THERE would probably have been a reaction against the Versailles settlement in any event. The hopes placed upon it were too high. But this reaction was converted into doubts about the justice of the war itself and the value of the victory, and by a radical revision of the views held about its causes. This revision was largely assisted by the more or less fortuitous fact that the Germans were first in the field with their diplomatic documents of the period, and that the first diplomatic histories of the years in question were perforce written on the basis of these documents and by more or less Germanophile historians. Repudiating the view in the Peace Treaty that the war was one "imposed upon the Allied and Associated Governments by the aggression of Germany and her allies," these historians, even when they kept clear of the German version of "Allied encirclement," presented the period in terms of an international anarchy: all nations sought selfish ends--Germany no more than others and less than some--and having no means of settling such disputes except by force or the threat of force, they were bound sooner or later to end in general war.

This is not the occasion to reopen that debate except for one observation which has a wider relevance. It is that the theory of equal responsibility is one which is rendered highly plausible by any technique of historical writing that confines itself to diplomatic documents and ignores the internal life and politics of the countries concerned. So long as one talks in the favorite abstractions and personifications of the diplomatic historian about "the Wilhelmstrasse," "the Quai d'Orsay" and so on, it is not difficult to regard all the countries concerned as following policies of the same kind and hence as bearing an equal responsibility for the outcome. It is only when one looks at the internal structure and ethos of the societies concerned that one can differentiate between them, and see the gulf which in fact separated Asquith's England or Wilson's America from the Kaiser's Germany.

This doctrine of equal responsibility which contributed so much (along with some of its offshoots like the alleged wickedness of armament manufacturers and bankers) to the moral and material disarmament of both Britain and the United States in face of the revival of German aggressiveness was, of course, largely unable to hold its own when aggressiveness merged into overt aggression. As soon as it became evident that the object of the Germans was to reverse not the Versailles settlement but the victory which gave it birth, it became possible to review the pre-history of the First World War and to make use at the same time of a wider range of historical materials than had at first been available. If full use is made of the German archives now in Allied hands for the earlier period as well as for the interwar years, a further revision in the picture may be required.

Now, after the Second World War, we talk very often as though the causes of that conflict were already patent and as though we had only to avoid our previous errors in order to avoid renewed disaster. Just as the choice of "unconditional surrender" as the leitmotif of our peacemaking projects was based on our determination to prevent a new German "stab-in-the-back legend," so a great deal of the current political argument turns on the belief that the fundamental cause of the Second World War was "appeasement" and that the avoidance of "appeasement" is the sum of true statesmanship. It should be clear that on logical grounds alone "appeasement" can never be a prime cause, for before there can be "appeasement" there must be threat of aggression, if not aggression itself to appease. But historians have actually helped the growth of these and other facile stereotypes, for reasons which have again been partly outside their own control.

For the vast bulk of the material available to the historian has come from the Western European countries and in particular from France. And the apologias of Western statesmen, particularly French statesmen, are necessarily concerned primarily with their own share in the events they record, even though from a wider point of view that share was a relatively minor one. The correction of such stereotypes, such automatic reactions to the mention of particular events in the recent past, is an essential but neglected task of the academic student of politics.

The professional historian of the inter-war years as of the previous period still falls too easily into the routine of treating the Great Powers as so many roughly similar units whose fundamental interests and policies are of the same family. The pieces in the great game of international relations are not like the pieces in draughts or checkers; they are not identical and interchangeable. They are like the pieces in chess with individual habits of their own. Some can travel one way along the board and some another; and the limitations are real and constitute the essence of the game. But unlike even chess, international relations has the awkward characteristic that the values and dispositions of the pieces are not permanent, but changeable. Soviet Russia did not just begin where Tsarist Russia left off. The America of Roosevelt was not the America of Wilson. Hitler was not the Kaiser.

There is, of course, the contrary and equally oversimplified view of the Marxists, who regard the world of the inter-war period as sharply divided between the peace-loving Soviet Union on the one hand and the warring imperialist states on the other--the latter prevented only by their internecine rivalries from joining together to crush the Soviet Union and the hope of emancipation which it presented to their own and the colonial proletariats. But the patent inadequacy of the Marxist analysis should not blind us to the inadequacy of the viewpoint which holds that everything has all been done wrong up till now, but this time we shall show the world how it is to be done. Many of us may have felt like that in 1944-45, and already we see how wrong we were. Human affairs being the tangled mess of rationality and irrationality that they are, it is unlikely that in these great matters any generation should be wholly right. What history seems to reveal is not a succession of errors followed by a flash of final and total illumination, but rather a succession of partial insights and partial blindnesses, leaving us something to learn from both. In our present mood it has become fashionable to contrast the relative solidity of the Vienna settlement with the rapid collapse of the Versailles order. And no doubt there were aspects of politics into which Metternich saw more deeply than Wilson; there were also aspects of politics into which Wilson saw more deeply than Metternich, and more deeply, too, than some of his successors and critics. The contempt for Wilsonian principles that seems to be one of the few meeting-places for right and left has yet to be proved a productive form of reaction.


What, then, are the particular lessons to be drawn for a study of the history of the inter-war period?

In the first place, it seems that sufficient allowance must be made for two facts which distinguish that period from preceding ones. The first of them is one that has been gaining ground as a result of recent events but is still not altogether accepted as applied to historiography. It is the simple fact of change of scale. After 1917--the crucial year of America's entry into the war and Russia's withdrawal--the European framework of modern history finally collapsed. It was possible to write the history of modern times up to that date around Europe as a nucleus, with the other continents coming into the main story only when, and in as far as, they were affected by European events.

The illusion was not merely an example of European egocentricity. Indeed it would not be too much to say that it has died harder in the United States than in some parts of Europe itself. The whole rationale of American isolation--in so far as it had a rationale--was based on the idea that a European equilibrium could be restored and preserved by the efforts of European nations themselves. Even today the same fundamental illusion underlies the unthinking support given in the United States to the totally unreal notion of West European federation. The British resistance to this idea is not (as some people appear to think) the product of a simple desire to retain certain special benefits of the Commonwealth relationship, but rather of an awareness which the Commonwealth relationship fosters--an awareness of the total unsuitability of a West European unit (or even of a wider European framework) as an instrument for providing a solution for any of the problems, political, economic or even cultural, that such a federation would be supposed to solve.

Any study of the inter-war years which does not give major attention to the changes in the status and outlook of non-European Powers, American and Asian alike, is a parish-pump affair, and predestined to superficiality. But the historian clinging to his documents which tell him a lot about the Rhine and the Danube, but little about the Ganges or the Yellow River, who finds a comforting familiarity in the interchanges between European diplomats and a discomforting unfamiliarity about the names and aims of Asian statesmen and movements, is normally content to leave these questions as sideshows for specialists.

Important as this question of scale undoubtedly is, it is both easier to understand and simpler to grapple with than the other major particulars in which the years after the First World War differ from the years before it. For we are here dealing with a change of spirit and temper reflected in changing institutions; and such immaterial changes present much harder problems to the historian, particularly the contemporary historian, than do changes in the relative weight and importance of different areas or states. It is indeed precisely the difficulty which those who still took for granted the temper of the preceding age had in understanding the age into which they had now come that explains the extent of their failure. Neville Chamberlain's failure to understand Hitler (dare one add Franklin Roosevelt's failure to understand Stalin?) was not the failure of individuals but of a civilization. And we are still far perhaps from having plumbed the full depths of this gulf. Indeed it is too early to be sure that we shall not be swallowed up by it in our turn.

The gulf is symbolized most obviously and dramatically by what can best be described as a growth in callousness in the Western world--a growth in indifference to murder. In the late nineteenth century or the early years of the present one, public opinion could be moved, and political action to some extent swayed, by revulsion against Turkish ill-treatment of Bulgar or Armenian minorities, or by Russian pogroms against the Jews. Yet the victims of these world-shaking horrors as they were then regarded could have been numbered easily in thousands. In the course of the Second World War, the Germans as a matter of public policy put to death some 5,000,000 to 6,000,000 Jews and further millions of Poles, Jugoslavs, Russians and others. Yet within five years of the overthrow of the régime that ordered murder on a scale unknown since the times of Genghis Khan and Tamerlane, the revulsion against it seems almost to have vanished. Of course the inhumanities of the Soviet rulers have absorbed our attention, yet in discussions about policy with regard to various degrees of partnership with Germany in America, in Britain and even in France, should not the memory that we are dealing with a nation that has recently practised genocide as an instrument of its political program continue to be a factor in reaching decisions?

It is no doubt true, as Socialists will remind us, that we are more sensitive than our grandparents to some evils, that we accept social responsibility for individual welfare to a greater extent than any previous society. But a public conscience that demands free spectacles all round (in both senses) but is indifferent to the gas-chamber and the incinerator seems oddly proportioned to anyone inheriting the simple standards of religion and ethics as the Western world has known them.

Yet this blunting of the public conscience--a theme that could be pursued--is only a reflection in a partly nonpolitical sphere of the impact of the major political event of the period we are considering: the twentieth century revolution. The word revolution is used in the singular of set purpose. It helps to emphasize the necessity of clearing our minds of yet another all-pervasive stereotype that makes a proper understanding of the immediate past (and of the present) quite unattainable. It is the stereotype of political division into right and left. This bore some relation to the political circumstances of an earlier age when it could plausibly be argued that the semicircular arrangement of European legislatures corresponded to some real divergence of fundamental views, so that on the extreme right one would have adherents of the traditional legitimist order, on the extreme left those of pure democracy, with various gradations in between. But since 1917--again the crucial year--all this has been quite irrelevant, and has been kept alive by certain elements who have thought to make political capital out of the resultant confusion.

It has been useful for Communists in their "popular front" periods--and such periods are recurrent features of Communist tactics--to pretend that as the "extreme left" of the political amphitheater they are suitable partners for "democratic" Socialists and even liberals on the benches next to them. At other periods, it has suited Fascists or National Socialists to claim that they are "the extreme right," and can thus be regarded as defenders of tradition and legitimacy against the extreme left. Both these claims have paid handsome dividends from time to time. But both are obviously spurious. In everything that matters, Fascism and Communism are far more alike than either is like liberalism or conservatism. In other words, the whole of this right-left dichotomy is now a dangerous irrelevance. Any test one applies will demonstrate the truth of this conclusion. In the days when the right-left division had meaning, it was generally agreed, for instance, that a sympathy for Socialism (in some form) and with internationalism (in some form) was a characteristic of the "left" as contrasted with the devotion of the "right" to property and patriotism. Today it is clear enough, at least in Britain, that Socialism can be combined with the very extremes of nationalist insularity. There is thus no logical link whatever between Socialism and internationalism; and the right-left division obviously breaks down.

Presented in a highly abstract and schematic form, what has in fact happened appears to be more like this. In the century of the Vienna settlement, the European states-system, then the core of world politics, was run on the assumption, generally if not consciously held, that liberalism was making its way under the shadow of the old legal order. This liberalism had as its expression in the field of international relations a respect for the sovereignty of individual states, and a growing tendency to regard as the proper foundation of such states the principle of national self-determination. Although over much of Central and Eastern Europe this principle was violated in fact, it generally commended itself to what were regarded as forward-looking minds. It was held, too, that nations based upon this principle would be able to compose their differences without the resort to war which was still accepted as the ultimate sanction of national sovereignty. Meanwhile, however, peace was actually preserved by the self-restraint imposed upon the Great Powers by the balance of forces between them, and by a certain realization, perhaps, that under modern conditions a major clash between them might lead to far-reaching and undesirable consequences for their internal structures. For structures of government and society were in many parts of Europe proving less and less capable of giving a proper place to the demands of new classes for political self-expression. Yet there were even in darkest Russia some stirrings of reform; and nowhere in Europe was it possible to take the same gloomy view of the future that the present generation has come to regard as almost normal. It might perhaps be added that the fact that overseas emigration, particularly to the United States, still held out opportunities to vast numbers of those who by reason of political, religious or economic discrimination had least to look forward to in Europe, and was a safety valve of inestimable importance.

Above all, however, the characteristic of this last period of the old Europe was something which can best be described as the rule of law. It was the feeling that people were living within a social and economic order which, whatever its injustices and pressures, could at least be trusted to endure, in which, to take the most telling symbol, the value of money could be expected to remain stable and in which in consequence planning for oneself and one's family was still possible. Under such an order, personal responsibility and personal initiative made up in part at least for obvious social defects. And something in the field of international relations corresponded to this feeling about the internal order. There might be wars as there had been in the past, and some people would suffer; but the basic pattern of civilian life would go on. Statesmen might regard each other with suspicions that were justified, but on the whole they were men in whom a certain degree of self-control, in whose ambitions a certain measure, might be presumed.

This is the order that was destroyed by the First World War, and by the European revolution of which the 1917 revolution in Russia was the first step. In retrospect we can measure its magnitude better. For we have seen in more recent years how the Japanese conquest of Southeastern Asia and its aftermath have ended the domination of the Western Powers in those lands, and have broken up a great deal of the apparatus of law and order upon which any kind of productive and civilized life must depend. Americans who have been prone to applaud the weakening of "imperialism" and "colonialism" can now see in Burma, Malaya, Indonesia and Indo-China how hard it is to supply the place of the everyday machinery of government when it is withdrawn, along with the habits of obedience upon which it rests; how easy it is for anarchy to rear its head, and how much may have to be suffered by the peoples of these areas before a substitute is found for the British, French and Dutch rule that would-be "progressives" have bespattered with so much unjustified contempt.

The difference is, however, that whereas we have so far discovered no clear formula for the current problems of Asia, the problem of the collapse of the old European order seemed in 1919 to have a solution ready-made for it in the principles of Wilsonian liberalism. This solution rested on the belief that what had happened could be regarded as the speeding-up of a natural historical process that had been going on over a long period. Europe was being remapped at last, in terms of national self-determination; those countries which did not already enjoy liberal-democratic institutions were being endowed with them (that "liberal" and "democratic" were possibly antipathetic was normally overlooked); and finally an organization was to be set up in order to assure respect in the international order for the rule of law. To replace the balance of power and the self-restraint of autocrats that had failed the world, Wilsonian liberalism provided a new machinery of international coöperation and conciliation, and the hoped-for impact of world opinion mobilized in defense of peace.

With all allowances made for national selfishness and the still greater force of national fears based upon historic experience, the statesmen of Western Europe, of Western-minded Central European nations like the Czechs, and of the Americas (where these participated at all) were for the next two decades governed by the Wilsonian complex of ideas. The new Wilsonian order failed, and with that failure, contempt for these principles grew. But the point here is, surely, that for the most part the wrong reasons were given, and still are given, for their failure.

It is of course true that in action the confinement of statesmanship to Europe proper had the same deleterious effect as the confinement to the European framework has had upon historical thought. But the other reasons were for the most part very wide of the mark. Ignoring the fact that politics nearly always has a primacy over economics, the argument was that the greatest flaw was the multiplication of economic barriers that the practice of self-determination was shown to entail, and the creation of a multitude of warring and autarchic little states. But it was not the little states that went to war; and the whole of this argument seems to rest rather on some intellectuals' love of bigness and power for their own sake than on any reasoned analysis of the course of events.

It was argued, too, that the weakness was that the principle of national self-determination itself was not carried out to its logical conclusion, that its teachings were overtly disregarded in some areas. This of course is not altogether consistent with the first argument, though it was quite often advanced by the same people. But the real point is again that war did not come over an attempt forcibly to rectify an injustice of this kind. The dispute over Danzig and the "Corridor" was the occasion rather than the cause of the final breakdown. What had made it inevitable was the German march into Czechoslovakia. Wilsonian principles did not demand that Nazis should rule in Prague; and once they were there, there was no reason not to regard the demand for the "Corridor" (so-called and of set purpose) as more than a stepping-stone to German rule in Warsaw, and beyond.

At any rate, criticism of the Versailles settlement for paying too little attention to the principle of self-determination is hardly compatible with the approval of the principles of Potsdam. Self-determination has never until the last decade been held to mean the tidying-up of the map of Europe by mass-murder--or by mass-expulsions. The Russians and their satellites (not without some early connivance in other quarters) have been almost as adept at the latter as were the Germans at mass murder.

The real point is surely that the Versailles settlement was destroyed not by events or causes in the field of international relations proper, but by the advent of the European revolution. In Russia, and then in Italy and Germany, régimes came into power which did not simply demand a revision of the existing structure, but repudiated it altogether. These régimes seeking their support from the lower depths of society, and from the lower depths of human nature, could not be fitted into any system based upon respect for law and upon self-restraint because they recognized no law and no limitations. This was clearer at first internally than externally; it was not at first seen that to deny human rights to "bourgeois" or to "kulaks," to Socialists or to Jews, to treat individuals as merely units in the balance-sheet of national power, can never have a purely internal significance. States which repudiated all law in favor of mere will could not form part of any international order. They were as out of place in the new Europe as they would have been in the old.

It is not surprising that this was not at first realized. As far as Russia was concerned, there was the feeling that it was a government of the "left" and therefore deserved the support of "progressives." Forgetting the circumstances that had led to Allied intervention against a régime that was making peace with the German enemy, and simultaneously stimulating the forces of revolution everywhere, people rapidly developed a guilt complex over the whole episode and this helped to blur the picture still further. But the fundamental point was that certain spurious historical analogies tempted people to believe, after the earlier years were over, that the régime would settle down, that in Russia too, after a fashion, normalcy would return. The complete misconception (that still bobs up here and there) about the meaning of Stalin's famous, or infamous, "Socialism in one country" provided an intellectual excuse for ignoring the fact that "permanent revolution" was not simply the heretical doctrine of an outlawed sect, but something inherent in the Soviet régime by its very nature. Violence breeds violence; and a régime which is ready to sacrifice its own people for the sake of its blueprints of future happiness and the more concrete temptations of present power will hardly hesitate to repeat the process at the expense of foreigners when opportunity affords.

And all this of course was equally true of Germany, and to a lesser extent of Italy. It was somewhat concealed from the outside world by the fact that instead of coming into power as a result of a violent revolution against the old order, Fascism and National Socialism each came into power with the connivance of part of the old ruling elements. In Germany particularly, where the existing settlement had never seriously been accepted, soldiers, civil servants and industrialists saw no reason why they should not exploit the dynamic of the revolution for their own purposes. But in a contest as to who should exploit whom, a revolutionary movement with its fewer scruples is almost certainly bound to win against its more traditionalist and intellectual opponents. And so one had in Germany the series of pathetic and foolish manœuvres which ended in the plot of July 20, 1944.

In Italy, the dynamic of Fascism was more artificial and much weaker, the old order, strengthened by the survival of the monarchy, correspondingly stronger. Fascism's malignant hatred for it is shown in Mussolini's "Memoirs." His final endeavor to build himself up as a revolutionary hero (even if it owed something to the example of Napoleon as the myth-maker of St. Helena) was in essence a shrewd appraisal of the reason for his failure.

Only in Russia, where the crust of civilization was thinner and the pent-up dark energies of the people more fully exploitable for the evil purposes of Lenin and his successors, has a twentieth-century revolution really fulfilled itself. There, almost every barrier against naked politics has been swept away--and the prospect is the more grim. In Russia the creation of a people acknowledging no limitations upon human action other than technical ones, and certain of its ultimate mastery over the latter, has gone further than anywhere else. To read the Soviet press is to be reminded that the visions of an Aldous Huxley or a George Orwell about conditioned minds are not pure fantasy. The real problem of our times may prove to be not how to get rid of the Soviet régime (for such a régime is bound to carry within it the seeds of its own destruction) but how to find anything to put in its place. Are there any healthy shoots in the Russian soil ready to sprout up when this vast jungle-growth of Communist bureaucracy no longer shuts out the light of the sun?


But this is to anticipate events. Our immediate purpose is with the past and particularly with the 1920's and 1930's when the Communist menace was rightly regarded as secondary to the menace of National Socialism and its allied Fascisms. Rightly, because although the universality of Communism makes it in the long run a more dangerous creed than the parochial frenzies of the German master race, it did not seem as though its adherents could rebuild the Russian state and advance its strength to the point at which its military might could seriously weigh in the world, or even the European, balance of power.

Some of the neglect of Russia's possibilities as an ally against the Nazis had nothing to do with any ideological prejudice but was the result of a purely technical appraisal of Russia's weakness. And this weakness was of course realized by the Russians themselves and acted on accordingly. Indeed if the term "appeasement" is to be applied in its contemporary meaning to the foreign policy of any country in the 1930's, it would seem best of all to fit the policy of the Soviet Union toward Fascism. The whole series of events from the sale of the Chinese Eastern Railway in Manchuria to the nonaggression pacts with Germany in 1939, and Japan in 1941, carries the story of Russian appeasement of the "aggressor states" well past the point at which Great Britain and France, and in a different way the United States, had abandoned the effort.

If the Russian appeasement was more wholehearted than that of the Western Powers, it was because it was the conscious policy of a government that knew what its object was, that had not renounced the belief in force as the universal arbiter but was concerned to see that no arbitrament was resorted to at a time unfavorable to itself. It did not spring, as did Western appeasement in large part, from the pressure of populations wedded to the ideology of peace as never before in history, and between governments who were caught without a valid doctrine of international relations for the revolutionary world in which they had to function.

In as far as the Governments of Great Britain, the United States and France had a doctrine, it was surely essentially Wilsonian. On the whole, and with the deviations in favor of specific national interests of a traditional kind which were to be expected only in a human and hence imperfect world, they still adhered to the ideas of national self-determination as the proper foundation of a world order. The remodelling of the internal relationships of the British Commonwealth to which the Second World War gave an added impetus rather than a new direction was testimony enough in one sphere, as was the revision of the policies of the United States in Latin America in another. And even more important was the belief that such changes in the political order of the world that had to be made should be made by consent and not by force.

The problem was how to apply principles of this kind and to operate the type of international machinery that they demanded in a world in which were at work revolutionary forces that denied the principles themselves. The statesmen of the Western Powers--encouraged as they were by the support of the majority, indeed the vast majority of their fellow-citizens--were bound to assume that time was on their side, that if they could only delay the catastrophe by timely concessions, the revolutionary movements (where they recognized them as such) would undergo a process of stabilization, and gradually fit themselves into the existing framework of world politics. On at least three occasions in the history of the Soviet Union--the last being in the early years of its participation in the Second World War--it has been widely argued in Western countries that the régime was settling down, that its revolutionary impetus was slackening, and that it could henceforth be treated along the lines of the traditional diplomacy. In a similar way in the 1930's, people were prone to clutch at every suggestion that Hitler or Mussolini, as the case might be, were acting as a check upon their "extremists" and were ready to come in to an all-round peaceful settlement.

All these were illusions--but illusions honorable to the heart if not to the head. Is it healthy to treat the heads of great states, the accepted rulers of great nations, as perjured criminals until proof positive and incontrovertible has been obtained? Would any country having reached the level of humanitarian and pacific feeling of the Western democracies and after the experiences of World War I have agreed to what would have been in effect a preventive war?

And there was in the 1930's a further dilemma of a perfectly genuine kind. The balance of military strength--actual rather than potential--so favored the revolutionary Powers at the time when the far-reaching nature of the threat they presented became apparent that it was hardly possible to resist one without the help of the others. And it was not obvious in such a case what action would in the long run be most desirable. The British and French Governments have been blamed rightly or wrongly for not doing as much as they could to bring the Soviet Union into a common front against German aggression. But if they are to be blamed for this, should they not also be praised for refusing to have any truck with the idea of joining the Axis Powers in an anti-Bolshevik crusade against the Soviet Union? For despite all Communist propaganda to the contrary, there is not a shred of evidence that this was a part of the policy of the Western Powers, not even to the extent of passive connivance in German designs--though a certain number of individuals may well have felt that the best thing that could happen would be for the different revolutionary régimes to destroy themselves in internecine strife, just as the Communists on their side hoped to see the capitalist world destroy itself in warfare for their own ultimate benefit. One could say that the Anglo-French guarantees to Poland and other countries after the occupation of Czechoslovakia had precisely the contrary effect, providing as they did a cover for the Soviet frontiers.

Indeed one could say that both the negative policy toward the idea of close association with the Soviet Union and the hostile attitude toward the idea of a limitless eastward expansion of Nazi Germany sprang from the same fundamental concept of what was proper to the foreign policy of twentieth-century democracies. In the end, the decision was made for them by the pressure of events; and for a period the Atlantic democracies became the allies of the Soviet Union. It may well be that this alone made the defeat of Germany possible; it can scarcely be said in the light of subsequent events that the forebodings of those who would have preferred if possible to do without it have not in part been justified.

In this perspective, it might well be argued that the statesmen of the Western world in the inter-war period were faced with a dilemma that had all the elements of classical tragedy, since it was ultimately insoluble. There was perhaps no path that could have combined adherence to principle with practical achievement. It is easy to see how in fact the actions of such statesmen contributed to the circumstances in which war came; it is much harder to see how a situation could have been created in which the war might have been avoided.

This does not mean that the historian of the inter-war period should now embark upon a defense of those reputations--Mr. Chamberlain's, Monsieur Daladier's and so on--that have suffered most heavily at the hands of recent writers. There is plenty of evidence that such men lacked even the limited insights of some of their wiser contemporaries--though not all those who criticize them today, such as Socialist opponents of British rearmament, were among these wiser contemporaries. There is plenty of evidence that even their own principles were not always adhered to fully, that they were weak, vacillating and above all unimaginative. Rather it should be realized that these facts and the abundant documentation that increasingly serves to illustrate them are of very secondary importance, that the traditional interests and techniques of the diplomatic historian have little relevance to a revolutionary age.

It may be, of course, that even this level of the argument is not the final one, that if it be true that the historian for the next few generations will see our age in terms of conflicting ideologies and of the movements generated by them, a still more long-range judgment will regard all this activity as superficial compared with underlying changes in technology, in population and in the major question of the relation of the human race as a whole to the resources of the planet it inhabits.

No one can tell. But to those who argue this way, it is possible to answer that such questions lie outside the province of the historian in the accepted sense. His business is with those parts of the historical process that take their form from the conscious activity of the individual or the planned activity of the group. His efforts must be to comprehend so as to narrate the story of each generation within the terms of the problem it set itself at the time. To judge by such historical works as the inter-war period has so far called forth, that is enough and more than enough for most people. It is, as has been here suggested, a problem that is far from having been solved. It is perhaps presumptuous to say that it can be. There may be human tragedies that the human mind is too small to grasp.

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  • MAX BELOFF, Reader in the Comparative Study of Institutions, at Oxford, and Fellow of Corpus Christi College; author of "The Foreign Policy of Soviet Russia"
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