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Peace Theories and the Balkan War By Norman Angell Characters: 22004

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

This war and "the Turks of Britain and Prussia"-The Anglo-Saxon and opposed ideals-Mr. C. Chesterton's case for "killing and being killed" as the best method of settling differences-Its application to Civil Conflicts-As in Spanish-America-The difference between Devonshire and Venezuela-Will the Balkans adopt the Turco-Venezuelan political ideals or the British?

An English political writer remarked, on it becoming evident that the

Christian States were driving back the Turks: "This is a staggering blow

to all the Turks-those of England and Prussia as well as those of


But, of course, the British and Prussian Turks will never see it-like the Bourbons, they learn not. Here is a typically military system, the work of "born fighters" which has gone down in welter before the assaults of much less military States, the chief of which, indeed, has grown up in what Captain von Herbert has called, with some contempt, "stagnant and enfeebling peace conditions," formed by the people whom the Turks regarded as quite unfit to be made into warriors; whom they regarded much as some Europeans regard the Jews. It is the Christian populations of the Balkans who were the traders and workers-those brought most under economic influences; it was the Turks who escaped those influences. A few years since, I wrote: "If the conqueror profits much by his conquest, as the Romans in one sense did, it is the conqueror who is threatened by the enervating effect of the soft and luxurious life; while it is the conquered who are forced to labour for the conqueror, and who learn in consequence those qualities of steady industry which are certainly a better moral training than living upon the fruits of others, upon labour extorted at the sword's point. It is the conqueror who becomes effete, and it is the conquered who learn discipline and the qualities making for a well-ordered State."

Could we ask a better illustration than the history of the Turk and his Christian victims? I exemplified the matter thus: "If during long periods a nation gives itself up to war, trade languishes, the population loses the habit of steady industry, government and administration become corrupt, abuses escape punishment, and the real sources of a people's strength and expansion dwindle. What has caused the relative failure and decline of Spanish, Portuguese, and French expansion in Asia and the New World, and the relative success of English expansion therein? Was it the mere hazards of war which gave to Great Britain the domination of India and half of the New World? That is surely a superficial reading of history. It was, rather, that the methods and processes of Spain, Portugal, and France were military, while those of the Anglo-Saxon world were commercial and peaceful. Is it not a commonplace that in India, quite as much as in the New World, the trader and the settler drove out the soldier and the conqueror? The difference between the two methods was that one was a process of conquest, and the other of colonizing, or non-military administration for commercial purposes. The one embodied the sordid Cobdenite idea, which so excites the scorn of the militarists, and the other the lofty military ideal. The one was parasitism; the other co-operation….

"How may we sum up the whole case, keeping in mind every empire that ever existed-the Assyrian, the Babylonian, the Mede and Persian, the Macedonian, the Roman, the Frank, the Saxon, the Spanish, the Portuguese, the Bourbon, the Napoleonic? In all and every one of them we may see the same process, which is this: If it remains military it decays; if it prospers and takes its share of the work of the world it ceases to be military. There is no other reading of history."

But despite these very plain lessons, there are many amongst us who regard physical conflict as the ideal form of human relationship; "killing and being killed" as the best way to determine the settlement of differences, and a society which drifts from these ideals as on the high road to degeneration, and who deem those who set before themselves the ideal of abolishing or attenuating poverty for the mass of men, "low and sordid."

Thus Mr. Cecil Chesterton[5]:

In essence Mr. Angell's query is: "Should usurers go to war?"

I may say, in passing, that I am not clear that even on the question thus raised Mr. Angell makes out his case. His case, broadly stated, is that the net of "Finance"-or, to put it plainer, Cosmopolitan Usury-which is at present spread over Europe would be disastrously torn by any considerable war; and that in consequence it is to the interest of the usurers to preserve peace. But here, it seems to me, we must make a clear differentiation. It may easily be to the interest of a particular usurer, or group of usurers, to provoke war; that very financial crisis which Mr. Angell anticipates may quite probably be a source of profit to them. That it would not be to the interest of a nation of usurers to fight is very probable. That such a nation would not fight, or, if it did, would be exceedingly badly beaten, is certain. But that only serves to raise the further question of whether it is to the ultimate advantage of a nation to repose upon usury; and whether the breaking of the net of usury which at present unquestionably holds Europe in captivity would not be for the advantage, as it would clearly be for the honour, of our race…. The sword is too sacred a thing to be prostituted to such dirty purposes. But whether he succeeds or fails in this attempt, it will make no difference to the mass of plain men who, when they fight and risk their lives, do not do so in the expectation of obtaining a certain interest on their capital, but for quite other reasons.

Mr. Angell's latest appeal comes, I think, at an unfortunate moment. It is not merely that the Balkan States have refused to be convinced by Mr. Angell as to their chances of commercial profit from the war. It is that if Mr. Angell had succeeded to the fullest extent in convincing them that there was not a quarter per cent. to be made out of the war, nay, that-horrible thought!-they would actually be poorer at the end of the war than at the beginning, they would have gone to war all the same.

Since Mr. Angell's argument clearly applies as much or more to civil as to international conflicts, I may perhaps be allowed to turn to civil conflicts to make clear my meaning. In this country during the last three centuries one solid thing has been done. The power of Parliament was pitted in battle against the power of the Crown, and won. As a result, for good or evil, Parliament really is stronger than the Crown to-day. The power of the mass of the people to control Parliament has been given as far as mere legislation could give it. We all know that it is a sham. And if you ask what it is that makes the difference of reality between the two cases, it is this: that men killed and were killed for the one thing and not for the other.

I have no space to develop all that I should like to say about the indirect effects of war. All I will say is this, that men do judge, and always will judge, things by the ultimate test of how they fight. The German victory of forty years ago has produced not only an astonishing expansion, industrial as well as political of Germany, but has (most disastrously, as I think) infected Europe with German ideas, especially with the idea that you make a nation strong by making its people behave like cattle. God send that I may live to see the day when victorious armies from Gaul shall shatter this illusion, burn up Prussianism with all its Police Regulations, Insurance Acts, Poll Taxes, and insults to the poor, and reassert the Republic. It will never be done in any other way.

If arbitration is ever to take the place of war, it must be backed by a corresponding array of physical force. Now the question immediately arises: Are we prepared to arm any International Tribunal with any such powers? Personally, I am not…. Turn back some fifty years to the great struggle for the emancipation of Italy. Suppose that a Hague Tribunal had then been in existence, armed with coercive powers. The dispute between Austria and Sardinia must have been referred to that tribunal. That tribunal must have been guided by existing treaties. The Treaty of Vienna was perhaps the most authoritative ever entered into by European Powers. By that treaty, Venice and Lombardy were unquestionably assigned to Austria. A just tribunal administering international law must have decided in favour of Austria, and have used the whole armed force of Europe to coerce Italy into submission. Are those Pacifists, who try at the same time to be Democrats, prepared to acquiesce in such a conclusion? Personally, I am not.

I replied as follows:

Mr. Cecil Chesterton says that the question which I have raised is this: "Should usurers go to war?"

That, of course, is not true. I have never, even by implication, put such a problem, and there is nothing in the article which he criticises, nor in any other statement of my own, that justifies it. What I have asked is whether peoples should go to war.

I should have thought it was pretty obvious that, whatever happens, usurers do not go to war: the peoples go to war, and the peoples pay, and the whole question is whether they should go on making war and paying for it. Mr. Chesterton says that if they are wise they will; I say that if they are wise they will not.

I have attempted to show that the prosperity of peoples-by which, of course, one means the diminution of poverty, better houses, soap and water, healthy children, lives prolonged, conditions sufficiently good to ensure leisure and family affection, fuller and completer lives generally-is not secured by fighting one another, but by co-operation and labour, by a better organisation of society, by improved human relationship, which, of course, can only come of better understanding of the conditions of that relationship, which better understanding means discussion, adjustment, a desire and capacity to see the point of view of the other man-of all of which war and its philosophy is the negation.

To all of this Mr. Chesterton replies: "That only concerns the Jews and the moneylenders." Again, this is not true. It concerns all of us, like all problems of our struggle with Nature. It is in part at least an economic problem, and that part of it is best stated in the more exact and precise terms that I have employed to deal with it-the term's of the market-place. But to imply that the conditions that there obtain are the affair merely of bankers and financiers, to imply that these things do not touch the lives of the mass, is simply to talk a nonsense the meaninglessness of which only escapes some of us because in these matters we happen to be very ignorant. It is not mainly usurers who suffer from bad finance and bad economics (one may suggest that they are n

ot quite so simple); it is mainly the people as a whole.

Mr. Chesterton says that we should break this "net of usury" in which the peoples are enmeshed. I agree heartily; but that net has been woven mainly by war (and that diversion of energy and attention from social management which war involves), and is, so far as the debts of the European States are concerned (so large an element of usury), almost solely the outcome of war. And if the peoples go on piling up debt, as they must if they are to go on piling up armaments (as Mr. Chesterton wants them to), giving the best of their attention and emotion to sheer physical conflict, instead of to organisation and understanding, they will merely weave that web of debt and usury still closer; it will load us more heavily and strangle us to a still greater extent. If usury is the enemy, the remedy is to fight usury. Mr. Chesterton says the remedy is for its victims to fight one another.

And you will not fight usury by hanging Rothschilds, for usury is worst where that sort of thing is resorted to. Widespread debt is the outcome of bad management and incompetence, economic or social, and only better management will remedy it. Mr. Chesterton is sure that better management is only arrived at by "killing and being killed." He really does urge this method even in civil matters. (He tells us that the power of Parliament over the Crown is real, and that of the people over Parliament a sham, "because men killed and were killed for the one, and not for the other.") It is the method of Spanish America where it is applied more frankly and logically, and where still, in many places, elections are a military affair, the questions at issue being settled by killing and being killed, instead of by the cowardly, pacifist methods current in Europe. The result gives us the really military civilisations of Venezuela, Colombia, Nicaragua, and Paraguay. And, although the English system may have many defects-I think it has-those defects exist in a still greater degree where force "settles" the matters in dispute, where the bullet replaces the ballot, and where bayonets are resorted to instead of brains. For Devonshire is better than Nicaragua. Really it is. And it would get us out of none of our troubles for one group to impose its views simply by preponderant physical force, for Mr. Asquith, for instance, in the true Castro or Zuyala manner, to announce that henceforth all critics of the Insurance Act are to be shot, and that the present Cabinet will hold office as long as it can depend upon the support of the Army. For, even if the country rose in rebellion, and fought it out and won, the successful party would (if they also believed in force) do exactly the same thing to their opponents; and so it would go on never-endingly (as it has gone on during weary centuries throughout the larger part of South America), until the two parties came once more to their senses, and agreed not to use force when they happened to be able to do so; which is our present condition. But it is the condition of England merely because the English, as a whole, have ceased to believe in Mr. Chesterton's principles; it is not yet the condition of Venezuela because the Venezuelans have not yet ceased to believe those principles, though even they are beginning to.

Mr. Chesterton says: "Men do judge, and always will judge, by the ultimate test of how they fight." The pirate who gives his blood has a better right, therefore, to the ship than the merchant (who may be a usurer!) who only gives his money. Well, that is the view which was all but universal well into the period of what, for want of a better word, we call civilisation. Not only was it the basis of all such institutions as the ordeal and duel; not only did it justify (and in the opinion of some still justifies) the wars of religion and the use of force in religious matters generally; not only was it the accepted national polity of such communities as the Vikings, the Barbary States, and the Red Indians; but it is still, unfortunately, the polity of certain European states. But the idea is a survival and-and this is the important point-an admission of failure to understand where right lies: to "fight it out" is the remedy of the boy who for the life of him cannot see who is right and who is wrong.

At ten years of age we are all quite sure that piracy is a finer calling than trade, and the pirate a finer fellow than the Shylock who owns the ship-which, indeed, he may well be. But as we grow up (which some of the best of us never do) we realise that piracy is not the best way to establish the ownership of cargoes, any more than the ordeal is the way to settle cases at law, or the rack of proving a dogma, or the Spanish American method the way to settle differences between Liberals and Conservatives.

And just as civil adjustments are made most efficiently, as they are in England (say), as distinct from South America, by a general agreement not to resort to force, so it is the English method in the international field which gives better results than that based on force. The relationship of Great Britain to Canada or Australia is preferable to the relationship of Russia to Finland or Poland, or Germany to Alsace-Lorraine. The five nations of the British Empire have, by agreement, abandoned the use of force as between themselves. Australia may do us an injury-exclude our subjects, English or Indian, and expose them to insult-but we know very well that force will not be used against her. To withhold such force is the basis of the relationship of these five nations; and, given a corresponding development of ideas, might equally well be the basis of the relationship of fifteen-about all the nations of the world who could possibly fight. The difficulties Mr. Chesterton imagines-an international tribunal deciding in favour of Austria concerning the recession of Venice and Lombardy, and summoning the forces of United Europe to coerce Italy into submission-are, of course, based on the assumption that a United Europe, having arrived at such understanding as to be able to sink its differences, would be the same kind of Europe that it is now, or was a generation ago. If European statecraft advances sufficiently to surrender the use of force against neighbouring states, it will have advanced sufficiently to surrender the use of force against unwilling provinces, as in some measure British statesmanship has already done. To raise the difficulty that Mr. Chesterton does is much the same as assuming that a court of law in San Domingo or Turkey will give the same results as a court of law in Great Britain, because the form of the mechanism is the same. And does Mr. Chesterton suggest that the war system settles these matters to perfection? That it has worked satisfactorily in Ireland and Finland, or, for the matter of that, in Albania or Macedonia?

For if Mr. Chesterton urges that killing and being killed is the way to determine the best means of governing a country, it is his business to defend the Turk, who has adopted that principle during four hundred years, not the Christians, who want to bring that method to an end and adopt another. And I would ask no better example of the utter failure of the principles that I combat and Mr. Chesterton defends than their failure in the Balkan Peninsula.

This war is due to the vile character of Turkish rule, and the Turk's rule is vile because it is based on the sword. Like Mr. Chesterton (and our pirate), the Turk believes in the right of conquest, "the ultimate test of how they fight." "The history of the Turks," says Sir Charles Elliott, "is almost exclusively a catalogue of battles." He has lived (for the most gloriously uneconomic person has to live, to follow a trade of some sort, even if it be that of theft) on tribute exacted from the Christian populations, and extorted, not in return for any work of administration, but simply because he was the stronger. And that has made his rule intolerable, and is the cause of this war.

Now, my whole thesis is that understanding, work, co-operation, adjustment, must be the basis of human society; that conquest as a means of achieving national advantage must fail; that to base your prosperity or means of livelihood, your economic system, in short, upon having more force than someone else, and exercising it against him, is an impossible form of human relationship that is bound to break down. And Mr. Chesterton says that the war in the Balkans demolishes this thesis. I do not agree with him.

The present war in the Balkans is an attempt-and happily a successful one-to bring this reign of force and conquest to an end, and that is why those of us who do not believe in military force rejoice.

The debater, more concerned with verbal consistency than realities and the establishment of sound principles, will say that this means the approval of war. It does not; it merely means the choice of the less evil of two forms of war. War has been going on in the Balkans, not for a month, but has been waged by the Turks daily against these populations for 400 years.

The Balkan peoples have now brought to an end a system of rule based simply upon the accident of force-"killing and being killed." And whether good or ill comes of this war will depend upon whether they set up a similar system or one more in consonance with pacifist principles. I believe they will choose the latter course; that is to say, they will continue to co-operate between themselves instead of fighting between themselves; they will settle differences by discussion, adjustment, not force. But if they are guided by Mr. Chesterton's principle, if each one of the Balkan nations is determined to impose its own especial point of view, to refuse all settlement by co-operation and understanding, where it can resort to force-why, in that case, the strongest (presumably Bulgaria) will start conquering the rest, start imposing government by force, and will listen to no discussion or argument; will simply, in short, take the place of the Turk in the matter, and the old weary contest will begin afresh, and we shall have the Turkish system under a new name, until that in its turn is destroyed, and the whole process begun again da capo. And if Mr. Chesterton says that this is not his philosophy, and that he would recommend the Balkan nations to come to an understanding, and co-operate together, instead of fighting one another, why does he give different counsels to the nations of Christendom as a whole? If it is well for the Balkan peoples to abandon conflict as between themselves in favour of co-operation against the common enemy, why is it ill for the other Christian peoples to abandon such conflict in favour of co-operation against their common enemy, which is wild nature and human error, ignorance and passion.

[Footnote 5: From "Everyman" to whose Editor I am indebted for permission to print my reply.]

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