her enemies’ arms (she never was beaten and knows this well), but before the Entente ideals, as incarnated in Wilson’s fourteen points. She started at once to carry out, so far as she was concerned, their complete realization. At this moment the spirit of Metternich became supreme in Paris. France, in particular, has stood for reaction ever since. And there is, very patently already, a league of sympathy in the making, with Germany as a centre, of all who have been longing for a better world. It is collecting crowds of adherents also in the camps of all who, whatever be their personal ideals, are feeling themselves misused, owing to the rate of exchange or to the indebtedness of their country, by the Entente capital; foremost among these, not a few of the liberated small nations. This league will include, sooner or later, all the countries from the Rhine to Vladivostok, and south-eastward to the Ligurian and Ægean seas.

In 1916, I wrote: ‘The ideals at stake in this war are by no means individually wedded to one party. There is no doubt that the cause of the Allies will triumph; whether material victory will be on their side, is not as certain. It may even happen, that during the fight or at the conference of peace, the Great Player, in one of his humorous moods, may choose to reverse the parts’

This very reversal has now taken place. So Germany is always more and more assuming the aspect of a true martyr. If this does not appear as yet to superficial observers, it is due to Germany’s moral prostration, the natural reaction after five years of unspeakable strain in a state of unheardof underfeeding — a prostration very unsympathetic and ungainly, to be sure, but which does not mean more than the loss of self-control by a strong man subjected to cholera or typhoid. When, now, the real moral status of the world becomes conscious to the majority, then convulsions will ensue more terrible, more universal and widespread than those between 1914 and 1918.

For the world has already changed to a degree that very few fully realize as yet. Its real forces are no longer those which shaped it before the Great War and which predominate on the surface even to-day. Many are wondering why the Bolshevist government of Russia, beyond doubt one of the worst the world has seen, not only maintains itself against odds to which most better rulers would have succumbed, but, what is more, unquestionably gathers strength from the very movements intended to overthrow it. It is due to the fact that this government, whatever it be in itself, is to the lower classes of Russia and, to a considerable extent, to those of all the world, the symbol of the government of the oppressed. Lenin and Trotzky find it possible to raise new armies each time that reactionary Russian or alien troops attack them, because the working class of Russia prefers the worst terror, inflicted by one of themselves, to the lenient leadership of foreign capitalists — for the higher classes are, in their eyes, also foreigners.

Now, Bolshevism is a form of Socialism, possible only in a country as backward as Russia. But the idea for which it stands is the greatest actual force all over the world; it is indeed the selfsame force which gave, during the war, such immense moral strength to the Entente: the New Creed of the Millions, that human beings are not to be used as tools, that capital should have no power over lives, that Imperialism, based on war-machinery, is wrong, and oppression shameful. One need only reread the manifestos of the Allies in 1914 and 1915, and compare them with Trotzky’s messages: it is in the name of the same ideals that the Allies went to war and that Bolshevism fights the Entente. It is the same cause which won followers to the latter that is winning them to the former to-day.

That the extremist creed of Bolshevism is absurd does not alter the fact; very few among the working classes all over the world insist, in their feelings and thoughts, on what Bolshevism really is; they rather disregard a truth unpleasing to them, considering that alone for which Bolshevism stands. And the fact is that, if the moral forces of the world are ultimately not with Bolshevism, they are, to-day, much less with the Allies. Very many, among the adherents of the latter, still believe that the situation has not changed since 1914. It has. It was as early as August, 1915, that I wrote for these columns the following: —

‘At the beginning of this war the Germans . . . themselves laid the foundations of that theory which has proved to the Allies such an admirably moral working hypothesis ever since. Henceforth nothing could sound more plausible than the pretence that fighting Germany meant fighting war in itself, — unrighteousness, aggressiveness, bad faith, — and for the freedom and right of small nations. This ideology still rules most minds on the Allies’ side. But as a matter of fact, however grave were Germany’s initial wrongs, her enemies also deviated all too soon from the flowery path of unselfish righteousness. No sooner had the struggle begun than France took up the idea of revariche and made up her mind to conquer the left bank of the Rhine, although entirely German; than England undertook to acquire absolute supremacy on all the seas, and to increase and consolidate her colonial empire; than Russia proceeded to found that Panslavonic caliphate which had been her dream of ages; and when Italy arose, her conscious object was to reconstitute as much of the Mediterranean Empire of ancient Rome, as seemed possible at the time. Worse still: all these states agreed among themselves to make an end of Germany as such. No wonder, therefore, that the latter from the very beginning protested that in reality she was the attacked; from which belief, ever firmer the more numerous her enemies became, she got and still gets immense moral support.’

The reversal of rôles which began in 1915 is complete to-day. In November. 1918, Germany laid down her arms before the New Creed of the Civilized Western World, and has done all in her power, ever since, to shape the facts of life according to it; while the exact contrary movement has taken place in the policy of the Allies. But the ideals of the age have not changed since 1914; and that the great Western democracies have become untrue to them, — and that alone, — is the true and real reason why Bolshevism could become the formidable force it is.

Bolshevism is the Creed of Despair. At war against the whole of material civilization, it seems the only alternative left to very many, who believed in progress and have seen, or imagined, themselves duped. That this appears primarily among the beaten is explicable enough. I think it is difficult for Americans to realize to what a degree all idealists on the one side, and all working classes on the other, so far as they understand the case, feel disillusioned and embittered since the terms of peace have become known. Not many doubt that the whole struggle has been in vain. And since the masses, no matter whether immediately or mediately, are the real rulers of Western destinies, this disillusionment is bound to express itself, sooner or later, on the outer plane.

Personally I do not believe in the bolshevization of Europe, nor, indeed, in the world-revolution, predicted over and over again by Socialist fanatics. But what I do, not only believe, but know, is this: the consciousness of solidarity of the oppressed, beyond all national boundaries, is the great force of our age. It was this very force, as incarnated in the ideals of the Entente, that conquered German Imperialism. It has gathered immense strength, in all countries, from this victory, and means now to conquer all oppression all over the world. It will grow and become overwhelming all the sooner because, owing to the situation created by the war, which has ruined the greater part of the European continent, there will no longer be only capitalist and proletarian classes, but very few capitalists and very many proletarian nations in permanent antagonism. All nations with an impaired value of money will soon consider themselves proletarian, as compared to Great Britain and America, and will develop a corresponding programme.

Is it not blindness, this being so, to persist in the policy inaugurated in November, 1918? If the American platform had been accepted then and stuck to, all might have ended well; for German Imperialism was morally dead inside its own country, and all the nationalities of Central Europe, purified by suffering, were ready then to make all necessary renouncements for the sake of the establishment of a better order of things. As things now stand, the world never was more pregnant with bloodshed and war than it is to-day.


What is to be done, now, to save Western civilization from a complete breakdown — nowadays the inevitable result of only three or four decades of war? Not very much, I fear. Destiny will work itself out. There is no lasting peace in view before the true state of

equilibrium between the contending forces has been reached.

But something can be done, all the same. Let us remember that the chief forces of the age are no longer national, but supernational. The greatest of them, not yet actively foremost in many countries, but very much awake to its own importance everywhere, is the Internationale of Labor, which will cause more trouble to the old order of things every year (although its internationalist programme as such has possibly lost all prestige, owing to what it has proved itself to be in Russia and Germany, having transformed itself, in each case, into a national one). The second Internationale, supreme to-day, is that of Capital. A third is incarnated in the different churches and creeds. Of these three internationales only the first undoubtedly has a great, perhaps too great, future; while the second will hardly withstand, in the long run, the converging attacks of public opinion, national feeling, ever-increasing taxation, and social reform; and the third is fast losing in importance.

But there is a fourth Internationale which may win, and which, if it does win, alone can save civilization in this most terrible crisis it ever went through: the Internationale of the really Best, the most Enlightened, the most Wellmeaning — in one word the Internationale of gentlemen. I say gentlemen, because gentlemen in the real sense are supposed not to be petty, not rancorous, not avaricious, but noble, fair and capable of self-sacrifice, of forgiving and forgetting. The gentlemen of all the world, to whatever race or creed they belong, realize and understand each other at first sight. They all know how to live and let live. They see right and wrong objectively, wherever it appears; they are superior to party exclusiveness, and full of sympathy for the legitimate claims of the disinherited.

These truly best are, in all countries, equally horrified at what has happened during the war and is happening since. They know equally well, to whatever side they belong, that there is no way out of the present impasse, so long as each party perseveres in its subjective outlook on things. There is no agreement within reach, so long as personal feeling is being accepted by each as sole basis for thought and action — not even an agreement to differ. True, France has suffered terribly and finds it hard to forget; but the same applies to Germany. True, the latter declared war; but then the documents published prove, with absolute certainty, that she was essentially no more guilty than any other European nation;1 so that the construction of Germany’s exclusive guilt, the moral basis of the Treaty of Versailles, is false, notwithstanding the fact that Germany, yielding to force, has put her name under it. True, the Germans have been committing many misdeeds, but so have all the others. The moral balance, as to the past, is fairly equal for all sides.

The past, alas, is not to be altered, but a better future can be secured, and this only if all agree to think of the future more than of the past. All personal feelings are essentially finite; the yet unborn will be unable even to understand the courses adopted by latter-day statesmen, in case these shall prove, in their consequences, contrary to reason. The different nations, whether they like each other or not, will have to continue to dwell side by side on the same planet. Sooner or later the true state of equilibrium between them will assert itself. Then the personal feelings created by a particular situation, even if they survive until then, will in any case prove to be of no account.

This the well-meaning and the farsighted should anticipate. Gentlemen know that fairness is the justest form of justice, and that the feelings of hate and of revenge cannot be fairly built upon. These gentlemen — and their class is particularly numerous in English-speaking countries — should join hands across space and time. They should form an organized fourth Internationale, the Internationale of civilization and of culture, as opposed to the Internationale of the blind and only too often ignoble masses. They should incarnate the exact antithesis to Bolshevism. As such they could enter upon a great future; yes, they alone can do so, apart from the working classes, for the day of the Imperialist, of the Nationalist, the Profiteer, is coming to an end. In case the Internationale of the lower classes comes into power, Russia’s fate will become the symbol of all the world. But if the Internationale of gentlemen succeeds in consolidating and in asserting itself, then the situation may still be saved.

Therefore, again, let the gentlemen join hands all over the world. The general state is equally bad everywhere. Victors and vanquished seem equally demoralized. There are only oases of high-mindedness, intellectual cleanliness, moral consciousness to be found alive anywhere. Let these form a network. Soon they will become a power. It is the only chance we have of preventing Western civilization from coming to an end. Peace can be brought into the world only by the victory of supreme fair-mindedness. It is this spirit which drove America into the war. Let the same spirit now forbid that the Treaty of Versailles should become the threshold of War Everlasting.

America can achieve this. She is the decisive power on earth to-day. If America deliberately declares that Fairness, as opposed to Profiteering, that the principle of living and letting live, as opposed to the principle of taking unfair advantage, of good-will as opposed to ill-will, shall reign supreme, and acts accordingly, then the agonized Western civilization can still be saved. And thus indeed would America fulfil that lofty mission in which she failed at first: the mission of building up a new and better world.

  1. A remark sufficiently significant from our point of view. — THE EDITOR.