Woodrow Wilson (right) sought forbearance toward the defeated Central Powers at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, but he could not soften the views of the victors who had lost so many young men. Associated Press

The peace concluded at Paris in 1919 did not, like that concluded at Vienna in 1815, undertake to reorganize Europe, according to a plan mutually agreed upon by victors and vanquished: it attempted to reduce to impotence the enemies of the victorious alliance by territorial amputations, by imposing disarmament upon the vanquished, by the creation of a certain number of new states, whose duty it shall be to hold in check the powers which were responsible for the world war, and especially the most dangerous of them—Germany. This peace resembles those which were made by Napoleon during the last years of his reign (and which lasted so short a time) far more closely than it resembles the peace of Vienna, which was based on the principle of legitimate sovereignty …

It is clear that such a peace, however excellent it may be in itself, bears very little resemblance to a peace based upon such principles as President Wilson and the idealists had in mind …

The Congress of Vienna discovered one principle which was capable of bringing a little order into war-ravaged Europe. The Congress of Paris has not discovered such a one, because all those of which it tried to make use were vague expedients of the moment …

Western civilization [needs to] find some principle of union—a common language, an Esperanto of the spirit if not of the flesh. Now such a principle can be found only in the principle of nationality, understood and loyally applied in its strict, definite signification, as a principle of right, after the style of the principle of legitimacy; or in universally accepted doctrines—supra-natural, so to speak—which will make it possible, and even desirable, for different races and peoples to live under the same government.

This is what the Bolsheviki are trying to do in Russia, when they seek to maintain the unity of the empire by substituting for the dynastic principle the idea of the fraternity of the proletarian masses; that is to say, by substituting one universal idea for another. The attempt will probably fail; but it is not, in itself, so mad as people seem to think.


Originally titled "The Crisis of Western Civilization"

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