A HISTORY OF THE PEACE CONFERENCE OF PARIS. Edited by H. W. V. TEMPERLEY. London: Frowde, 1920-1924, 6 volumes.

IT IS certainly easy to be wise after the event; and yet this facile wisdom is sometimes illuminating; for life, after all, is a game of blindman's buff or a horse-race in which some dark horse is always the winner. If this is true of life in general, it is eminently true of the game of international politics; and it is true above all of peace conferences following general wars, when statesmen whom war exigencies and war psychology have carried into power meet together with the intention of settling the affairs of the world, once for all, in a kind of omnipotent seven days' creation.

At such a peace conference, at the end of a war which has involved the whole living generation of mankind and which has ended in a knock-out blow, the illusion of omnipotence is probably stronger than in any other social situation; for at such a moment there is, after all, an unusual concentration of power. One of two groups of belligerent countries has just been beaten and finds itself constrained, for the moment, to conform passively to the will of the victorious countries; and at the same time, in these countries themselves, "the general will" is given over into the hands of a few dominant personalities whom the war has brought to the front. It is quite natural that these war-made supermen, when they meet together in conference after the armistice, should succumb to the illusion that they have it in their power to make all things new. Yet, as a matter of cold fact, the subsequent course of history -- which never stands still -- has shown again and again that in such circumstances statesmen, so far from being exceptionally free, are prisoners of the bellicose feelings in the hearts of their constituents and, more serious even than that, they are the prisoners of the retrospective pictures in their own minds. For these statesmen would never have come into power in wartime if their minds had not been specially sensitive to the particular issues on which this particular war was being fought and to the particular problems out of which it had arisen; and, long before they reach the peace conference, these images of things that are past -- of things which the war itself has burnt to ashes in the process of burning itself out -- are graven so deep on their minds that there is little or no chance of their being sensitive now to fresh impressions. Hence it is that the frustration of the intentions of the makers of peace settlements is one of the signal illustrations of the irony of human affairs. For in peace settlements, as in lesser transactions, the only hope of producing constructive and enduring results lies in perceiving those faint shadows on the far horizon that are cast, unobtrusively, by the things that are really to come.

This is as much as to say that the art of statesmanship lies in some kind of almost magical intuition; for the future, when it becomes present, turns out very often to be governed by some factor which was lying hidden in ambush at the time when the statesmen's decisions on future policy were being taken. This disconcerting commonplace of human affairs can be illustrated from many different fields of action. For example, the humanitarians who introduced compulsory universal primary education in the most progressive countries of our western world in the middle of the nineteenth century never foresaw that they were breeding human cattle to fill the stock-yards of two coming gangs of scoundrels: the anti-social men of genius who set themselves to win vast private fortunes out of the invention of the yellow press in the eighteen-nineties, and their successors in our own generation who have used the same arts upon the same semi-educated masses in order to capture them for Fascism or Hitlerism or the Ku Klux Klan or some other political propaganda. An even more topical illustration of the same point is the failure of the humanitarians who carried through the prohibition of alcoholic liquor in the United States to foresee that they were creating a market for bootleggers and were thereby putting unprecedented wealth into the hands of the criminal class. In the same way, in an earlier age, the makers of the Constitution of the United States failed to see that they were laboring for the benefit of political bosses who would exploit and pervert democracy through the ingenious construction of political machines. These examples are rather depressing, because they seem to indicate that statesmanship requires, as a condition of success, a degree of foresight which is virtually superhuman. Yet these are all clear cases in which the lack of this almost impossible foresight has led to the defeat and frustration and actual perversion of noble and benevolent aims. The children of darkness are wiser in their generation than the children of light; and if the enlightened champions of education and prohibition and democracy are so grievously outwitted, it is not surprising to find a still more crushing retribution awaiting those more dubious figures -- drawn in chiaroscuro and compounded, very often, of less light than shade -- who are apt to occupy the stage of a peace conference.

Take the case of the peace conference which sought to re-settle the world at Vienna in 1814-1815, after the last general war but one. The victorious statesmen at the Congress of Vienna had two fixed ideas which, between them, practically determined everything that they did. One idea was to hold France in check, because France since 1792, and indeed since the time of Louis XIV, had been the country which was perpetually threatening to overthrow the balance of power and to bring the world under its own domination. The second idea of the Vienna Conference was to vindicate the rights of dynasties (though not the equally valid rights of more ancient prince-bishoprics and republics) which had been trampled upon by the French Revolution and by Napoleon. Perhaps it was almost inevitable that these two ideas should wholly fill the minds of the representatives of the victorious anti-Napoleonic coalition who met in Vienna in 1814; yet their domination by these ideas was fatal to the permanence of their work, because both the ideas were based on past facts which were already on the point of becoming anachronisms. In the next chapter of history, the threat to the balance of power was actually to come not from France but from a then still downtrodden and divided Germany; and the restoration of 1814-1815 was to be the last triumph of the dynastic principle in a world which was to be dominated for the next century by the incompatible principle of nationality. The peacemakers of 1814-1815 were quite blind to the coming triumph of nationalism and liberalism -- not to speak of such vulgar mechanic inventions as power-looms, railroads, steamboats, telegraphs and coal-gas. In fact, all the dominant factors -- human and inanimate, political and economic -- of the coming age escaped their notice; and accordingly their peace settlement was little more substantial than a World's Fair built upon the sands when the roar of the flood, coming down in spate, was already audible to more sensitive ears.

For the sake of the balance of power, the statesmen at Vienna partitioned Poland between three dynastic empires and subjected Venice to the Hapsburgs and Genoa to the House of Savoy because, in their political creed, ci-devant republics lacked the dynastic title to legitimacy. They forcibly united Belgium with Holland in the belief that they were thus creating an effective buffer against a renewed northward expansion of France. And they kept both Germany and Italy divided into a mosaic of petty dynastic states in flat defiance of both the two irresistible forces of nationalism and industrialism. In particular, they created a Rhenish province of Prussia, out of ci-devant prince-bishoprics, as a further buffer against France, and then left this new Rhenish Prussia geographically sundered from the main body of Prussia, which lay between the Elbe and the Memel, in order to preserve the dynastic rights of the Guelphs in Hanover. In retrospect, the Vienna settlement can be seen to have been so fantastically out of tune with the times that it seems remarkable that even the inertia following the Napoleonic Wars should have kept parts of it intact for as long as half a century. Yet the international history of the whole half-century following 1815 is mainly a history of the undoing of the things which the Congress of Vienna had done, in order that the overdue things which it had left undone might be tardily accomplished.

As the drama has run its course, Metternich and his colleagues have been confuted and confounded. Under the driving force of the consciousness of nationality, Belgium breaks away from Holland; yet this first breach in the Vienna settlement does not, after all, open the way for a renewal of French military expansion in the tradition of Napoleon I and Louis XIV. The Franco-Belgian frontier, which had been one of the worst war-zones in Europe for two centuries, becomes one of the most pacific and stable frontiers in Europe. Workmen bicycle across it in legions, twice a day, between a home on one side of the line and a factory on the other; and when Belgium, after a long breathing-space, again feels the tread of an invading army, the invader comes this time not from France but from Germany. Then the gap between Rhenish and Ost-Elbisch Prussia is progressively filled up: first by the Prussian Zollverein, then by a railroad, then by the Prussian annexation of Hanover and Frankfurt and one of the Hesses, and by the foundation of the North German Confederation in 1866, and finally, in 1871, by the foundation of the German Reich. Contemporaneously, national unity and territorial consolidation are achieved in Italy. The Hapsburgs disgorge first Lombardy and then Venetia. And finally, in our own day, the last enormity of the Vienna settlement is undone through the liberation and reunion of the three long-separated fragments of Poland. The march of history has made the wisdom of a Metternich look like foolishness; and, on the showing of this precedent, we, who have lived through the next peace settlement of the kind, are surely bound to ask ourselves whether history will deal more tenderly with the work of a Clemenceau and a Lloyd George.

When we look at the work of 1919-1920 in the light of 1814-1815, we notice at once one rather piquant detail. The dark horses of the previous peace settlements have become the favorites this time. To make the world safe for democracy, to vindicate the sacred rights of nationality, to keep the German menace to the balance of power in check -- these are the ideas on which the peace settlement of 1919-1920 is based. When the peacemakers re-draw the political map of Central and Eastern Europe, they think in terms of nationality and of railways and of trench warfare between citizen-armies of infantrymen levied en masse and armed with rifles and bayonets. On the naval side, the victors are careful to deprive defeated Germany of dreadnaughts and submarines: the two types of warship that had been conspicuous in the late war. And as they lick their wounds, they salve themselves with large plasters of additional African and Asiatic territories (applied under the euphemistic name of mandates) and smack their lips as they prepare to quaff their monetary reparations.

The sardonic amusement which this bare recital of the follies of the Paris Peace Conference awakens in all our minds today makes it difficult for us to realize that it is only some fourteen years since these egregious acts were performed by the statesmen, and also difficult to remember that, at that time, the great majority of us were loudly applauding the statesmen for what they did and were threatening them with dire retribution if they tried to stop short at half measures.

"Make the world safe for democracy!" The slogan seemed plausible at the time; for, on the morrow of the Armistice of 1918, the old familiar enemies of democracy had been either edifyingly converted or ignominiously driven off the field. The arch-autocracies of the Hapsburg, Hohenzollern and Romanov dynasties (besides a host of lesser dynasties in the constituent states of the German Reich) had all been overthrown by the end of the war; and in every country the war had no sooner broken out than all but a tiny minority of each socialist party or labor party in each belligerent country had betrayed its theoretical internationalism and had rallied tamely to the defense of its own parochial bourgeois national state. In 1919-1920, the recent emergence of a militant heir to nineteenth-century socialism, in the shape of twentieth-century communism, seemed of so little account to the statesmen at Paris that they did not deign to treat with the new communist rulers of Russia -- not even at the half-way-house of Prinkipo. And no Benito Mussolini had yet arisen to demonstrate that nationalism (which had already replaced Christianity as the de facto popular religion of the western world) was better served by a dictatorship than by a parliamentary system of democracy. In defeated Germany, as unquestionably as in those victorious English-speaking countries that were the mothers of parliaments, it was taken for granted on the morrow of the Armistice that the parliamentary system of government was the last word in political development: a self-evidently perfect political régime to which every country would ultimately attain and which no country that had once attained it would ever conceivably be tempted to discard. The vague and abstract Greek word "democracy," by which this peculiar institution of the mediæval kingdom of England and its political offspring had come to be known, slurred over the fact that parliamentarism was a special local growth which could not be guaranteed to acclimatize itself in alien soil. Yet the events of the last thirteen years have made this unpalatable but important truth impossible to ignore. We might refuse to read the signs of the times when an oriental Russia went over from autocracy into communism after having tried parliamentary democracy for the brief space of six weeks; for Russia was beyond our western pale, and the Kerensky régime was paralyzed by the intolerable sufferings of the war. But no parliamentarian can close his eyes to the significance of the portent of Fascism in post-war Italy; for Italy lies near the heart of our western world; she has made one of the greatest single contributions made by any country to our common western civilization; and in the nineteenth century her adoption of Anglo-French parliamentarism seemed to be of the essence of her national resurrection. In these circumstances, her repudiation of "democracy" (in our conventional use of the term) has made it an open question whether this political plant can really strike permanent root anywhere except in its native soil. After the Fascist Revolution in Italy in 1922, the National-Socialist Revolution in Germany in 1933 is no longer surprising.

Hitlerism brings out another rising force which the peacemakers ignored; for Hitlerism shows that the new dictatorial single-party form of government is really a vehicle for the political self-assertion of a hitherto politically neglected and impotent social class: the lower ranks of the white-collared and blackcoated component of our modern, western, urban society. Hitherto, this lower middle class has been crushed between the upper millstone of organized capital and the lower millstone of organized labor; and in most parliamentarily governed countries these clerks and small shopkeepers have not been sufficiently well organized or sufficiently aggressive to be worth wooing in the eyes of the political machines. Today this class, driven to desperation by the sharpness of the turn of the screw during the economic crisis, is retaliating for this neglect by sweeping the old political machines away, and parliamentarism with them, in order to create its own newfangled political instrument for making itself master of the state in a naked class warfare with capital on the one side and with labor on the other. In Italy, this movement caught unawares so consummate a parliamentary machine-politician as Signor Giolitti; and it is perhaps possible that equally unpleasant political surprises may be awaiting equally well-seasoned parliamentarians in countries where the embryonic local Fascist movements are still a laughing-stock today.

Hitlerism, of course, is not merely one local manifestation of a world-wide revolt of the lower middle class. Though in the opinion of the present writer it is primarily a class movement, it is at the same time secondarily a national movement; and in this secondary aspect it represents the revolt of the German nation as a whole against the attempt, which has been made in the peace treaty of Versailles, to penalize Germany and differentiate against her and place her in a position of inferiority to the victors.

In this matter, the peacemakers of 1919-1920 (subject, as they were, to the moral pressure of their ignorant and angry populaces) behaved with notably greater folly than their predecessors in 1814-1815. For while the victorious statesmen at Vienna did take certain rather futile measures with a view to keeping France in check, they were sufficiently expert at their own business, and sufficiently free from popular dictation, to know and take to heart and act upon the elementary political truth that a victory is essentially a "wasting asset," and that a great nation is bound to recover sooner or later from the shock of even the heaviest defeat. In dealing with France in 1814-1815, the Allied statesmen did not forget -- not even under the provocation of the Hundred Days -- that the defeated country with which they were concerned was a Great Power, and, being Great Powers themselves, they were not so impolitic as to "slay the Lord's anointed." Accordingly, they were careful to leave France herself intact within her pre-war frontiers; they merely required her to cede the foreign territories which she had conquered since the outbreak of war in 1792; and they actually took their French colleagues into their counsels when the disposal of these ceded territories came under discussion. Hence, when the inevitable resurgence of France declared itself from 1830 onwards, the consequent international upheaval was relatively slight -- compared to the more violent reaction of a more vindictively penalized Germany which has declared itself, just as inevitably, in 1933. Even so, the impression which the French militarism of 1792-1815 had made upon the rest of the world was so strong that, from 1830 to 1870, all the neighbors of France were on tenterhooks for fear of a fresh outbreak of French aggression; and when, in 1870, Prussia instead of France proved to be the dominant military power of the nineteenth century, the world was taken by surprise. At the present moment, our apprehensive attitude towards Hitler's Germany is not unlike our grandfathers' attitude a century ago towards the France of Louis Philippe and Napoleon III; and it is certainly possible that, owing to the greater folly of our latter-day statesmen in 1919-1920, the inevitable rehabilitation of Germany may prove a more violent and dangerous process than the corresponding rehabilitation of France after 1814-1815. At the same time, our present expectation that Germany will be the dangerous country now again, simply because she happens to have been the dangerous country from 1871 to 1918, may be as wide of the mark as the mid-nineteenth century alarums and excursions produced by the antics of Napoleon III; and we may wake up the day after tomorrow to discover, by costly experience, that the mantle of Prussia has fallen not upon the "Dritte Reich" but upon Japan.

The statesmen who constructed a peace settlement on the egregiously naïve assumption that Germany would lie permanently prostrate, because she had been prostrated by her defeat in 1918, could hardly have been expected to foresee the resurgence of Turkey and China and Mexico and Russia and the other countries of the world which possessed ancient civilizations of a non-western order. The assumption at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919-1920 was that all the non-western countries, like the defeated western country Germany, lay at the disposal of the victorious Allied and Associated Powers to deal with at their pleasure; and because the control and exploitation of Asiatic and African and Indonesian and Antillan dominions had been both feasible and profitable for western Powers during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was taken for granted that this fact of the past would hold good for the future. It is true that in this field, even at this stage, there were some gleams of intuitive prudence. For example, the United States avoided, by a hair's breadth, committing herself to a policy of military occupation in Mexico; and the United Kingdom embarked upon a policy of gradually bestowing self-government upon India as early as 1917. On the whole, however, at the Peace Conference, the victors showed all the traditional zest of western Powers for extending their rule over "natives" (though lip-service was now paid to democracy by calling the new "protectorates" "mandates" and by justifying the acquisition of these mandates on the plea that the former German and Turkish sovereigns of the mandated territories had shown themselves morally unfit to rule). At the Peace Conference of 1919-1920, France and Great Britain bickered with one another as each sought to jockey the other out of some part of its secretly stipulated share of the former Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire; Italy bickered with both Powers alike over the question of how much African territory they were respectively bound, by wartime treaty, to cede to her in consideration of the additional African territories which they themselves were acquiring at the expense of Germany. Meanwhile, Japan was seeking to confirm her grip upon the former German leasehold and sphere of influence in the Chinese province of Shantung, and she was spreading her tentacles over Eastern Siberia. As for Turkey, the chronic "sick-man of Europe," he was now officially certified dead, and a fatigue-party of Greek soldiers was told off to bury the corpse and to strip it first, if they wished, in order to recoup themselves for their trouble. As for Bolshevik Russia, it was assumed that a few consignments of Allied munitions, and a slight stiffening of Allied airmen and railwaymen, would enable the Whites to overthrow the Reds and to manage the former Russian Empire happily ever after as bailiffs for the Allied and Associated Powers.

In this field of traditional nineteenth-century imperialism, the falsification of habitual expectations and the re-valuation of cut-and-dried values has been sensational. In 1919-1920, a prophet would have been laughed to scorn if he had had the hardihood to prophesy the victory of the Bolsheviks over Kolchak and Denikin and Wrangel, or the victory of Mustafa Kemal over the Greeks, or the victory of the Mexican revolutionaries over the United States oil-men, or the evacuation of Vladivostok and Kiao-chao by the Japanese. In the short space of the intervening fourteen years, imperialism has proved itself so palpably to have ceased to be a paying proposition that this change in the situation has actually impressed itself upon the crude western popular mind and has accordingly become one of the slogans of the western yellow press. Who would have prophesied, a dozen years ago, that the English yellow press would be screaming "Get out of Iraq and save the taxpayer's pocket" and the American yellow press screaming "Get out of the Philippines and get rid of Filipino competition with home-grown American crops"? Yet, marvellous to relate, this has happened; and, still more marvellous, the yellow press in this instance has reason on its side -- as witness the tale of those ardently coveted and eagerly acquired mandates and protectorates which Great Britain and France and the United States have not yet succeeded in jettisoning. Syria, Palestine, Cuba, Haiti: it is a veritable catalog of vicious hornets-nests which their present victor-victims once fought tooth and nail to possess in the devout belief that these were snug beehives!

Let us close our tragi-comic survey with two more illustrations -- one taken from the sphere of war and the other from economics.

In the sphere of war, the victors of 1918 sought, in 1919-1920, to reduce their defeated enemy Germany to permanent military impotence; and so, considering that the levée en masse of a citizen army had been the basis of military strength from 1792 to 1914, they condemned Germany to revert to a small professional longterm-service army in the belief that they were thereby thrusting her back into the antiquated military régime of the eighteenth century. Unfortunately for their policy, they failed to perceive (though by 1918 the fact was staring them in the face) that the citizen-army, of which they were depriving Germany, was merely a nineteenth-century interlude in the history of the art of war; and that, in an age when mechanical warfare was superseding mass-infantry warfare, the small professional long-term-service army would be the basis of military strength once again. It has taken not more than a dozen years since the ratification of the Versailles Treaty to make this fundamental change in the military situation apparent even to the cabinets and the general staffs; so that already we are witnessing the ludicrous spectacle of the Allied Powers begging Germany to give up the military establishment which they imposed upon her in 1920 and to revert to a conscript army, while Germany clings doggedly to the old military dispensation against which she protested so loudly.

As for economic policy, the destruction of life and wealth on an unprecedented scale from 1914 to 1918 left the statesmen of all belligerent countries firmly convinced that it was their public duty to stimulate industrial production and to foster "manpower" to the maximum possible degree; and they continued to think and act in terms of a dearth of foodstuffs and raw materials and manufactures and "hands" until overproduction and unemployment descended upon them with such virulence that these unlooked-for social scourges now threaten to sweep away our traditional western democracy, and our traditional institution of private property into the bargain.

What is the moral of this triumph of the unexpected all along the line? Assuredly it confirms Oxenstjerna's estimate of the littleness of the wisdom with which the world is governed; and, incidentally, we may observe that the conditions under which a statesman has to do his work have become distinctly more adverse since Oxenstjerna's day. In the seventeenth century, a minister of state had to prostitute such wisdom as he possessed to the caprices of an individual autocrat. Today the statesman is worse off than that; for today (and this in Italy and Germany as well as in England or the United States) he is at the mercy of a half-educated populace whose hearts and minds are swayed by the propaganda of adepts in the art of exploiting Demos for their own private purposes.

What shall we do to be saved? Our problem is to complete our education, and we cannot do this at our leisure, for time is of the essence of the problem with which we are faced. It seems to be a race between belated wisdom and premature death by suicide.

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  • ARNOLD J. TOYNBEE, Director of Studies, Royal Institute of International Affairs; member of the British delegation at the Paris Peace Conference; author of the annual "Survey of International Affairs," and other works
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