EUROPE is living through an era of intense nationalism; but though she is divided into nations and groups of nations her great problems still present themselves as continental problems. Succeeding crises threaten to shake her to pieces; yet each seems to emphasize her instinctive sense of basic unity, for each poses the question of what type of social organization is to prevail all over the continent. Today this means: What type of social organization will the victor impose?

I believe that just as this question is bigger than the separate nations or peoples of Europe, so it definitely transcends her continental confines. Can anyone seriously imagine that the effects of a rivalry like that which exists between Germany and the Allies -- not to mention Soviet Russia -- can be localized in Europe and a fence built around them? White civilization the globe over is a unit. Which of the various Powers that share in that civilization is to exercise leadership? This is the real issue in the present war. It involves the destinies not only of Europe but of all the world of Western civilization.

Each era of human history has known a leading country, one which is peculiarly representative of the civilization of the period and which takes the lead in spreading it. We commonly say that peoples capable of playing such a rôle have an imperial outlook -- the sort of outlook that ancient Rome had. There are few such peoples. Even among the great peoples there are ones which do not cherish imperial ambitions. For a century past, to go no farther back in history, the typical and outstanding imperial country has been England. France successfully undertook a similar if more restricted mission in North Africa. Willing or unwilling, the United States will probably be called upon to shoulder heavier and heavier responsibilities of the same nature. So far, however, the British Empire has been the great civilizing Power. The system of inter-continental relations, the inter-continental exchange of goods and ideas by which the modern world has been living, was set up and organized by the English. Today Germany must evidently be classed among what we call the imperial Powers. She thinks of herself as a Weltmacht, and the Germans boast that they are a Weltvolk. Of Germany's capacity for leader-ship, in the world at large as well as on the Continent, there can be no slightest doubt. Whether her leadership would be beneficial or the reverse is another matter.

Given the important place held by Europe in the general scheme of white civilization, is it not possible -- is it not almost certain -- that the country which becomes predominant there will logically aspire to general leadership in the world? Such, at any rate, is the lesson that history has been teaching ever since the sixteenth century when the white race spread over the whole globe and took charge of its development. That is why it has never been safe or possible for "the Continent," in the narrow English sense of the term, to be left as a sort of private hunting preserve for this conqueror or that. Which in turn is the deeper reason why England, every so often, and without any desire to exercise actual rule over the continent, somehow feels obliged to interfere in a domain not strictly her own.

The issue in such cases is not in fact control of Europe. It is world control. Élie Halévy, the great French historian of the English people, expressed this idea forcefully some time ago: "Before the war of 1914 British diplomacy was less concerned than is imagined with maintaining a balance of power in Europe. What British diplomacy wished to avoid -- and the English people instinctively agreed -- was that the leading military power in Europe should also become the leading naval power and by establishing something like a balance of sea power among the European nations compromise English naval supremacy." Actually Halévy underestimated the danger somewhat. German domination on the continent would not lead to a balance of power on the seas but to German supremacy on the seas. That would bring the continued existence of the whole British world system into dispute. And such a development would affect not only the interests of England but the interests of France and especially, one may assume, the interests of the United States.

Today as yesterday the world needs leadership and inspiration -- if not strictly political leadership, then economic, financial, and, above all, human leadership. This leadership must derive from and be imbued with the true spirit of our Western civilization. If this is not the case the atmosphere in which we have lived so far will change. We might go further still and say that the shattering of the world structure as we know it today would probably be a fatal defeat of the white race. We incline as a matter of habit to imagine that the future of our civilization is secure. That is a mistake. The future of our civilization is not at all secure. We have to watch over and guard it.

II

The nineteenth century formulated and applied a way of life which while retaining the basic principles of the eighteenth century tried to combine them with the new system of production resulting from the industrial revolution. During that glorious period of expansion, which really lasted down to the World War, the European continent was divided politically, but it functioned nevertheless as a unified civilization of a race everywhere recognized as superior and worthy to lead. There also existed an economic system which, originating in Europe and more particularly in England, extended its benefits to all Europeans and, in a general way, to all white humanity. Though not consciously so, it was in essence an international system and a liberal system. At any rate it was international and liberal in comparison with the system that the twentieth century is putting in its place. This is a matter of personal experience for my generation. As a boy I saw the nineteenth century system in operation without realizing that it was something quite exceptional in history, and that before long we should be mourning its passing. Today I look back upon it with something of the nostalgia that the people of the Middle Ages felt for the Roman Empire, or that touched Talleyrand when he talked of "the comfortable living" under the Old Régime.

In those days when one left the shores of Europe one entered a sort of international mercantile republic. It operated under the British flag; but by virtue of a principle called "fair play" any white person, of whatever country, could take advantage of it. Economic management on a world-wide basis actually existed. Europe devised it and Europe very largely benefited by it. The phenomenal development of the United States was not to come till later. It was a management of an exceedingly delicate and an exceedingly intelligent sort -- nothing like the dictatorial "planned economies" of today. It made money-changing, freight-age and travelling very easy. Boats and trains were not so fast as they are now, but one was considerably surer of getting where one wanted to go. Bureaucratic difficulties were reduced to a shadow. One could rely on a general stability in almost everything. Tariffs and duties were stable under long-term treaties. National credits were stable -- the word of any one of the great countries seemed as trustworthy as the existence of the country itself. Currencies had a value in gold and they were interchangeable at only slight fluctuations in price. There was the greatest freedom as regards the movement of persons. Emigration and immigration were virtually free. Investigations and examinations at frontiers were matters of perfunctory routine. I can see that enormous advances have been made since those days in technical equipment; but I cannot help seeing just as clearly that civilization has gone backward.

It might be well to specify in more detail England's rôle in all this. She practised free trade, guaranteed freedom of travel and exchange, and kept order over enormous areas on land and sea. The English liked to boast that their navy was the principal guarantee of public security everywhere. Jealousy kept other countries from agreeing, but today as we look back we have to admit it was true. The fact that the great ocean routes were kept clear of pirates was largely due to England's control of the seas. Part and parcel of the system was the maintenance of white prestige, for England alone had ready means of protecting white people even in the most out-of-the-way corners of the world. Thus it was due to British naval might that Australia was enabled to adopt and enforce an immigration law that saved her from being swamped by an influx of yellow peoples.

The white man has taken his supremacy for granted as a sort of natural and necessary phenomenon willed by Providence and therefore to be cheerfully accepted by everybody. That is far from being the case. In many regions white supremacy already is a thing of the past and in others it is tottering. The fact that Europe has definitely lost its strategic position with reference to the two Americas is no great matter; the dominant position of Western civilization has not thereby been affected. More portentous are the retreats in the Far East, where the whites are yielding place to peoples and systems not derived from Western civilization.

The English find it increasingly difficult to fulfill the world functions which they gradually assumed in the course of the past century. They are, however, continuing to fulfill them after a fashion. That is one reason why I would contemplate the possibility of a serious English defeat in the present European war with the gravest apprehension. It would mean a dislocation far surpassing the confines of Europe. The key positions of European civilization everywhere would be grievously weakened. There would be an outburst of racial movements in all quarters of the globe. From this standpoint the British, French and other colonial empires seem to form a major defense line behind which white civilization has been able to live and prosper.

III

The terms "Europe," "the white race" and "the West" were long synonymous. Down to the sixteenth century the white race was all in Europe. "European civilization" and "Western civilization" corresponded exactly. With the discovery of America and the sea route to India the white race overflowed Europe. The world's center of gravity was displaced due to the simple fact that the white race was now no longer all in Europe. Thus a new civilization, a "Western" civilization, came into being. Its main springs are still in Europe, but it is not confined to Europe. Furthermore, recently a number of Europeans have been tending to repudiate its basic principles.

Three countries have mainly contributed to the development of what we call Western civilization: France, England and the United States.

The chief contribution of France, as I see things, has been her assertion of human values, her faith in intelligence, her uncompromising insistence on the dignity of the thinking human being. But the British contribution has not been less significant. England has developed the concept of credit based on the given word, on the trust inspired by the honest man. She was, besides, the first and I am afraid the only country to understand that political power has to be something more than a mere expression of common interests, that liberty and authority are not contradictory terms, that liberty can be enjoyed without disorder and authority can be exercised without tyranny -- in a word, England has contributed liberalism, and the liberal spirit. It was due to that spirit that the nineteenth century world became a habitable world -- a fact which the twentieth century, alas, inclines to forget. I do not think, as regards the United States, that its astounding material progress constitutes its chief contribution so much as the persistent struggle of the American people, carried out in a profoundly idealistic spirit, to enhance the dignity of the human being by continually raising the plane on which he lives. America has sought to make men better by making them happier. America is the country of social progress. Among many splendid achievements this is the one, I think, which ought to be stressed as doing proper honor to the country of Franklin, Lincoln and Ford.

Wherever one looks in this three-panelled picture one finds the same values. First of all there is the basic conception of the human being as an end in himself and not as a mere tool to be used for this purpose or that. The human being is considered precious from the simple fact of his being a human being. Corollary to this conception is the insistence on a few necessary liberties -- freedom for the human being to judge for himself, to argue and discuss, to express his views. These attitudes are the things which, even more than our technical advances, constitute the real greatness of the West; for from them our great technical advances have developed.

The spirit of the West is free, as free as the flowing stream, the living flame. Western civilization will die the moment it surrenders the freedom that is part of the air it breathes. It will lose the creative energies that have enabled it to be great. It will become a lifeless mechanism. Perhaps too late we shall perceive that the most perfect technical plant imaginable cannot function unless it is animated by a spirit.

IV

What would happen if a Power inspired by the totalitarian spirit achieved world leadership? The question is not hypothetical. Germany has openly and repeatedly announced her candidacy for the rôle. She has made several violent attempts to claim an imperial position at the expense of England and France. Nor is there much doubt that her ambition far overreaches the confines of poor little Europe. And there, probably, lies the deeper cause of the bitter rivalry between the Reich and the Western Powers, especially England.

Certainly a world controlled and managed by Germany would be altogether different from the world we have known for the past century under the free system described above. It can be taken for granted that the production resulting from German technical methods, long since tried and tested, would be very impressive. We French have been battling the Germans for a long time. We have come to know them well and to appreciate them at their true worth. We know all that industrial and social organization -- a relentless and, as we feel, inhuman organization -- can achieve under their direction. We are also perfectly aware that freedom has its disadvantages. We recognize that the moment an individual, however intelligent he may be, sets out to work on his own free initiative and in response to his varying whims he may cause disorder and trouble. Under the German system every motion is harnessed to serve a single purpose; nobody's imagination or inspiration is allowed to divert an ounce of energy from the predetermined goal. It is inspiring to picture all that German organizing ability might do in the world if it were given a free hand. But there is a flaw in the picture, and unfortunately it is a fatal one.

The exorbitant price of German single-minded efficiency is precisely the condition on which it is able to operate -- everything connected with free living based on respect for the individual must be given up and forgotten. All energies are regimented and canalized in a single system of conscription. The concept of a free humanity in which all men are equal, at least in the respect owing to them as human beings, is replaced by the iron doctrine that a few supermen have been created to exploit the masses that are born congenitally inferior. The procedure increases production. But it involves repudiating the whole ideal of the nineteenth century and with it the deeper ideal enshrined in Christianity itself.

Thus stated, the choice to be made today between two types of civilization, each of them claiming world leadership, is not merely a European question. It interests the United States also. Perhaps we should consider just how and in what respects.

V

A foreigner has to speak cautiously if he is to avoid giving the impression of interfering in other people's family affairs. But it simply is impossible to discuss the future of Anglo-Saxon civilization, or of Western civilization as a whole, without taking the American factor into account.

British and American civilizations spring from the same sources and even today something like a family tie unites them. The two peoples use the same language and therefore have no difficulty in understanding each other. This may seem a trivial detail, but actually its significance can hardly be overestimated. Americans are very likely to feel out of their element when they visit Continental Europe. Often they do not know the local language. When they run into an Englishman in such circumstances it is almost as though they had found a relative. At the international conferences that I have attended the representatives of England and the United States invariably formed a group by themselves. The common inheritance of Protestantism may sometimes, perhaps, play a part in addition to the common inheritance of language. But above all is the tie of devotion to common institutions. Democracy is not, I take it, the main point of resemblance between English people and Americans. The aristocratic structure of English society differentiates the English spirit radically from the equalitarian atmosphere of the United States. The real thing they have sincerely and deeply in common is liberalism, the respect for individual rights -- one's right to express and defend one's views and to choose one's own form of government.

Take now a German, even an educated one. He finds it quite natural that a political system should be imposed upon him without his being in any way consulted. If he happened to venture a word, his rulers would tell him that the matter was no concern of his; and on second thought he would decide that they were right. Englishmen and Americans simply cannot understand that sort of attitude even remotely. In Anglo-Saxon countries governments represent communities; they are not conceived of as entities, and certainly not as entities superior to the people who are their reason for existence.

But though the resemblances between Americans and Englishmen are deep and basic the superficial differences between them are numerous. One might easily draw portraits of the two peoples that would emphasize the contrasts -- and all the more easily since both parties are convinced that they are altogether and profoundly different. They take a wicked joy in criticizing each other back and forth, and usually, as I feel, with extraordinary unfairness. The worst possible guide to understanding Americans would be an Englishman, and vice versa. The books that are written in England about the United States almost always irritate the American public. I have an impression that, three times out of four, the English propagandists who go lecturing about the United States would do better to stay at home, especially if they are high dignitaries of the Church of England and speak with an Oxford accent. American susceptibilities where the condescension of foreigners is concerned are very keen, so keen indeed as to be in evidence sometimes when the condescension is in fact imaginary. Many of the large towns, too, are crowded with Irish, Slavic and Latin elements and therefore show a markedly un-English atmosphere. Superficial observers are often misled by this instinctive "touchiness" on the part of a people that is doubly jealous of its national and continental independence. But it is often overstressed. Under it all is a oneness of interests and of attitudes towards life -- the oneness, in short, of a common civilization.

From this last point of view Americans tacitly admit that the presence of a British Empire in the world is something that is greatly to their advantage. The overseas countries where English is spoken and British methods of doing business prevail are very numerous. An American may not feel entirely at home in them, but he feels almost at home. As a result, the wide world outside of Europe has a familiar look to the American. It strikes him as deriving from a civilization of his own type and requiring no great amount of adaptation on his part. This is all very convenient for the United States. Indeed, Americans long found it such a natural state of things that they paid hardly any attention to it. The British Empire was there and they profited by it. Otherwise they were hardly conscious of its existence.

The British fleet policed the seas, kept order in Asia, defended the white man everywhere. America tended to consider the worries of imperialism as Britain's own affair. And the English went on, acting as the world's policeman, diplomat, colonizer and mailman. On their side the English undoubtedly made money by the arrangement, and were not free from a certain amount of hyprocrisy when they groaned under the "white man's burden." But the American was also the gainer. A sort of division of labor automatically, therefore, took place between Anglo-Saxons of an international spirit and Anglo-Saxons of a continental spirit -- a continental spirit, since down to very recently the Americans were busy developing their continent; and that was a task quite large enough to absorb their ebullient energies.

The interests of England and the United States are therefore the same, though American opinion, so far as it is aware of the fact, does not like to have a foreigner say so. Responsible elements in America, the people who really shape the destinies of the country, are not at all afraid to admit the community of interests. They know that if the British Empire were to collapse, or merely become unable to fulfill its traditional mission easily and well, the position of the United States would at once be more difficult and its burdens would increase. Either the United States would have to withdraw into the American continent and intrench itself there, with resulting economic and cultural losses, or else it would have to shoulder increasingly onerous and costly political obligations outside its own particular sphere. I have often expressed my feeling that when the United States went to war in 1917 it did so, at bottom, for the sake of Anglo-Saxon solidarity -- in order to maintain in all parts of the world the preëminence of Anglo-Saxon civilization.

There is, of course, another alternative. The United States might itself become the leader of the white race and itself take over the responsibilities of empire, either jointly with England or in place of England. Many people in Europe thought, just after Versailles, that the Government of the United States intended to claim first place in the world and that a new period in history, a period of Anglo-American rivalry, was about to open. That view failed grossly to take account of the sincere and deep feeling of oneness that prevails in the English-speaking countries. It also overlooked a tendency in Americans -- and it has grown stronger, if anything, during these last years -- to shrink from empire. The United States rests satisfied with being a continental power, broadening its range close to home, perhaps, but uninterested in branching out into the world at large. Americans feel no call towards colonization, probably because within their own frontiers they possess the best field for colonization remaining anywhere in the world. They are not at all impatient to step into the shoes of the British Empire, because they feel instinctively that it and their own country are complementary rather than antagonistic.

If any conclusion can properly be drawn from all I have been saying it would seem to be that the fate of Western civilization continues to depend on Europe, because Europe, and Europe alone, has an inter-continental, international, in fact universal, conception of her political and cultural responsibilities. Her task at this moment is to decide whether totalitarian ideals or liberal ideals are to have the support of her seemingly inexhaustible dynamism. So far that dynamism has not been impaired either by wars or a series of pitiless internal struggles. The war that has opened in Europe, therefore, is in its broader bearings a world war. The fate of our whole civilization is to be fought out in our continent.

One would have to go far back in history to find a struggle where the stakes were so significant. My country, France, is a decisive factor since she supplies the chief elements in the military resistance to German aggression, and because with her survive or perish those human values, mentioned above, that are broadest in scope. They are values, I believe, that all human beings, of whatever race, nationality or color can understand, admire and strive after. But the outcome will also depend very directly on the fate of the British Empire and on the position in the world that the English are able or willing to maintain. The weaknesses of the Empire are only too well known, chief among them being its vast extent and the vulnerability of its lines of communication. Not enough is said about the Empire's strength, which resides very largely in the unanimous loyalty of the white portions of the British world. The British Commonwealth represents a civilization to which the member nations are deeply enough attached to defend it by arms whenever need arises.

One may guess that sooner or later the United States will decide to accept world responsibilities transcending the limits of the American continent. Its physical power, its prestige, its wealth, its unparalleled industrial equipment, the fact that it is part and parcel of Western civilization -- all drive it in that direction. But until it makes its decision Europe alone must uphold the world order on which our civilization depends.

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  • ANDRÉ SIEGFRIED, Professor at the Collège de France; author of "America Comes of Age," "Post-War Britain" and many other works
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