The League of Nations, convening in Geneva in 1923, saw its idealistic hopes dashed, in part because of America's refusal to join. Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis

At the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914, Europe and the world awoke out of a dream of intensified nationality to a new system of realities which were entirely antagonistic to the continuance of national separations.

It is necessary to state very plainly the nature of these new forces. Upon them rests the whole case for the League of Nations as it is here presented. It is a new case. It is argued here that these forces give us powers novel in history and bring mankind face to face with dangers such as it has never confronted before. It is maintained that, on the one hand, they render possible such a reasoned coordination of human affairs as has never hitherto been conceivable, and that, on the other, they so enlarge and intensify the scope and evil of war and of international hostility as to give what was formerly a generous aspiration more and more of the aspect of an imperative necessity. Under the lurid illumination of the world war, the idea of world unification has passed rapidly from the sphere of the literary idealist into that of the methodical, practical man …

In the history of mankind, the great phases seem all to be marked by the appearance of some new invention which facilitates trade or intercourse, and may be regarded as the operating cause of the new phase. The invention of writing, of the wheel and the road, of the ship, of money, of printing, of letters of exchange, of joint-stock undertakings and limited liability, mark distinct steps in the enlargement of human intercourse and cooperation from its original limitation within the verbal and traditional range of the family or tribe.

A large part of the expansion of the Roman empire, apart from its overseas development, may be considered, for example, as a process of road-making and bridge-building. Even its trans-Mediterranean development was a matter of road-making combined with ship-building …

And we live today in a time of accelerated inventiveness and innovation, when a decade modifies the material of intercommunication far more extensively than did any century before, in range, swiftness, and intensity alike. Within the present century, since 1900, there have been far more extensive changes in these things than occurred in the 10 centuries before Christ. Instead of regarding Around the World in Eighty Days as an amazing feat of hurry, we can now regard a flight about the globe in 15 or 16 days as a reasonable and moderate performance …

While all these things, on the one hand, point plainly now to such possibilities of human unification and world unanimity as no one could have dreamed of a hundred years ago, there has been, on the other hand, a change, an intensification of the destructive processes of war which opens up a black alternative to this pacific settlement of human affairs. The case as it is commonly stated in the propaganda literature for a League of Nations is a choice between, on the one hand, a general agreement on the part of mankind to organize a permanent peace, and on the other, a progressive development of the preparation for war and the means of conducting war which must ultimately eat up human freedom and all human effort, and, as the phrase goes, destroy civilization …

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 League of Nations is not ultimately a state aiming at that ennobled individual whose city is the world.

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