Independence or Isolation?


SOME four years ago I was privileged to present in the Atlantic some considerations on the League of Nations. I stated the original intent of the League, as I understood it, and my uncompromising hostility to it. I noted the complete change in the character of the League as evolved in the first five years of its existence, the obsolescence of Articles X and XVI, the repudiation of force, the reliance upon investigation and moral suasion, and the varied and useful service rendered in the field of common consent. In view of these developments, so different from what its founders intended and some of us feared, I expressed the conviction that America should participate in its activities, either by entering without reservations, entering with reservations, or coöperating without entering. As to which of those methods was best I had at that time no opinion.

I have an opinion now. The past four years have furnished abundant food for thought. The League has continued its wise policy of forbearance, inquiry, and unostentatious service. Germany has entered; Argentina, Brazil, and Spain have withdrawn. The little nations have invaded the Council, appropriating and diluting its concentrated authority. Locarno and Thoiry and the ‘hotel talks’ have played their supplementary or rival rôle. Above all, the World Court has been instituted, has made its appeal to us, and has rejected our too qualified acceptance of its invitation. This important series of events is my excuse for again presenting, not the question of the League, but the larger question of international coöperation as related to our nation.

The refusal of the signatory Powers to admit the United States to the World Court on the terms proposed by our Senate marks one more decisive step in the determination of American policy. How far these unsuccessful attempts disclose fundamental American tendencies and how far they have themselves created those tendencies it is difficult to determine. The tendencies themselves are clear. We are not going at present to enter into any association or agreement which restricts or seems to restrict our national liberty of action.

There can be little doubt that the moment most favorable to such association was that immediately following the war. The war had given us several years’ experience of international cooperation, and, if we had experienced something of its difficulties and chafed under its friction, we had had the clearest evidence of its necessity and of the futility of separate action.

Even so, however, we refused to join the League. Why? The answer is perfectly simple. All will recognize it as soon as Wilson and Lodge are forgotten. That will require some time yet. The contemporaries of the great antagonists will continue to explain the current as due to those straws that floated upon it. A later generation will view with astonishment this explanation of our action as due to the animosity of Lodge — as though his were the only animosity — and will speculate with amusement as to what the attitude of Democratic Senators would have been if the League proposal had come from Roosevelt or Taft. They will recognize in this factitious line-up the play of ephemeral political forces which often obscure but seldom modify the action of the deeper forces of our national life. If personalities and adventitious influences counted in this decision it was not all on one side or chiefly in the negative. Such influences are always present and are always overestimated. The amazing thing is that in the present instance they came so near to a seeming victory over the basic tendencies of American life. The victory would have been but seeming if it had been won. Form and appearance would have been different, but not substance. Life takes its own course with little regard to garments. Wilson may have been the prophet and Lodge the politician, Wilson right and Lodge wrong in the final accounting, but it was Lodge and not Wilson who represented the present tendencies of American life. This is the plain lesson of subsequent events. Lodge did not make these events. Had he done differently he could not have changed them appreciably. Or, conceding that he could, we have still to explain why he instead of one of different temper was sent to represent his State. Envisage it as we will, these men are straws and we have still to explain the current.

What, then, are the present basic tendencies of American life as regards this question of international relations? This article is not concerned with the final accounting. Between here and there stretches a vast expanse of concrete situations to be met by temporary measures, each finite and of limited validity, but significant because of that ideal to which they are the only possible stepping-stones. It is with the nearer of these situations, these intermediate steps, that we are here concerned, and with those tendencies of our national life which must of necessity determine those steps.

Why, then, did we refuse to enter the League?

There are two possible explanations, two principles or instincts of action, principles related and easily confounded, but in essence quite distinct. They are isolation and independence.


There can be no question that isolation has a strong attraction for the American mind. Despite our national passion for travel, very few Americans know any other country than their own and not all who travel entertain a favorable opinion of what they have seen. Visual familiarity with foreign lands is compatible with any degree of ignorance of their essential character. Americans, traveled and untraveled, entertain to a remarkable degree a complacent view of their own country as contrasted with all others. With perfect equanimity they declaim against the wicked imperialism of European countries, unmindful of the fact that we have annexed territory more often and for less cause than any European nation. Unconscious of the territorial problems of divided Europe, European dissensions are attributed to inherent quarrelsomeness, and our own immunity to peaceableness of temper. Advantages of situation and natural resource thus assume the guise of moral superiority to our eyes. Provincialism is thus in its very nature supercilious and self-sufficient. As a determinant of national policy it inevitably favors isolation.

It is difficult to say how far this is the temper of the American people, but that it is widespread and influential hardly admits of doubt. It is in general the attitude of the unintelligent, though there are able and thoughtful exponents of the policy of isolation even in its extreme form. I remember such a man, a business man of large interests and great wealth. He believed in emphasizing to the utmost the selfsufficiency of our own country. He would raise the tariff on imports to a point where we should be compelled to produce all needed articles for ourselves. The beet-sugar industry should be developed to the point where it would displace entirely the sugar of the tropics. Synthetic rubber should replace natural rubber, or if necessary we should annex rubber plantations of our own. Intercourse between ourselves and other nations should be minimized.

Such extreme views are doubtless exceptional, but they are the views of some able and influential men. They derive their chief significance, however, from the fact that they give countenance to the temper of arrogant provincialism. Thus reënforced, the policy of isolation is at all times potent in our national affairs. A striking though by no means unique illustration of this influence is to be found in the niggardliness and churlishness manifested toward our diplomatic service, our disparagement of international amenities, and our willingness to condone if not to approve affronts toward foreign Powers. Doubtless much is chargeable to simple ignorance, but the note of insolent selfsufficiency is often unmistakable. It is not so much boorishness as indifference. We are not nice to them because we feel no need of them and care little what they think.

There can be no doubt that this temper was partly responsible for our refusal to enter the League. Before the time of decision came, the psychological moment had passed. The proceedings of the Peace Conference did not encourage the spirit of coöperation. Every returning soldier contributed to the reaction toward the national policy of isolation. Consciously and unconsciously men in public life were influenced by the reaction. We do not need to assume sycophancy on the part of Senators to account for their action. They were influenced by the same forces that influenced others and that swept the country in the election of 1920.

But there could be no greater mistake than to construe the vote of either Senate or people as an endorsement of the policy of isolation. There may have been Senators, as there certainly were citizens, who endorsed that policy, but they were not representative. Isolation was not the policy of Lodge or Harding or Hughes. I do not believe that it is the policy of Coolidge or Kellogg or Moses or Borah or Johnson. It is doubtful if any of these men desired to limit our intercourse or cooperation with foreign Powers. Their policy — and the policy of our intelligent citizenship everywhere — has been a policy, not of isolation, but of independence.

The distinction is most important. Isolation means that we refuse to coöperate. Independence means that we coöperate to any desired extent, but on our own terms. It implies no unwillingness to coöperate, no necessary assumption of superiority or selfsufficiency. The assumption is simply that we can and should decide when and how we will coöperate. It does not mean that we will make no concessions, that we will insist upon having exactly what we want. It permits of any degree of devotion to the coöperative principle, any degree of concession and conciliation. It merely retains the right to decide in each instance what coöperation is feasible and what concession is to be made.

What I wish to make clear is that independence is no enemy to cooperation. It may seek coöperation with assiduity. It is doubtless a policy best suited to nations that are very necessary or very self-sufficient; but we are both — hence our instinctive choice.

We may safely dismiss, therefore, from our discussion the policy of isolation. The stars in their courses fight against it. No considerable body of intelligent opinion favors it. To declaim against it is to attack a man of straw. The American policy is not isolation, but independent, unpledged coöperation.

Strange as it may seem, the outstanding exponent of this policy is Woodrow Wilson. Under his leadership we carried out the largest scheme of international coöperation in our history, but always under conditions of complete independence. Who does not recall the oft-repeated formula, ’the allied and associated Powers’? Who does not recall the constant assertion of our independence during the war and above all during the peace negotiations? Committed to the principle of coöperation, he would hear nothing of an alliance. From beginning to end no precedent, no usage, no logic of the situation, ever restrained his carefully guarded independence of action. In all this he was indubitably American. In his later proposal that we surrender that independence of action he was not.


The period following the war has been remarkable for its reconciliations and its amicable adjustments. It began with a peace which was in the highest degree inauspicious. It bristled with grievances, with unwilling unions and unsought separations, with economic embarrassments and fictitious independences. The coercion of its adoption and the resentment which it aroused were notorious. This is not saying that it was not the best peace possible. He would be a brave man who would undertake to plan a better. The situation was desperate. Versailles merely registered that situation. But the spiritual malaise which followed was unmistakable. To a remarkable degree this situation has improved. The relation between France and Germany was as bitter in 1919 as in 1871, but while in the earlier case that bitterness continued with little abatement for forty years, to-day the two Governments are seemingly upon the most cordial footing. The pitiless Poincaré follows meekly the pacific leading of Briand, while Stresemann holds even the Nationalists in leash. Both these peacemakers retain their places through all cabinet changes by the unmistakable will of their peoples.

What a change in the few brief years since Briand was thrown from power because of a suspicion of friendliness, not toward a former foe, but toward a present ally! Hardly less significant is the changed feeling between America and Japan, a change much more marked in the latter country than in our own, and effected in spite of what was regarded as a great national affront. Less dramatic but not less real is the change of feeling between England and France, England and Germany, and other less familiar relationships which long threatened the peace of Europe. To a very large extent these improvements rest upon concrete adjustments involving valued concessions and difficult sacrifices. Other changes seem rather to be in the domain of feeling and to reflect the more reasonable temper of the world.

This period of accommodation and friendship is the period during which the League of Nations has been in existence. Is there any connection between these facts? Has the new world temper been due in any degree to the new world association? It is permissible to assume that such has been the case. I confess that as I try to imagine the nations of Europe in the condition in which they were after the Congress of Vienna, each living an essentially isolat ed life, formulating its policies alone and exclusively from the national standpoint, and using its diplomatic agents as spies and tools of partisan nationalism, I find it difficult to conceive such a development as now seems to have taken place. Possibly Briand, Chamberlain, and Stresemann would have triumphed under less favorable conditions. It is possible, too, that their present triumph is less real than it seems; possible, finally, that without the League of Nations conditions would have been more favorable than a century ago. But when all is said it is reasonable to believe that the League has contributed to this gratifying result.

The other services rendered by the League are enormous and beyond question, but do not concern us here. The question is simply how far the League has contributed to the reconciliations and adjustments which we have noted. It would seem that its contribution, though intangible and indirect, is considerable.

But of direct contribution there seems to have been almost nothing. The League has created atmosphere and promoted acquaintance, but the definite accords reached have been effected by other agencies and independent action. The only concrete result in the direction of disarmament — a prime purpose of the League — was effected by the Washington Conference, which was initiated by a nonmember and carried through without the aid of the League. The recent refusal of France and Italy to join in a second conference, with their expressed preference for action through the League, is hailed with exultation by partisans of the latter. Its real meaning is that France and Italy are opposed to the proposed reduction of naval armaments and are confident that they can resist the pressure of the League more easily than that of a five-Power conference. While not opposed to ultimate disarmament, they enjoy a present advantage through which they hope to attain still unrealized national ambitions — security and dominance in the case of France, and expansion in the case of Italy. Their preference for the League is a doubtful compliment.

But the outstanding case is Locarno. Why Locarno instead of Geneva? All sorts of evasive answers were given to this question, such as the nearness of Locarno to Italy and the convenience of Mussolini. The real reason was to get away from Geneva. As one of the chief actors said in private: ‘We are tired of having the representative of Guatemala tell us what we may do.’ This hits the nail on the head. The inherent weakness of the League, as well as its potential strength, is its comprehensiveness. In an effort to establish universal jurisdiction it was necessary to invite the coöperation of nations utterly unsuited to the high responsibilities of League membership. Ingenious efforts were made to render the membership of the nationettes innocuous, but with scant success. These nations — of which Guatemala was chosen at random as a representative— are simply meddlers in the major transactions of the associated nations. No prudent Power can entrust its interests to their arbitrament. And yet no League transaction can wholly escape their influence. Hence Locarno instead of Geneva, and the probability of a like decision in every important case.

The League may influence these outside decisions as it did in the Corfu case, but it cannot as yet enforce its direct jurisdiction. There are too many meddlers and incompetents in its membership. The Council, the refuge of the advanced Powers, has yielded to the pressure of the Assembly and enlarged its membership, with consequent loss of prestige. As a result the major Powers have virtually withdrawn from the Council. Their much criticized ‘hotel talks,’in which they meet behind closed doors and agree upon common action before entering the Council, are simply a means of recovering that paramount influence of which the enlargement of the Council threatened to deprive them. This enlargement of the Council may have been inevitable; it may ultimately justify itself. But the immediate result of this dilution has been to weaken its authority. Any attempt to give the little nations an influence out of proportion to their size, wealth, and intelligence only drives the responsible Powers to independent action. This policy has admitt edly produced a crisis in the League. Able representatives of little Powers say that it is a waste of their time to go to Geneva to rubber-stamp the decisions of the ‘hotel talk.’ League enthusiasts like Jouvenel and Cecil resign because their Governments refuse to submit major problems to League decision. Locarno is superseding Geneva. Indeed, the League at its recent meeting seems definitely to have committed itself to the policy of encouraging and multiplying these Locarno pacts, these outside and local agreements, as furnishing the only means of creating that sense of security upon which its hopes of general disarmament and world peace must be based.


What would be our relation to the League had we elected to become a member? One of the ablest representatives of the League was recently asked this question. He replied that our presence would have immeasurably increased the power and usefulness of the League. This is the natural conclusion of a League enthusiast. I believe it to be a proposition requiring a careful scrutiny. Beyond a doubt, if the League ever becomes a genuine superstate and acquires real jurisdiction over all other nations, there will be very serious reasons for our sharing its power and responsibilities. But that is far from the present fact. The question may be put narrowly thus: Would our presence in the League during the last eight years have helped the League? Would it have helped America? I am inclined to answer both questions in the negative—this, of course, without prejudice to the quite different question of what our later membership might mean to us or to others.

First, would it have helped the League if we had been a member during the last eight years? More definitely, would it have helped Europe and hastened that reconciliation which we have noted as the outstanding achievement of the period?

Let us recall the conditions which prevailed after the close of the war. Germany, after much manœuvring, settled down to a policy of dogged passive resistance to the payment of the indemnities imposed. This aroused France, under the belligerent leadership of Poincaré, to the desperate policy of coercion in the Ruhr. This estranged England, already at variance with France on grave matters of policy and much more interested in the restoration of her trade with Germany than in the collection of indemnities of which she received but a minor share. Before the Peace of Versailles was three years old there had developed a general deadlock, accompanied by the bitterest feeling, in which the animosity between former allies was more conspicuous than that between former enemies.

This was a critical period for the League of Nations. Conceived by a doctrinaire and forced by a strange freak of chance upon reluctant statesmen who regarded it with skepticism and misgivings, it was without prestige and was powerless to break the deadlock. Yet it had potentialities that statesmen could not ignore. It may safely be said that no responsible statesman of Europe during this period thought ever so remotely of turning over the destinies of his country to its keeping. Yet it presented opportunities for combination and intrigue which he must needs watch and of which he might find it necessary on occasion to take advantage.

What would have happened if the United States had been a member of the League during this period? At the time when the League was formed it would not have been easy to answer this question. It would have been impossible to forecast the attitude of Germany, the policy of Poincare, the comeback of Turkey, and the defection of France from the Allied policy in the Near East. Almost certainly, however, these things would have happened just the same had we been a member of the League, all of them being due to forces outside of League control or influence. To-day it is a matter, not of speculation, but of inside knowledge that our presence would have disrupted the League. There were those who fervently desired our intervention as the only means of breaking the European deadlock. This we could not have done without taking sides, in some degree, with one party or the other. There were moments when it was clear what policy the American people would have favored in European affairs. There was the intensest jealousy of our influence on the part of those opposed to this policy. It is stated on the highest official authority, authority which I do not feel at liberty to name, that, after the advent to power of Mussolini and Poincaré, Italy and France stood ready to withdraw from the League if we entered it as the possible and probable supporter of the policy advocated by Britain. When we remember the lightness with which Argentina, Brazil, and Spain have since withdrawn from the League, and the fact that both Mussolini and Poincaré have shown scant sympathy, not to say open contempt, for its mediation, we may accept this statement as wholly probable. Of course the withdrawal of two major Powers, both permanent members of the Council, would have shattered the League beyond repair.

It is easy to see, too, that the intervention of the United States in European affairs, though eagerly welcomed by any Power as an ally in extremity, would be resented by opposition or neutral opinion as meddling. There is as yet hardly the beginning of what we may call a world consciousness in Europe or elsewhere. There is, however, a decided beginning in Europe of a European consciousness — that is, a consciousness that Europe has certain common interests which are not shared by non-European nations. The function of the League of Nations is in part to develop this world consciousness. But for the present it must chiefly depend for maintenance upon such sense of common interest as now exists. This does not mean that there is no place in the League for nonEuropean nations, but it does mean that these nations must be extremely circumspect with regard to European problems. Outside intervention, however legal and covenanted, will be felt to be meddling, will perhaps be meddling. Nothing is more encouraging in the present situation than the fact that the nations of Europe have made up their quarrel by themselves. We might conceivably have helped them to a speedier settlement, but the settlement would not have been a reconciliation.

More likely we should not have helped even this far, but should have wrecked the League in our effort to do so. Had we been in the League, there would have been a determined effort on the part of those who hoped for our support to make the League the arbiter of European affairs. And there would have been an equally determined effort on the part of their opponents to prevent this even by withdrawal and disruption of the League, if that proved the only means to the accomplishment of their purpose. As it is, the League has been saved for future service by restricting it during the incubation period to functions politically colorless and to a membership that had a consciousness of reasonable community of interest.

The conclusion is, therefore, that our presence in the League during the period under consideration would not have helped the League or contributed to the recent European settlement.

Would it have helped America?


It is difficult to limit this part of our inquiry, as we have done the other, to the brief period thus far elapsed. These years have not been critical or abnormal with us as they have been for Europe. It is just conceivable, to be sure, that if we had been a member of the League the question of interallied debts might in some way have been brought before that body, and it is again barely possible that, if this had been done, we might have been saved the most serious mistake that we have made in a hundred years. But it is unlikely in the extreme that either of these things would have happened. It could hardly be argued that these debts were likely to be a cause of war, and, failing this, the League had no excuse to intervene. If it had intervened it is hardly conceivable that it would have risked a decision unwelcome to us even had it reached such a decision.

Failing action on this subject, it is difficult to discover any special opportunity for help or harm during these years. The period has been for us essentially a normal period, and our inquiry resolves itself into the general question as to the value of the League connection to the United States. The question may well be answered in a different way as time goes on. No permanent validity is claimed for the present partial answer. I merely enumerate certain reasons which lead me to doubt whether such a connection would be valuable to us at the present time. I am not in the least questioning the value of League activities or the desirability of our participating in them. I am simply raising the question whether we had better adopt the Wilson proposal of membership and collaboration under collective authority or continue the Wilson practice of ‘allied and associated Powers.’ I emphatically believe in our doing our part.

The obvious weakness of the League lies in the political incapacity of a large part of the member States. States that have never made even an approximate success of governing t hemselves can hardly contribute helpfully to a world-governing council. But their inclusion is necessary if the League is to accomplish its purpose, and there can be no inclusion without a share in control. It is needless to discuss the clever devices for conferring while yet withholding this share in control. The Council of Nine was to represent the five Great Powers in perpetuity and the others in rotation. This was naïvely urged as a guaranty that control would always rest with the Great Powers. The trifling possibility that the five Great Powers might disagree among themselves seems not to have been contemplated, nor yet the possibility, already realized, that the number of minor Powers might be later increased. To remove still further any lingering fear on the part of the Great Powers, it was ordained that all matters of consequence should be decided by a unanimous vote. Thus, it was argued, no combination could possibly work harm to any member, since each was protected by its veto power.

It is amazing that the real danger lurking in this arrangement should have been so easily overlooked or ignored. It is true that, if we had a veto upon all League action, the League could do nothing that we did not like. But it is also true that we could do nothing that it did not. like, nothing that even one of its members did not like. Theoretically this is an almost ideal device for creating universal deadlock. If it has not yet done so, it is because the opposition has not used its power. If it has not used its power, it is because it has not mastered the technique of obstruction. I venture the opinion that the rôle of obstruction is destined to be much larger in the near future than it has been to date, and increasingly so if more vital questions are submitted to League decision. The act of Brazil in holding up action with which she was wholly in accord, in an effort to secure that to which she was nowise entitled and which she knew she could get in no other way, is suggestive of possibilities in this connection.

Of all nations the United States has the most to fear from the jealousy and obstruction of the minor Powers. We are the only great nation upon the Western Hemisphere, which is otherwise parceled out among a score of minor nations, one of which is by tacit understanding always to be found upon the Council, armed with the inevitable veto power. There is but one of these nations in whose friendliness and competency we can have much confidence. Latin America is sure to be represented on the Council by a nation that we do not control and whose jealousy is virtually assured. It is entirely within the bounds of probability that Mexico will ultimately sit on the Council. If she enters the League, she will have a strong claim to represent Latin America in her turn. Nay, this is likely to be the very bait that will tempt her in. Yet it is certain that, at any time since the fall of Diaz, Mexico would have been disposed to put a spoke in the American wheel if opportunity offered. The same is hardly less true of other Latin American countries. All hope of permanently removing this jealousy is fatuous. It inheres in the situation. Tact and consideration may lessen it or withhold occasions for its manifestation, but they can never remove its permanent causes.

What are these causes?

The first is our size and power. Every Latin American country knows that it is helpless if we choose to assert our power. Our naïve assumption of benevolence is an assumption that history does not warrant and that they do not share. We are sure that we do not want anything that they possess. They argue from history that we want everything in sight. On the face of it, they have the better case. The worst of it is that our further development is certain to justify their contention. The statement of the London Spectator that it is our manifest destiny to control everything down to the Canal, including the Caribbean area, is obvious to all but ourselves. Twelve Latin American countries see their fate in that inevitable advance.

The second cause is our irresistible economic penetration. If our political overlordship threatens, our economic domination is an accomplished fact. Mexico has awakened to the fact that Americans have invested a billion and a half in her great extractive industries and that her own people have invested nothing at all. She has conceived the naïve plan of recovering her economic independence by confiscation. This plan is as futile as it is hazardous, and the plan of stirring up revolt in American protectorates hardly less so. Both advertise to all Latin America the danger of American encroachment, a danger which is real and which no will of ours can avert. Conceding, for the sake of argument, that our political advance may be arrested and the safety of the Canal assured by other means than our own power, — a very hazardous assumption, — the same cannot be said of our economic advance. Unless the present economic organization of society is totally changed and the incentives to exploitation quite destroyed, that advance will be continued. It is an economic impossibility for countries without capital to exploit their own resources in competition with highly financed exploitation elsewhere. Mexico may drive out foreign capital, but, if she does, her minerals will remain in the ground until some later administration invites foreign capital in again. That is only a matter of time. You may change the tempo, but you cannot change the tune.

In other words, we have encroached upon Latin America and we are doomed to encroach further. We are unconscious and she is conscious. We are friendly and patronizing and she is jealous and hostile. The difficulty can be mitigated, but it cannot be removed. It inheres in matters beyond our willing. We may will not to protect the Canal, but when danger comes we will protect it and will engulf half of Latin America if necessary in doing it. The work is half done already and we don’t know it. They do.

These are some of the reasons why America will find it more embarrassing and hampering than any other nation to enter an association in which the Latin American nations are represented. Without insisting upon their low political development and their preposterous over representation, due simply to their lack of political cohesion, our situation is peculiar in that it ensures their permanent jealousy and hostility. No other nation has a like handicap, a like reason for retaining its independence of action.

These considerations, very imperfectly formulated in American thought, are crystallized by historic accident in the Monroe Doctrine, the warning of ‘Hands off America!’ It is our doctrine, a doctrine in the highest degree unwelcome to Latin Americans, whom it purports to protect. There is little doubt that some of these States would welcome European intervention against the United States at any cost to themselves. If Germany could have reached the Caribbean during the late war, it is all but certain that Venezuela or another would have granted her a submarine base with alacrity. It is we, not they, who utter the warning, ‘Hands off America!’

It was the clear intent of the founders of the League that it should supersede the Monroe Doctrine and include all American interests in its keeping. The instant outcry of America led to the inclusion of the doubtful reservation in favor of ‘regional understandings,’ by which inappropriate term the Monroe Doctrine was understood to be designated. There can be little doubt, however, that full recognition of the League, with an inclusive membership, would in fact abrogate that doctrine. The American people have shown little inclination to accept this or any other substitute for their self-assumed guardianship of the Western Hemisphere. Why?

Simply because we have more confidence in ourselves than we have in the collective nations of the world. We have more confidence in our intelligence, in our political stability, in our power, even in our fairness and disinterestedness, than in those of other nations individually and collectively. Whether this confidence is justified is not now the question. It is a fact. We believe in ourselves. First of all, we believe in our judgment of our own interests. That belief is common to all peoples and always has a measure of justification. But it is not too much to say that we are more justified than our neighbors, more justified than most nations of the world, in that confidence. But to a far greater degree we are confident in our power. We have territory, resources, wealth, organization, and, above all, isolation. It is folly to expect a people to forget its advantage when it holds such cards in its hands.

But the American people believe in themselves as more than the guardians of their own interests. They believe in their fairness and even in their generosity. The strong may not be generous, but only the strong can be. If Old World nations were disinterested, their judgment would be fairer, but they are not. They are as biased as we are and their bias is less justified by human interests. When a foreign nation takes sides with Venezuela or Mexico against the United States, it is difficult to believe that it does so in the interest of civilization.

In some such way the American reasons half unconsciously to himself. And, in spite of all its speciousness and sophistry and conceit, is n’t there something to it?

Be that as it may, these are the reasons, the generous as well as the selfish reasons, for our policy of ‘Hands off America!’ It seems to me that a man must have a lot of the doctrinaire about him to declare this policy wrong and the reasoning behind it false. In any case it is one of the realities with which the architects of the new order will long have to reckon. America may coöperate in matters of common interest, but not to the extent of surrendering interests that she believes to be primarily her own or safe only in her keeping.


The World Court has again raised the issue and again defined the American position. In principle the World Court was the realization of a policy consistently advocated by the United States. No compulsory jurisdiction was proposed. It merely provided machinery for the handling of justiciable cases with the consent of all parties involved. The machinery was admirably adapted to its purpose and was a monument to American genius. It seemed to infringe no principle of American policy. Hence the recommendation of two successive presidents that we coöperate.

But the constitution of the Court contained what is technically known as a joker. The function of the Court was not limited, in accordance with Anglo-Saxon usage, to the adjudication of actual cases submitted to its jurisdiction. Provision was made for the rendering of ‘advisory opinions’ on cases not voluntarily submitted to its jurisdiction. These opinions were to be merely opinions; they were to have no binding force on anybody. But it is clear that the advisory opinion was a weapon of terrible power. So far as Court decisions were concerned, we had nothing to fear. We did not need to appear in Court unless we wished. Matters that we chose to reserve to our own decision remained wholly within our power. But the advisory opinion was another matter. That could be called for at any time and on any question. To illustrate, there can be little doubt that, with this system fully established, some Latin American country would have called for an advisory opinion on our recent difference with Nicaragua. Theoretically we could ignore that opinion, but practically we could not. If adverse, it would mobilize the sentiment of the world against us in a way that it would be difficult to resist. This, indeed, is precisely the purpose of this unusual provision. As Lord Robert Cecil says with surprising candor, it was a device for smuggling into the League the essence of compulsory arbitration at a time when the nations of the world were not prepared to accept that principle.

The World Court put the American policy to the severest possible test. We had always stood for the judicial determination of international disputes, and to reject it now seemed peculiarly inconsistent. But we had always reserved the Western Hemisphere as a field for our independent action, and to submit its issues to advisory opinions whose moral validity could not be ignored was inconsistent with this policy, in turn. We preferred the former inconsistency, or the imputation of it, to the latter. Hence the reservations with which we hopelessly encumbered our acceptance of the League invitation. The first three reservations were innocent enough. The fourth reserved our right to withdraw at will and stipulated that the protocol should not be amended without our consent, thus giving us a veto accorded to no other Power. The fifth stipulated that no request should be entertained for an ‘advisory opinion touching any dispute or question in which the United States has or claims an interest’ without our consent. The whole was capped by a resolution reaffirming our traditional policies of aloofness from Old World problems and ‘Hands off America!’ Surely our position is left in no doubt.

Had these reservations limited only our own participation, they would doubtless have been willingly accepted. Our participation, however hesitant and grudging, was desirable, and it was a legitimate expectation that, once in the Court, our reservations and misgivings would be forgotten. But to give us a veto upon all amendments and upon the functioning of the League in one of its most hopeful capacities was to place its fate almost wholly in our hands. We could not consistently demand less if we were to maintain our traditional policies, nor could the nations consistently grant our demands if the Court was to preserve its impartial and international character. From the standpoint of international coöperation we were profoundly unreasonable, but in matters American this is not our standpoint. If we are to preserve our traditional independence, we did the only possible thing.

Let me remind the reader again that we are not discussing general principles or seeking ultimate solutions. We are concerned with the working adjustments of the next few decades. These adjustments are evidently not to be based, so far as we are concerned, upon collective judgments. We are going to do our own thinking, our own deciding. We are in a far more favorable position to do this than any other Power. We appreciate and exaggerate this advantage. Any other nation in our place would decide as we have decided. To expect any other decision, now or in the near future, is the height of unreasonableness.

Yet the imperative need of coöperation remains. The world moves toward an inevitable synthesis. National independence is already half fiction. As an ultimate goal of human organization, it is an idle dream. But it cannot be willed away or legislated out of existence. It inheres in the situation or not, as the case may be. In default of world consciousness, with the poverty of human sympathies and the limitations of human intelligence, the joint determination of world policies presents difficulties and involves risks which justify the extreme of caution on the part of nations that have the interests of an advanced civilization in their keeping. At such a time to insist on a formal commitment to international coöperation is to ignore the lesson of all political evolution. The human synthesis does not come that way. Political institutions are little more than codified habits. If we ever enter the family of nations without reserve, it will be by cooperating first and formulating afterward. There is nothing to prevent our cooperating with the League of Nations to any extent that we choose. We have been cooperating with it, in fact, ever since its organization. We are now represented — unofficially, but really and actively — upon a. majority of its most important committees, and our experts are in exceptional favor for its special inquiries. When we have long been a habitual and conscious participant in fact, it will be time enough to talk about formal membership. It is upon the outcome of individual acts of coöperation that the ultimate relation w ill be based.

There is nothing in these American decisions to discourage those who favor a policy of international coöperation. America has at no time decided against cooperation, either in principle or in practice. We have decided simply that under present conditions we can better trust our own judgment as to when and how than we can trust that of the collectivity of nations. Considering our situation, our development, our power, our intelligence, and that of the others concerned, is that an unreasonable decision for a cautious people to make ? As a lifelong advocate of international cooperation, I cannot feel that it is. The line of advance for the present is to encourage the practice of coöperation instead of insisting upon its formulation.

Let the friends of coöperation stop talking about our entering the League. It only stiffens the opposition. Above all, let them cease all efforts to trick us into the League or the Court — such, for instance, as the preposterous proposal of Miss Lape in a recent issue of the Atlantic. Proposals to circumvent by technical interpretation the perfectly plain intent of senatorial and national action tend to destroy our most valuable asset, confidence in our fairness and good faith. America is entering the League in the only possible way, the only way that is safe for America and safe for the League. It may be a hundred years before we sit in the Council. No matter. By that time the Council may not be necessary and habits of coöperation may have created organs better suited to their purpose. Perhaps it is the ‘hotel talk,’ rather than the Assembly or the Council, that is destined to survive, perhaps something still unborn. Meanwhile the League affords, both to members and to nonmembers, the opportunity for that coöperation which is its end and aim, an opportunity of which our nation should be encouraged to avail itself within the limits set by national caution and foreign sensitiveness.