Whither France? Whither Europe?/the Decadence of Europe
by Alfred A. Knopf. 1923. Small 8vo. xi + 184 pp. $2.50.. New York:
by New York: Henry Holt & Co. 1923. 8vo. xlii + 302 pp. $3.00.. New York:
THESE books, both written by former premiers intimate with the intricacies of European politics, and by men of liberal convictions and constructive minds, naturally present interesting parallels and contrasts. They are pictures of an identical scene by painters of the same school but different individuality and temperament. Caillaux is a master draftsman, whose soreness of line enables him to dispense with all but the simplest accessories; Nitti is a colorist who secures his effects by a multiplicity of shadings. The ardor certaminis of a stormy public career still tinges with political passion each author’s work. Nitti’s emotional fire, even in the pallid medium of a translation, kindles hot indignation at the evils he condemns; Caillaux’s clarity of logic bends even the resisting mind to his conclusions. In a word, these are two exceptionally able books, which taken together constitute a crushing indictment of the policies that have brought Europe to her present pass.
The handiwork of the Paris Conference and the deterioration of European civilization under its working are an old story now. Keynes first told it to an incredulous public, since grown as weary as it dares to be of its frequent repetition. Indeed each of the present authors has previously discussed this theme, Caillaux in Mes Prisons and Nitti in Peaceless Europe. But the subject remains supremely pertinent so long as the world crisis is unsolved, and the new messages of prophets, already on record, receive added authority from the fulfillment of their first predictions.
Despite identity of topic and attitude the two books are not alike. Caillaux’s analysis of Europe’s distress is directed first to France. He seeks ‘to look back over and form a judgment upon the vulgar disputes between ghouls gathered about their prey, the short-lived quarrels between political parties and even between nations — to define the concepts of our civilization and to seek out the meaning and rhythm of its movements — to understand the immense economic forces which act upon it and to show the danger to which they make men submit.’ His analysis of financial ills and their causes is worthy of his reputation as the ablest public financier of France. He, like Nitti, thinks that Europe’s world leadership is passing to the United States, leaving her ‘a tiny appendage to the Asiatic continent, dotted with Babylons and Ninevehs.’ He sees her salvation only in a United States of Europe, with a common currency, an approach to free trade, and industries grouped into giant organizations in whose administration labor has a consultative voice.
Nitti, though more diffuse, is also more picturesque and dramatic. He states the grievances of Germany without reserve. The colored troops still upon the Rhine no despite insincere denials, the prodigality of unscrupulous Allied Commissions at the cost of impoverished and vanquished countries, the unceasing growth of armaments, the territorial greed, new forms of oppression, and denials of liberty that have followed a crusade to save democracy — the whole story of the wrongs of civilization he tells with more emotional force than any other author since the Armistice. To him even the Holy Alliance and the Treaty of Vienna embody far higher ideals of international morality than the Treaty of Versailles. ‘One must go back to the Middle Ages and to the most degenerate forms of feudalism to discover anything which, in violence or cynicism, can be compared with the new forms of international spoliation.’ He thinks America wise in rejecting the League, and that our Government and people ‘should remit nothing of what is owed them, and extend no further credit . . . even in the form of loans to private individuals, to any country who does not exhibit a definite will to achieve peace.’ On the other hand, ‘a general cancellation of the debts and reparations of the victors and the vanquished, and an immediate renunciation of all military occupations and of the control of the internal affairs of Germany and of the other defeated States, can speedily transform the situation.’ Nitti thinks it our duty actively to promote the latter consummation.
Both authors therefore agree substantially in their diagnosis of the ills of Europe and recommend similar remedies for them. Caillaux’s industrial programme, which looks toward erecting an economic state within the political state, sharing or absorbing many of the powers and functions of the latter, is likely to seem fanciful to plodding Anglo-Saxons. Nitti’s intense sympathy for the oppressed blinds him to whatever might extenuate the acts of the oppressor. But it is the virtue of positive books like these to invite query and qualification. They cannot be neglected by any American who wishes an insight into the present distress of Europe and its causes. They contain no narcotics to put easy consciences to sleep, and may disturb some lullaby propagandists. But they have this great merit, that they are truly constructive contributions to a world debate, upon the outcome of which the fate of civilization may depend.
VICTOR S. CLARK.