MoboReader > Literature > Peace Theories and the Balkan War


Peace Theories and the Balkan War By Norman Angell Characters: 26362

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

The "economic system" of the Turk-The Turkish "Trade of Conquest" as a cause of this war-Racial and Religious hatred of primitive societies-Industrialism as a solvent-Its operation in Europe-Balkans geographically remote from main drift of European economic development-The false economies of the Powers as a cause of their jealousies and quarrels-This has prevented settlement-What is the "economic motive"?-Impossible to separate moral and material-Nationality and the War System.

In dealing with answer No. 4 I have shown how the inadequacy of our language leads us so much astray in our notions of the real role of force in human relationships. But there is a curious phenomenon of thought which explains perhaps still more how misconceptions grow up on this subject, and that is the habit of thinking of a war which, of course, must include two parties, in terms, solely of one party at a time. Thus one critic[3] is quite sure that because the Balkan peoples "recked nothing of financial disaster," economic considerations have had nothing to do with their war-a conclusion which seems to be arrived at by the process of judgment just indicated: to find the cause of condition produced by two parties you shall rigorously ignore one. For there is a great deal of internal evidence for believing that the writer of the article in question would admit very readily that the efforts of the Turk to wring taxes out of the conquered peoples-not in return for a civilized administration but simply as the means of livelihood, of turning conquest into a trade-had a very great deal to do in explaining the Turk's presence there at all and the Christian's desire to get rid of him; while the same article specifically states that the mutual jealousies of the great powers, based on a desire to "grab" (an economic motive), had a great deal to do with preventing a peaceful settlement of the difficulties. Yet "economics" have nothing to do with it!

I have attempted elsewhere to make these two points-that it is on the one hand the false economics of the Turks, and on the other hand the false economics of the powers of Europe, colouring the policy and Statecraft of both, which have played an enormous, in all human probability, a determining role in the immediate provoking cause of the war; and, of course, a further and more remote cause of the whole difficulty is the fact that the Balkan peoples never having been subjected to the discipline of that complex social life which arises from trade and commerce have never grown out of (or to a less degree) those primitive racial and religious hostilities which at one time in Europe as a whole provoked conflicts like that now raging in the Balkans. The following article which appeared[4] at the outbreak of the war may summarise some of the points with which we have been dealing.

Polite and good-natured people think it rude to say "Balkans" if a Pacifist be present. Yet I never understood why, and I understand now less than ever. It carries the implication that because war has broken out that fact disposes of all objection to it. The armies are at grips, therefore peace is a mistake. Passion reigns on the Balkans, therefore passion is preferable to reason.

I suppose cannibalism and infanticide, polygamy, judicial torture, religious persecution, witchcraft, during all the years we did these "inevitable" things, were defended in the same way, and those who resented all criticism of them pointed in triumph to the cannibal feast, the dead child, the maimed witness, the slain heretic, or the burned witch. But the fact did not prove the wisdom of those habits, still less their inevitability; for we have them no more.

We are all agreed as to the fundamental cause of the Balkan trouble: the hate born of religious, racial, national, and language differences; the attempt of an alien conqueror to live parasitically upon the conquered, and the desire of conqueror and conquered alike to satisfy in massacre and bloodshed the rancour of fanaticism and hatred.

Well, in these islands, not so very long ago, those things were causes of bloodshed; indeed, they were a common feature of European life. But if they are inevitable in human relationship, how comes it that Adana is no longer duplicated by St. Bartholomew; the Bulgarian bands by the vendetta of the Highlander and the Lowlander; the struggle of the Slav and Turk, Serb and Bulgar, by that of Scots and English, and English and Welsh? The fanaticism of the Moslem to-day is no intenser than that of Catholic and heretic in Rome, Madrid, Paris, and Geneva at a time which is only separated from us by the lives of three or four elderly men. The heretic or infidel was then in Europe also a thing unclean and horrifying, exciting in the mind of the orthodox a sincere and honest hatred and a (very largely satisfied) desire to kill. The Catholic of the 16th century was apt to tell you that he could not sit at table with a heretic because the latter carried with him a distinctive and overpoweringly repulsive odour. If you would measure the distance Europe has travelled, think what this means: all the nations of Christendom united in a war lasting 200 years for the capture of the Holy Sepulchre; and yet, when in our day the representatives, seated round a table, could have had it for the asking, they did not deem it worth the asking, so little of the ancient passion was there left. The very nature of man seemed to be transformed. For, wonderful though it be that orthodox should cease killing heretic, infinitely more wonderful still is it that he should cease wanting to kill him.

And just as most of us are certain that the underlying causes of this conflict are "inevitable" and "inherent in unchanging human nature," so are we certain that so _un_human a thing as economics can have no bearing on it.

Well, I will suggest that the transformation of the heretic-hating and heretic-killing European is due mainly to economic forces; that it is because the drift of those forces has in such large part left the Balkans, where until yesterday the people lived the life not much different from that which they lived in the time of Abraham, to one side that war is now raging; that economic factors of a more immediate kind form a large part of the provoking cause of that war; and that a better understanding mainly of certain economic facts of their international relationship on the part of the great nations of Europe is essential before much progress towards solution can be made.

But then, by "economics," of course, I mean not a merchant's profit or a moneylender's interest, but the method by which men earn their bread, which must also mean the kind of life they lead.

We generally think of the primitive life of man-that of the herdsman or the tent liver-as something idyllic. The picture is as far as possible from the truth. Those into whose lives economics do not enter, or enter very little-that is to say, those who, like the Congo cannibal, or the Red Indian, or the Bedouin, do not cultivate, or divide their labour, or trade, or save, or look to the future, have shed little of the primitive passions of other animals of prey, the tigers and the wolves, who have no economics at all, and have no need to check an impulse or a hate. But industry, even of the more primitive kind, means that men must divide their labour, which means that they must put some sort of reliance upon one another; the thing of prey becomes a partner, and the attitude towards it changes. And as this life becomes more complex, as the daily needs and desires push men to trade and barter, that means building up a social organisation, rules and codes, and courts to enforce them; as the interdependence widens and deepens it necessarily means disregarding certain hostilities. If the neighbouring tribe wants to trade with you they must not kill you; if you want the services of the heretic you must not kill him, and you must keep your obligation towards him, and mutual good faith is death to long-sustained hatreds.

You cannot separate the moral from the social and economic development of a people, and the great service of a complex social and industrial organisation, which is built up by the desire of men for better material conditions, is not that it "pays" but that it makes a more interdependent human society, and that it leads men to recognise what is the best relationship between them. And the fact of recognising that some act of aggression is causing stocks to fall is not important because it may save Oppenheim's or Solomon's money but because it is a demonstration that we are dependent upon some community on the other side of the world, that their damage is our damage, and that we have an interest in preventing it. It teaches us, as only some such simple and mechanical means can teach, the lesson of human fellowship.

And it is by such means as this that Western Europe has in some measure, within its respective political frontiers, learnt that lesson. Each has learnt, within the confines of the nation at least, that wealth is made by work, not robbery; that, indeed, general robbery is fatal to prosperity; that government consists not merely in having the power of the sword but in organising society-in "knowing how"; which means the development of ideas; in maintaining courts; in making it possible to run railways, post offices, and all the contrivances of a complex society.

Now rulers did not create these things; it was the daily activities of the people, born of their desires and made possible by the circumstances in which they lived, by the trading and the mining and the shipping which they carried on, that made them. But the Balkans have been geographically outside the influence of European industrial and commercial life. The Turk has hardly felt it at all. He has learnt none of the social and moral lessons which interdependence and improved communications have taught the Western European, and it is because he has not learnt these lessons, because he is a soldier and a conqueror, to an extent and completeness that other nations of Europe lost a generation or two since, that the Balkanese are fighting and that war is raging.

But not merely in this larger sense, but in the more immediate, narrower sense, are the fundamental causes of this war economic.

This war arises, as the past wars against the Turkish conqueror have arisen, by the desire of the Christian peoples on whom he lives to shake off this burden. "To live upon their subjects is the Turks' only means of livelihood," says one authority. The Turk is an economic parasite, and the economic organism must end of rejecting him.

For the management of society, simple and primitive even as that of the Balkan mountains, needs some effort and work and capacity for administration, or even rudimentary economic life cannot be carried on. And the Turkish system, founded on the sword and nothing else ("the finest soldier in Europe"), cannot give that small modicum, of energy or administrative capacity. The one thing he knows is brute force; but it is not by the strength of his muscles that an engineer runs a machine, but by knowing how. The Turk cannot build a road, or make a bridge, or administer a post office, or found a court of law. And these things are necessary. And he will not let them be done by the Christian, who, because he did not belong to the conquering class, has had to work, and has consequently become the class which possesses whatever capacity for work and administration the country can show, because to do so would be to threaten the Turk's only trade. If the Turk granted the Christians equal political rights they would inevitably "run the country," And yet the Turk himself cannot do it; and he will not let others do it, because to do so would be to threaten his supremacy.

And the more the use of force fails, the more, of course, does he resort to it, and that is why many of us who do not believe in force, and desire to see it disappear in the relationship not merely of religious but of political groups, might conceivably welcome this war of the Balkan Christians, in so far as it is an attempt to resist the use of force in those relationships. Of course, I do not try to estimate the "balance of criminality." Right is not all on one side-it never is. But the broad issue is clear and plain. And only those concerned with the name rather than the thing, with nominal and verbal consistency rather than realities, will see anything paradoxical or contradictory in Pacifist approval of Christian resistance to the use of Turkish force.

It is the one fact which stands out incontrovertibly from the whole weary muddle. It is quite clear that the inability to act in common arises from the fact that in the international sphere the European is still dominated by illusions which he has dropped when he deals with home politics. The political faith of the Turk, which he would never think of applying at home as between the individuals of his nation, he applies pure and unalloyed when he comes to deal with foreigners as nations. The economic conception-usi

ng the term in that wider sense which I have indicated earlier in this article-which guides his individual conduct is the antithesis of that which guides his national conduct.

While the Christian does not believe in robbery inside the frontier, he does without; while within the State he realises that greater advantage lies on the side of each observing the general code, so that civilised society can exist, instead of on the side of having society go to pieces by each disregarding it; while within the State he realises that government is a matter of administration, not the seizure of property; that one town does not add to its wealth by "capturing" another, that indeed one community cannot "own" another-while, I say, he believes all these things in his daily life at home, he disregards them all when he comes to the field of international relationship, la haute politique. To annex some province by a cynical breach of treaty obligation (Austria in Bosnia, Italy in Tripoli) is regarded as better politics than to act loyally with the community of nations to enforce their common interest in order and good government. In fact, we do not believe that there can be a community of nations, because, in fact, we do not believe that their interests are common, but rival; like the Turk, we believe that if you do not exercise force upon your "rival" he will exercise it upon you; that nations live upon one another, not by co-operation with one another-and it is for this reason presumably that you must "own" as much of your neighbours' as possible. It is the Turkish conception from beginning to end.

And it is because these false beliefs prevent the nations of Christendom acting loyally the one to the other, because each is playing for its own hand, that the Turk, with hint of some sordid bribe, has been able to play off each against the other.

This is the crux of the matter. When Europe can honestly act in common on behalf of common interests some solution can be found. And the capacity of Europe to act together will not be found so long as the accepted doctrines of European statecraft remain unchanged, so long as they are dominated by existing illusions.

* * * * *

In a paper read before the British Association of this year, I attempted to show in more general terms this relation between economic impulse and ideal motive. The following are relevant passages:-

A nation, a people, we are given to understand, have higher motives than money, or "self-interest." What do we mean when we speak of the money of a nation, or the self-interest of a community? We mean-and in such a discussion as this can mean nothing else-better conditions for the great mass of the people, the fullest possible lives, the abolition or attenuation of poverty and of narrow circumstances, that the millions shall be better housed and clothed and fed, capable of making provision for sickness and old age, with lives prolonged and cheered-and not merely this, but also that they shall be better educated, with character disciplined by steady labour and a better use of leisure, a general social atmosphere which shall make possible family affection, individual dignity and courtesy and the graces of life, not alone among the few, but among the many.

Now, do these things constitute as a national policy an inspiring aim or not? Yet they are, speaking in terms of communities, pure self-interest-all bound up with economic problems, with money. Does Admiral Mahan mean us to take him at his word when he would attach to such efforts the same discredit that one implies in talking of a mercenary individual? Would he have us believe that the typical great movements of our times-Socialism, Trades Unionism, Syndicalism, Insurance Bills, Land Laws, Old Age Pensions, Charity Organisation, Improved Education-bound up as they all are with economic problems-are not the sort of objects which more and more are absorbing the best activities of Christendom?

I have attempted to show that the activities which lie outside the range of these things-the religious wars, movements like those which promoted the Crusades, or the sort of tradition which we associate with the duel (which has, in fact, disappeared from Anglo-Saxon society)-do not and cannot any longer form part of the impulse creating the long-sustained conflicts between large groups which a European war implies, partly because such allied moral differences as now exist do not in any way coincide with the political divisions, but intersect them, and partly because in the changing character of men's ideals there is a distinct narrowing of the gulf which is supposed to separate ideal and material aims. Early ideals, whether in the field of politics or religion, are generally dissociated from any aim of general well-being. In early politics ideals are concerned simply with personal allegiance to some dynastic chief, a feudal lord or a monarch. The well-being of a community does not enter into the matter at all: it is the personal allegiance which matters. Later the chief must embody in his person that well-being, or he does not achieve the allegiance of a community of any enlightenment; later, the well-being of the community becomes the end in itself without being embodied in the person of an hereditary chief, so that the community realise that their efforts, instead of being directed to the protection of the personal interests of some chief, are as a matter of fact directed to the protection of their own interests, and their altruism has become self-interest, since self-sacrifice of a community for the sake of the community is a contradiction in terms. In the religious sphere a like development has been shown. Early religious ideals have no relation to the material betterment of mankind. The early Christian thought it meritorious to live a sterile life at the top of a pillar, eaten by vermin, as the Hindoo saint to-day thinks it meritorious to live an equally sterile life upon a bed of spikes. But as the early Christian ideal progressed, sacrifices having no end connected with the betterment of mankind lost their appeal. The Christian saint who would allow the nails of his fingers to grow through the palms of his clasped hands would excite, not our admiration, but our revolt. More and more is religious effort being subjected to this test: does it make for the improvement of society? If not, it stands condemned. Political ideals will inevitably follow a like development, and will be more and more subjected to a like test.

I am aware that very often at present they are not so subjected. Dominated as our political thought is by Roman and feudal imagery-hypnotised by symbols and analogies which the necessary development of organised society has rendered obsolete-the ideals even of democracies are still often pure abstractions, divorced from any aim calculated to advance the moral or material betterment of mankind. The craze for sheer size of territory, simple extent of administrative area, is still deemed a thing deserving immense, incalculable sacrifices.

* * * * *

And yet even these ideals, firmly set as they are in our language and tradition, are rapidly yielding to the necessary force of events. A generation ago it would have been inconceivable that a people or a monarch should calmly see part of its country secede and establish itself as a separate political entity without attempting to prevent it by force of arms. Yet this is what happened but a year or two since in the Scandinavian peninsula. For forty years Germany has added to her own difficulties and those of the European situation for the purpose of including Alsace and Lorraine in its Federation, but even there, obeying the tendency which is world-wide, an attempt has been made at the creation of a constitutional and autonomous government. The history of the British Empire for fifty years has been a process of undoing the work of conquest. Colonies are now neither colonies nor possessions. They are independent States. Great Britain, which for centuries has made such sacrifices to retain Ireland, is now making great sacrifices in order to make her secession workable. To all political arrangements, to all political ideals, the final test will be applied: Does it or does it not make for the widest interests of the mass of the people involved?… And I would ask those who think that war must be a permanent element in the settlement of the moral differences of men to think for one moment of the factors which stood in the way of the abandonment of the use of force by governments, and by one religious group against another in the matter of religious belief. On the one hand you had authority with all the prestige of historical right and the possession of physical power in its most imposing form, the means of education still in their hands; government authority extending to all sorts of details of life to which it no longer extends; immense vested interests outside government; and finally the case for the imposition of dogma by authority a strong one, and still supported by popular passion: and on the other hand, you had as yet poor and feeble instruments of mere opinion; the printed book still a rarity; the Press non-existent, communication between men still rudimentary, worse even than it had been two thousand years previously. And yet, despite these immense handicaps upon the growth of opinion and intellectual ferment as against physical force, it was impossible for a new idea to find life in Geneva or Rome or Edinburgh or London without quickly crossing and affecting all the other centres, and not merely making headway against entrenched authority, but so quickly breaking up the religious homogeneity of states, that not only were governments obliged to abandon the use of force in religious matters as against their subjects, but religious wars between nations became impossible for the double reason that a nation no longer expressed a single religious belief (you had the anomaly of a Protestant Sweden fighting in alliance with a Catholic France), and that the power of opinion had become stronger than the power of physical force-because, in other words, the limits of military force were more and more receding.

But if the use of force was so ineffective against the spiritual possessions of man when the arms to be used in their defence were so poor and rudimentary, how could a government hope to crush out by force to-day such things as a nation's language, law, literature, morals, ideals, when it possesses such means of defence as are provided in security of tenure of material possessions, a cheap literature, a popular Press, a cheap and secret postal system, and all the other means of rapid and perfected inter-communication?

You will notice that I have spoken throughout not of the defence of a national ideal by arms, but of its attack; if you have to defend your ideal it is because someone attacks it, and without attack your defence would not be called for.

If you are compelled to prevent someone using force as against your nationality, it is because he believes that by the use of that force he can destroy or change it. If he thought that the use of force would be ineffective to that end he would not employ it.

I have attempted to show elsewhere that the abandonment of war for material ends depends upon a general realisation of its futility for accomplishing those ends. In like manner does the abandonment of war for moral or ideal ends depend upon the general realisation of the growing futility of such means for those ends also-and for the growing futility of those ends if they could be accomplished.

We are sometimes told that it is the spirit of nationality-the desire to be of your place and locality-that makes war. That is not so. It is the desire of other men that you shall not be of your place and locality, of your habits and traditions, but of theirs. Not the desire of nationality, but the desire to destroy nationality is what makes the wars of nationality. If the Germans did not think that the retention of Polish or Alsatian nationality might hamper them in the art of war, hamper them in the imposition of force on some other groups, there would be no attempt to crush out this special possession of the Poles and Alsatians. It is the belief in force and a preference for settling things by force instead of by agreement that threatens or destroys nationality. And I have given an indication of the fact that it is not merely war, but the preparation for war, implying as it does great homogeneity in states and centralised bureaucratic control, which is to-day the great enemy of nationality. Before this tendency to centralisation which military necessity sets up much that gives colour and charm to European life is disappearing. And yet we are told that it is the Pacifists who are the enemy of nationality, and we are led to believe that in some way the war system in Europe stands for the preservation of nationality!

[Footnote 3: Review of Reviews, November, 1912.]

[Footnote 4: In the "Daily Mail," to whose Editor I am indebted for permission to reprint it.]

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top