I HAVE been reading a book by Raymond Aron, a very distinguished representative of French political thought, which discusses with much insight the effect of the ideological division between the United States and the Soviet Union upon the world in general and France in particular. In his view there are but two great political systems in the world, with the rest of us forming a no-man's-land between them. "The whole of Europe" between the Russian frontier and the Atlantic is, he says, "comparable only to the Balkans before 1914," because it consists of weak and divided countries for control of which the two great "empires" are contending.[i] He does not actually name England as one of these Balkan states; but he presumably puts her in that category since the British Commonwealth, of which she is part, is not in his opinion a world factor worth mentioning.

There is always something tonic in the clear-cut quality of French thought; and this example of it is indeed challenging. Only six years have passed since the British Commonwealth was standing alone but united against a Power which had all Western Europe at its mercy -- only six years since, in truth, the existence of that Commonwealth altered the course of European and world history. Yet here is a distinguished French thinker dismissing it without discussion as nonexistent. Is he right or is he wrong?

No one will dispute one cardinal point in M. Aron's analysis, to wit, the utter insufficiency of isolated nation-states either for self-defense or for self-maintenance as prosperous economic units in the world of today. But he himself will not, I am sure, deny that the term "isolated nation-state" requires some substantiation when used to describe any of the nations of the British Commonwealth. Their association may seem to foreigners to rest upon a tissue of imponderables which cannot be convincingly evaluated, as can a written federal constitution which combines a number of provinces or states under a federal government with overriding powers. Yet the fact remains that their moral unity has been twice tested in the awful flames of war, and that their leaders have quite recently reaffirmed their determination to preserve that moral unity in a postwar situation which is certainly not free from the danger of a third world war. In some sense, then, its nation-states must constitute an entity; and if England is part of that entity, she is something more than an isolated state in a Balkanized collection of European nations. The Commonwealth and the U.S.S.R. are in fact the only existent polities in which nation-states are united by constitutional links; and they demand comparison, both with each other and with other "empires" of our time.

There can be no question (to consider the Russian system first) that while imperialism has been waning in the west, it has taken new and vigorous life in the east through the outward urge of the Soviet Revolution. The impulse behind it is partly one of conquest in its ancient form, partly one of self-defense, partly one of militant ideological fanaticism; and it aims at the subjugation of civilized even more than uncivilized and backward peoples. It is, in fact, the expression of an aggressive faith, like Islam in the first century of its existence, and its ultimate goal is world revolution. But in other respects it differs little from the older imperialisms, since its aim, in the immediate future at least, is to assert the supremacy of a single Power over as wide an area as possible. It has not, however, succeeded as yet in absorbing any states resembling those of Western Europe, with their long tradition of independent power and growth; and most of the ancient or modern nation-states which it has provisionally woven into its system of power are showing signs of resistance to the denationalizing process on which the Communist ideology insists.

The Soviet effort to assimilate other states will in all probability succeed or fail in inverse proportion to the success of the western world in organizing nation-states for common action on its own non-Communist principles. If, moreover, we can succeed in doing this without destroying the individuality and vitality of ancient nation-states, the example of the west may influence Poland, Czechoslovakia and Jugoslavia against the denationalizing processes to which they are at present exposed. The multinational polity of the British Commonwealth has hitherto been universally accepted as, in some real sense, a constitutional and organic whole; but its nation-states are unquestionably independent and sovereign. Does it then present a model which may be followed in the creation of other multi-national associations, adequate for dealing with the problems of the postwar world? Or is it just one of those "empires" which have played their parts with greatness but are now doomed to decay?

II

The British Commonwealth of Nations, though its territories were originally acquired (like those of the United States) by conquest and annexation, bears no resemblance in its character to the historic conception of an empire, or, in its development, to the normal processes of imperialism. The Latin word "imperium," from which imperialism derives, denoted first the overriding authority of a Roman military commander. Later, it came to stand for a widespread system of centralized government, the spacious domain of the Roman emperors, which included the whole of the civilized world. Now it is true that all modern political systems which include a variety of peoples have been created on the Roman model; but it is also true that modern international society, at any rate outside the fold of Communism, has come to regard as obsolete and even as immoral the permanent government of one people by another. If, therefore, new systems of power are formed, such as union of the Western European nations, they will not be formed, where western sentiment predominates, by the method of imperialism -- that is, by extension of a single people's power over other peoples.

Only two of the older modern empires, the British and Austro-Hungarian, have varied in any important way from the Roman model; and it is just that variance for which I beg attention, because it illustrates the special problem created by nation-states within an empire. The Austro-Hungarian Empire under the Dual Monarchy of the Hapsburgs held two nation-states together with some success for 50 years; but it failed to give recognition to the other peoples within its jurisdiction which were nations in embryo, and it was accordingly destroyed by the passion for self-determination which swept the world in 1918, with President Wilson as its foremost interpreter. The Spanish and Portuguese Empires might have held within their orbits the kindred peoples of South America when they rose to nationhood; but, for reasons which are sufficiently familiar, they failed to do so. The other Empires -- French, Dutch, Belgian, German and Italian -- had within them no embryo nations of European character and tradition, though the French and Dutch are now confronted by Asiatic nationalist movements with European ideals and aims.

It is therefore the British Empire alone which has held nation-states together in effective unity up to the present time. Despite their sovereign independence of each other, its members have preserved a sense of responsibility to each other and to the system out of which they grew; and they were thus inspired by a common impulse to act together instantaneously in defense of it. But the Empire to which they belonged was not an empire, or was only in part an empire, in the historic sense of that term. I will, of course, admit that part of it, England, was still an imperial country in the older sense, since she controlled immense dependencies in Asia, Africa and elsewhere, which gave her invaluable support in war. India alone, for instance, despite the opposition of the Indian nationalists, produced in the last war an army of more than 5,000,000 volunteers; the African and other colonies in proportion did equally well. But the power which governed all else and turned the scale was not England's imperial power; it was, as a distinguished Canadian[ii] has recently written, "the joint action of five free nations," which decided at the sudden crisis in 1939 "to do the same thing at the same time for the same reasons," and held to their decision through all the strain and peril that ensued. The more closely the system which produced that moral unity is examined, the more clearly it is seen to be a polity without resemblance to any empire of the past or to any other empire of our own day. Let us then review the differences which have given it that special character.

It is certain, in the first place, that there runs through the nation-states of the British Commonwealth a vein of family sentiment, stronger in some than in others according to the proportion of the population that is British by origin, but powerful in all. This sentiment is only partly racial; it was not, for instance, British racial sentiment which moved the South African Parliament to declare war on Germany in September 1939, since the small but decisive majority for war contained many Dutch South Africans and was led by General Smuts. Nor is it British in the sense of being something other than Canadian or Australian or New Zealand or South African sentiment; on the contrary, it is profoundly nationalist. Canadians feel it as Canadians, Australians as Australians, and so on, if they feel it at all; only a very small minority feel it as loyalty to a country other than their own. It is therefore not inspired by devotion to Britain but by devotion to the system, the way of life, the political family from which all are sprung. It is, in fact, a sense of "belonging together" as members of a family without any touch of subordination to the eldest one.

The constitutional position corresponds exactly to that sentiment and was in fact created by it. This is an empire -- or, as it is now more accurately named, a Commonwealth -- without a central government of any kind. Its springs of action are in its several nation-states, since they are all equal and independent sovereignties. It has, in fact, only one central institution, the Monarchy; but that institution represents the unity in diversity of its member states as no other institution could, since the King is constitutionally the head of every nation-state and in that several capacity head also of the Commonwealth as a whole. In accordance, moreover, with the constitutional principle under which the King acts only on the advice of his Ministers, each nation-state freely defines those whom it will acknowledge as its citizens and freely also declares that its citizens are British subjects or lieges of the King.

The next point to be emphasized is that the Commonwealth of Nations was not built up by direction from the center but by spontaneous action in its various states. In the great constructive movement which brought the modern Commonwealth to birth, it was not England but Canada which took the lead. All the Dominions, as they came to be called, played important constructive parts; but Canada as the senior was always so much in the van that the Commonwealth owes as much to her for its vitality and form as it owes to Britain for the long decades of security in which it grew and gathered strength. The special relationship which binds the nation-states of the Commonwealth finds its clearest expression in two ways, and in both of them Canada set the tune. One of them is its only definite constitutional link, the Crown, in whose name the whole process of government and law in every nation-state is carried on. The Canadian constitution was the first example of a federal system combined with constitutional monarchy and parliamentary government in the traditional British form. The union of the provinces under a federal government was naturally inspired by the American model; and if majority opinion in them had been republican, the new constitution would inevitably have taken a republican form. Only a small minority, however, ever toyed with that idea.

John A. Macdonald, Canada's Founding Father par excellence, regarded the Monarchy as the very foundation of the British system, in which he believed with all his soul; and that sentiment has always remained dominant, not only in the British Provinces, but for good reason in Quebec as well. Macdonald indeed proposed that the new federation should be known as the Kingdom of Canada, but was dissuaded by British Ministers who feared (I must believe, unreasonably) that so outspoken a declaration of the monarchical faith in North America might offend the United States. Canada therefore became the Dominion, and that title (now very properly disused) came to stand for the sovereign national status which Australia, New Zealand and South Africa a generation or so later achieved. Had Macdonald's views prevailed, the title would have been "Kingdom status," which would have better expressed the constitutional fact that the King is King of Canada, not because he is King of Great Britain and therefore of Canada as a British Dominion, but because Canada is one of his kingdoms by her own will and in her own right, and also because he is head of the Commonwealth to which, by her own will and right, she belongs. Canada's loyalty to the King is, in other words, Canada's own affair, a direct relation between her sovereign people and the Throne; it is not imposed upon her by Britain or by subordination to any form of imperial power. In accordance with this principle Canada approved and ratified by an Act of her own Parliament the alteration made necessary by the abdication of King Edward VIII in the law regulating succession to the Throne; and simultaneous action was taken to the same effect by all the other nations of the Commonwealth.

It is significant that federation in Canada was closely followed by adoption of Macdonald's "national policy," which gave tariff protection to her development as an independent state, and also by the building of the Canadian-Pacific railway, which united the people from coast to coast. Protection for herself was not, however, Canada's only original contribution, even in early days, to the fiscal system of the Commonwealth. Just before the end of the nineteenth century another Canadian Prime Minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, established a preference on British goods imported into Canada and sustained a tariff war with Germany in order to make his policy good. In the first five years of the twentieth century Canada's initiative was followed by Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and responded to in Britain by Joseph Chamberlain's tariff reform campaign. The British Conservative Party was not, however, united on it, and the Liberal Party blankly refused tariff coöperation in any form when it succeeded to power in 1906.

But in and after the First World War the principle of Imperial Preference made gradual way until it was applied throughout the Commonwealth by the Ottawa Agreements concluded in 1932. It thus became the most important active expression of the Commonwealth family relationship inherent in common allegiance to the King, and was recognized as a constitutional right pertaining to the nations of the Commonwealth by all other Powers. I shall have more to say about it when I come to the problems confronting the Commonwealth at the present time. The point to be emphasized here is that it was not a policy imposed by Britain upon the other nations of the Commonwealth, but a policy originated by the younger nations, and only after long resistance adopted by the senior one. Here again, then, is an example of the way in which the unity of this unprecedented Commonwealth has been fostered by the common action of all its nations, and not by a centralized imperial power.

III

It will be clear from this brief survey that the British Commonwealth of Nations is a polity without resemblance to any other empire, past or present. The future of this loose system may seem precarious in a world which is becoming more and more intent upon clearly articulated regional combinations, because its members are scattered across the globe and must in wisdom adapt themselves severally to new regional or continental developments; but its moral unity has up till now proved stronger than that of any other form of international concert, whether it be a concert bound by alliance and treaty obligation or a concert united under a Charter such as that of the United Nations. That alone entitles it to high consideration as a factor in the balance of power. Like every other human institution, however, it is now confronted by a new set of problems, and its future value to the free world will depend upon its success in solving them.

First of all comes the fear that closer organization may make of it a bloc and thus hamper its several members in playing their proper and essential parts in their own regional environment. This fear always governed the views of Mr. Mackenzie King, who has just retired after long and most distinguished service from the premiership of Canada; and it would have real substance if those who want some improvement in the methods of Commonwealth coöperation had ever wished them to be in any way exclusive. In the long declaration upon the subject which he made in 1944, Mr. King based himself mainly on the view that the nations' security for peace would best be served by single-minded loyalty to a world-embracing charter and organization; but that was to rely too much on the sudden emergence of a new world order, as after the First World War. The hope has faded now by no fault of the free nations, and they have reached a general agreement that security for peace must be built up in accordance with Article 51 of the Charter by regional organization in which Canada is playing an important part under the leadership of Mr. St. Laurent.

Much stronger is the argument that Canada must be free to pursue her duties and interests without let or hindrance in the continental system of America. In that respect Canada's interest in North America is very similar to England's interest in Europe; and it is clear that loyalty to the Commonwealth must not be inconsistent with either. If membership of the Commonwealth were in any sense exclusive of membership in other regional or continental associations, it could justly be regarded as a restrictive and (in the international field) antisocial obligation. But one of the greatest virtues of the Commonwealth system is precisely that it is entirely consistent with participation in other coöperative systems, and enhances rather than impairs the usefulness of every one of its members in their own environments. England would be of much less value as a member of Western Union if she were not also a member of the Commonwealth, and so would Canada, in her own North American neighborhood, as her founding fathers saw. Both countries, in fact, are middle countries combining continental with Commonwealth obligations. "Canada," says a brilliant Canadian writer,[iii] "has been the product of the balance between east-west and north-south pulls. Let no one be deceived in this matter. Canada will not cease to be both a North American and a British Commonwealth nation." That declaration can be made with equal force for England. Let no one be deceived in this matter. England will not cease to be both a European and a Commonwealth nation. Both, therefore, have an ambidextrous rôle to play. We shall see a little later, when discussing alternative systems of multi-national association, that the Commonwealth system has advantages in that connection which no other can claim.

IV

Next among the Commonwealth's problems is that of working the new Asiatic nations into an association which has depended largely on the fact that its members derive from their history a fundamental kinship in feeling and thought. The Monarchy, for instance, which figures in the Statute of Westminster as the Commonwealth's most important link, appears to Indians as a symbol of the alien domination from which they now are free. The issue has recently been made acute by Eire's decision to break the vague and tenuous attachment to the Monarchy which alone gave her status as a member of the Commonwealth, after the passage of the External Relations Act in 1937. It seems unlikely that Pakistan and Ceylon will wish to take that course, but in India feeling is different. The Congress Party which forms her Government has long been hostile to every sign or symbol connected with the Raj, and until quite lately it seemed difficult to conceive of any solution which would satisfy Indian sentiment without making India a completely foreign state.

Eire had deliberately chosen that course; and though a bill has since been introduced under which Eire's citizens will be regarded in Britain neither as British subjects nor as aliens, but as "non-aliens" with practically all a British subject's obligations and rights, the case of Eire has not been regarded as comparable to that of India for the simple reason that India, unlike Eire, wishes to remain a member of the Commonwealth. There were vital reasons why that desire should be met -- vital to the older nations and vital to India herself. While, moreover, the Union of India would have a president as its head, its Constitution, apart from that one difference, was closely modelled upon the British parliamentary system; and all the nations of the Commonwealth recognized the critical importance of supporting that system against the tide of Communism setting in against it from the Far East. They have accordingly not been deterred from their aim by the fact that the head of the Indian Union will be elected by the Indian nation whereas, in all the other nations, the King is head of each state and represented in his absence by a vice-regent of his constitutional functions, who is chosen by the national Government and nominated by the King on that Government's advice. What did profoundly concern the older nations was that no innovation should be made which could in any way prejudice their own allegiance to the King either as head of their domestic systems or as the constitutional symbol of the family relationship which distinguishes the Commonwealth as a whole from all foreign unions or empires or states. The declaration issued unanimously by the nine sovereign Governments of the Commonwealth with the King's wholehearted approval has been almost universally endorsed, because it does in fact describe their different feelings on this essential point. In it India, while reaffirming her intention to become an "independent sovereign republic," declares and affirms her desire "to continue her full membership of the Commonwealth of Nations and her acceptance of the King as the symbol of the free association of its independent members and as such the Head of the Commonwealth." The other Governments, declaring that "the basis of their membership of the Commonwealth is not thereby changed," accept and recognize India's continuing membership. It is a decisive act of statesmanship on the part of all, and, like many such Commonwealth decisions in the past, a creative act of faith.

There are other problems to be met, but not of a kind to present insuperable difficulty, when once the principle of the Commonwealth is established as the best available pattern for Western Union and for other regional associations. In this, however, as in all things, the first essential is full agreement and understanding between the Commonwealth and the United States, and unhappily there are two very crucial issues in which American and Commonwealth opinion are still far apart. The first of these is the American belief in federalism as a method of association between nation-states; the other -- which is a natural reflex of the first -- is the American belief in customs unions as economically and even morally superior to the method of mutual tariff preference. Division on these two issues cuts deep; and a danger of grievous misunderstanding will always underlie Anglo-American relations so long as the present American opinion and policy persist, because acceptance of them by the Commonwealth would spell its dissolution and demise. I have discussed them for many years with Americans who sincerely thought that the world had more to gain from American policy in these matters than from the survival of the British Commonwealth. It is impossible for an Englishman to be objective on that issue; but here in summary are the chief considerations which inspire his faith.

All who share the view that the secret of the British Commonwealth of Nations has been freedom of growth believe that democratic progress is inseparable from the vitality of nations as sovereign entities controlling their own lives. In the modern world the nation has become an extension of the family with a strong community sense such as distinguished, at an earlier stage, the village or the mediæval town. In a book written during the German occupation, a French author whose nom de plume disguises a man of wide international contacts and knowledge of the world, says very truly that nations are "born of the humblest and most essential relations in human life -- those imposed by climate, language, labor, common risks and necessities, kinship of blood. They are daughters of the spirit and also of the flesh; and that is why each has a life which is individual and its own." [iv] And that also is why their spirit withers under remote or foreign rule.

Nationalism, born of democracy in Europe, is now one of the most potent forces in the world. Among the less advanced nations it has the self-centered intolerance of youth -- as witness its intensity in Asia and the Middle East. Among the more advanced it has given birth to a social conscience which embraces the whole nation, striving within that manageable framework to foster opportunity and security for all. Communism is strong today because it appeals to a universal yearning for better conditions of life among the underprivileged and poor. It thus harnesses to its chariot the only sentiment which compares in strength with nationalism in the forces now shaping the course of human affairs. But in doing so it is compelled by its own unyielding and adamantine creed to iron out the individuality of peoples, to clamp a remote and inaccessible dictatorship upon them -- in a word, to denationalize. We who believe in the principle of national freedom which has made the British Commonwealth are convinced that if western democracy does violence to the national spirit of its peoples in seeking to make itself secure, it will destroy its own greatest virtue, the very secret of its growth, and will thereby sacrifice the most potent force which it possesses for resistance to the Communist attack upon it.

The greatest need of western democracy today is therefore to choose and perfect a method of multi-national association which does not extinguish or even seriously impair the vital spark of nationalism which has reared democracy from its cradle in ancient Greece and has saved it twice from annihilation under remote and reactionary rule. Does federalism meet that need? We believe that it cannot do so, because it involves a sudden and peremptory change from national freedom to national subordination, from a form and scope of government which each national democracy can control to a form and scope of government in which national individuality with its sense for national needs and traits and ideals is bound to be destroyed. Federalism has never yet been tried as a method of uniting ancient nation-states. What it has done is to weld scattered provinces without national consciousness into proud and conscious nation-states, not one of whom is now willing to subordinate its democratic independence to a multi-national federal power. The American Union is one of the great triumphs of democracy; but it will not be a model for federal union among nation-states until its President and Congress, and more particularly its Senate, are willing to part with their responsibility for all the most essential functions of national government. The Senate, we know, is tenacious of its rights; and so is every Parliament in the British Commonwealth. The great existing federations are therefore no example to Europe of willingness to subordinate the nation to multi-national rule.

I do not criticize their attitude because I believe that it is sound. England and Canada cannot allow themselves to be absorbed in any larger federation or union because, whatever wider society they joined, it would exclude them from another in which they are vitally concerned. The Canadian objection to blocs is a natural product of Canada's ambidextrous responsibilities, and England is in exactly the same case. Indeed, one of the further objections to federalism as a cure for the isolation of smaller nations is that in destroying national independence and thereby creating a new union it would form another closed circle in international society: it excludes no less powerfully than it includes. Customs unions, which go with federal unions, create a free trade area at the expense of the rest of the world. It passes English comprehension why Americans should on grounds of principle prefer that wholesale method of exclusion and discrimination to the method of tariff preference, which is many-sided and flexible, leaving each of its participants free to regulate as it pleases its trade with other nations and to keep its social and economic development subject to its own will.

There is another aspect of Imperial Preference which is even more vital to the life of the Commonwealth. The younger nations of the Commonwealth are still in a comparatively early stage of development, with great resources to exploit and abundant energy to exploit them. But like the United States at a similar stage, they cannot realize their promise without adding greatly to their manpower by immigration; and they naturally desire British immigrants above all others. There is at present no lack of willing immigrants in England, and a growing realization that it may be wise for her to have fewer mouths to feed if she is to maintain her present standard of life upon her own production both of home-grown food and of exports to pay for imported food and raw material. Her very high standard is at present being maintained by foreign aid, and that cannot continue. Canada, Australia and New Zealand are all making plans for British settlers, and they obviously have the first claim upon them. Both in war and peace they have come to this country's aid with even greater generosity than the United States, in proportion to their wealth and population, though the American people have shown a vision and magnanimity unexampled in the realm of foreign relations; and we must come to their aid in every possible manner.

It is natural, therefore, that English opinion, and more particularly Conservative opinion, should be disturbed by the fact that the conditions attaching to American aid have greatly limited the country's power to further settlement and development overseas, since that depends in many ways upon the support of Imperial Preference. From the Conservative standpoint we seem to have bargained ourselves into two strait jackets -- one of them limiting our power to help our own family, the other compelling us to an extensive system of state purchase in place of normal trade facilitated by tariff preferences. If we believed that multilateral trade and the process of general recovery were likely to be better served by creating more closed areas under customs unions than by the much more open and elastic system of groups coöperating internally and with each other by means of tariff preferences, we would subordinate the narrower to the larger ideal. No country has a more vital interest than ours in multilateral trade and general prosperity. But our belief, on grounds which we regard as conclusive, is the precise contrary.

V

There are many other facets of the argument for the Commonwealth system of coöperative multi-national groups in preference to exclusive customs unions and federations which deserve attention; but I must come to a conclusion. Here, then, in brief is the position held by a great majority of Englishmen.

We believe that the nation-states of the free world must form themselves into regional associations under Article 51 of the Charter in order to prove that democracy is not suicidally fissiparous and in order to stem the tide of Communism by giving security and prosperity to all coöperating peoples. From the British standpoint, the unity of the Commonwealth as a family of nations comes first and foremost; but we believe that its unity and example can do much to reinforce the other necessary associations. These are, in the first place, Western Union, supported by the North Atlantic Treaty, and then some coöperative system in the Middle East and among the countries flanking the Indian Ocean, where India holds a central position.

In the view of British "imperialists," two conditions are essential to the success of these associations. Our purpose, in a famous American phrase, is "to make the world safe for democracy" by proving that national democracies can combine and coöperate effectively without destroying freedom, the immediate jewel of their souls, or killing within each nation the family sense of social responsibility. Democracy was cradled in nation-states, and still depends on their vitality, their family sense and conscience, for assuaging the strife of classes and defeating the Communist ideal. The individual elector, upon whose civic sense the success of democratic freedom depends, must exercise his responsibility within a national setting which he understands, if he is not to feel himself an atom without influence upon the government which orders his life -- or maybe his death -- and thereby lose all sense of democratic responsibility. The nation-state is still the largest political unit within which it is possible to maintain close contact and understanding between a people and its leaders, between a voter and the men to whom he is invited to consign his fate and that of all about him. It is therefore still the largest unit within which true democracy can function. The nations of the British Commonwealth have realized this instinctively since democratic national consciousness was born in them. Subordinate any national democracy to a remote government which it only partly creates and in which its representatives would be bound to form a minority; subordinate it, as the federation of Western Europe would require, to a majority necessarily alien in language and thought to the minds of voters in its tenements and villages -- and what would remain but a mechanical union, like those produced by Communism, in which true democracy would wither?

I might prolong the argument by dealing with the crucial problem raised by differences in national standards of living, in which national electorates are more concerned than in any other matter. I expect, however, that the difficulties of this kind which are preventing the conclusion of a customs union between two countries as close as Holland and Belgium are already familiar to American readers. For England in any case, her system of social security and her standard of life are of the first importance, since they represent an achievement in which all parties have had a creative share and which no party will willingly abandon to the leveling lowest-common-denominator processes of a multi-national federation.

The conclusion follows that national self-determination in those things which most closely affect the homes and lives of the people is a condition of democratic vitality; and therefore, while it is true that nation-states must work closely together if they are not to be destroyed in isolation, it is equally true that they must find some way -- as the British Commonwealth has done -- of working together without prejudice to national self-government and sovereignty.

The other indispensable condition is that the new associations should not be self-centered blocs either in the sense of closed economic rings, or of a political exclusiveness which would make it impossible for states like England to play their part in two associations simultaneously. I have earlier in this article emphasized the importance of that point from the standpoint of the Commonwealth. It is no less important for Europe. All western opinion is agreed upon the danger constituted by the Iron Curtain which the Kremlin has drawn between its sphere of influence and the rest of Europe; and it must surely be one of the objects of western statesmanship to make it as easy as possible for eastern Germany, the satellite states and Russia herself to enter into closer and more fruitful economic relations with the west than are at present permitted by Soviet policy.

If Western Europe is organized for economic coöperation on the model of the British Commonwealth, its system can be adapted without difficulty to permit of participation by the eastern states in western plans for recovery to any degree which they find acceptable. Their present mood is rigid; but their economic difficulties are considerable, and their mood may change as the Marshall Plan matures, if the doors are not closed against them. The question whether or not freedom in Europe is to be finally destroyed by Communist aggression and a third world war will turn in no small measure upon the trend of national opinion in Poland, East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Jugoslavia; and it is of the first importance to show those countries, not only that the west is recovering its strength and stability under Marshall aid, but that they themselves also can gather strength as nations, whatever their internal régimes, by coöperation with it.

With these essential conditions federalism is incompatible; but they can be fully met by the organization of multi-national groups on the coöperative and preferential basis exemplified by the British Commonwealth. In a remarkable passage in the book already quoted, Jacquier-Bruère argues cogently that economic coöperation depends upon the political formations under which it works. The worth of technical institutions, he writes,[v] "is the worth, and no more, of the political formations which support them. If those formations are closed worlds, empires, continents, concerned above all in increasing their internal strength, the institutions, whatever their technical efficiency, will only energize the egotistic instincts which grope for power and make for war. But if, on the contrary, the political formations are like those which are born of the sea, open associations communicating freely with each other, the technical institutions will reflect their independence and help to make peace secure." Because it was born of the sea and can play its part in fostering its own free method of association throughout the world, the British Commonwealth system is the only one capable of setting the example of multi-national coöperation by groups to countries lying outside M. Aron's two "empires," the closed economic systems of the United States and the Soviet Union. England can represent this Commonwealth system in Western Union; England and Canada in the North Atlantic Pact; England and South Africa (if the latter chooses) in North Africa and the Middle East; England, Australia, New Zealand and its Asiatic members including India (if the latter chooses) in the Indian Ocean and the further east.

It will be observed that England is a necessary factor in all these associations. She is, therefore, with great respect to M. Aron, no mere Balkan state. But her influence and usefulness depend upon the strength and moral unity of the Commonwealth, and the most imperative of all her duties and interests is to foster its welfare and development. In its own sphere, moreover, each of the Commonwealth's nation-states counts the more for good and peace in its own neighborhood because it is part of the Commonwealth. If this be "imperialism," it is certainly not imperialism in the old historic sense. It is, on the contrary, the only form of political cement which can bring modern nations together in free coöperative groups without sapping their vitality and destroying the growth of true democracy by remote and inaccessible control. It is also the only form of political cement which can bring modern nations together in coöperative groups without dividing the world into watertight economic blocs.

I believe, therefore, that the British Commonwealth has even greater service to render now than it has rendered in the past; and I trust with all my heart that America's natural attachment to federalism and equally natural dislike of "empires" will not continue to impair that unity of purpose between the English-speaking peoples which is indispensable to the survival of their democratic faith.

[i] Raymond Aron, "Le Grand Schisme." Paris: Gallimard, 1948, p. 18.

[ii] Vincent Massey, "On Being Canadian." London and Toronto: Dent, 1948, p. 102.

[iii] Anonymous article in The Round Table, March 1944.

[iv] Jacquier-Bruère, "Demain La Paix." Paris: Plon, 1945.

[v] Op. cit., p. 170.

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  • LORD ALTRINCHAM, Editor of The National Review; author of "The British Commonwealth," "British Foreign Policy" and other works
  • More By Lord Altrincham