WE need not be astonished at the length of the crisis precipitated by the generation of 1914. The war of 1914-1918 and the uneasy armistice which lasted until 1939 were stages of a revolution, and revolutions go on for a long while. The nature of the revolution is now plain. We are witnessing, and enduring, the breakup of nationalism.
We drew our concept of absolute national sovereignty from the idea of absolute monarchy, checked first by what remained of feudalism and, later on, by the liberal thought of the nineteenth century. The nineteenth century found this concept useful in its struggle for liberty. But when the idea of absolute national sovereignty reached its final forms -- the "100 percent" patriotism of the democracies and the totalitarian state of the dictators -- it became more dangerous than it had been under the kings. The internecine wars of nationalism are the political counterpart of the final excesses of religious absolutism which saw the persecution of the Protestant minority in France and the Catholic minority in England.
The concept of absolute sovereignty dies slowly. Its hallmark is strife. During the Middle Ages the Italian cities fancied themselves absolute sovereignties; and they never ceased fighting with one another. Even the prophetic genius of the Florentine Dante could not separate itself from the hatreds of the time: Dante's denunciations of Siena or Pisa were as full of venom as the tirades of Hitler and Mussolini in 1939 and 1940.
On the day when the excesses of nationalism have been finally buried in disgrace and ruin we shall move with more speed toward the next stage of man's political development. The "realists" who can see no future less bloodstained than the past forget that problems can come to a head in certain periods and be disposed of. During long periods of history the "best people" believed that slavery was a law of nature. But the idea of slavery has been totally discredited; and more was done to wipe out slavery during the
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