( Originally Published 1932 )
THE disease from which Europe is still pering after thirteen years of peace is national selfishness with fear as its cause. That is manifested equally political and the economic sphere. former it finds expression in the demand for security by the group of which France is the most prominentand why France lays the emphasis on security it is necessary to underthing of French character, to evry Frenchman is silently but bring security in his private life, to shelter him from the blows of balance,---a bit of land, a little business, of his own, a pension or a safe income entes. The Frenchman can show rage as any one when danger has ut he is not by nature adven him a quiet life, with a modest assured by what he has saved ng, and he will pass the rest of his days well content. The same sentiment animates France as a whole in her relation to Europe. She has faced the ordeal and beaten off the foe and now she deserves the peace that comes from the consciousness that every cause of anxiety is dispelled. But it is not in fact dispelled. France remains anxious still. She has an army of over 500,000 men. Germany, her only obvious antagonist, has an army of 100,000. But France does not feel secure. The League of Nations Covenant guarantees mutual assistance to any State attacked and forced to fight against its will. That is not enough for France. By the Treaty of Locarno Britain and Italy both pledge themselves, by undertakings more specific and unequivocal than the Covenant, to come immediately to France's help if Germany attacks her. That is not enough for France. What then does France actually want ? She wanted the Geneva Protocol of 1920, which gave precision to the rather general undertakings of the Covenant, and would, if generally ratified, have pledged the States of the world to join in arms against any one of their number great or small that wantonly broke the peace, More fully discussed by M. André Siegfried in his book Les Partis en France.
That pledge is involved, a little vaguely, in the Covenant ; the Protocol made it more definite and explicit. But the Protocol was not ratified, and from France's point of view the situation was left a little worse than before. What France wanted and wants still is an international force at the disposal of the League of Nations, capable of being thrown into the field immediately against an aggressor and in defence of any State attacked. Lacking all these things France has endeavoured to make herself more secure by a series of understandings with Belgium and Poland, Czechoslovakia, Rumania and Jugoslavia, the standing armies of the bloc amounting to no fewer than 1,500,000 men, capable of expansion on mobilisation to seven or eight times that number. The justification for that policy need not be canvassed here. In fairness to France it must be recognised that she has always declared she will reduce her forces substantially' if she gets the security she asks for. But the effect of French policy is to keep Europe divided into two camps, not indeed actively hostile, for one is powerful and the other powerless, so that active hostility excluded, but into two blocs, one putting its trust in national forces in default of international guarantees, the other sullen with grievances against an inequality plainly incompatible with the implications of the treaties that ended the war.
It may be contended with justice that at any rate these preponderating armies are not intended for aggression, for the countries supporting them have all they want already, and are under no temptation to do anything but hold it. That is true, and the disarmed States no doubt in a measure realise it. But if armies alone confer security, and France with 500,000 soldiers is not secure, what is to be said of the condition of Germany with 100,000 only, flanked by France on her western frontier and France's allies, Czechoslovakia and Poland, on her eastern ? Germany no doubt has a definite motive for going to war, to regain some part of what she has lost, and France has none that is a material fact of which full account must be taken but the existing disparity in armed forces unquestionably makes for suspicion and mistrust, and frustrates perpetually the generation of that spirit of mutual confidence on which alone stable international relations can be based. The best minds in France and Germany—not merely the theorists who sit in studies and write, but the best of the practical 1politicians--genuinely want the same thing, a Europe from which the fear of war is dispelled and where trade can be peacefully developed to the benefit of all nations alike. But even to seem to sacrifice national interests for a moment for the sake of the larger achievement which if it did come to fruition would be to the highest interest of every individual State involves a risk no Government is prepared to run.
Security and sovereignty are twin gods to which statesmen burn incense daily. France has been taken as the readiest example of the nationalism threatening to ruin Europe today, but the temper of France is not essentially different from the temper of the rest of the States of the Continent, Great Britain or any other. In the matter of armaments Britain lies open to small reproach, for her strength is in her navy, and a navy is not by the nature of things an instrument of aggression. But economically Britain is little more immune from the spell of nationalism than the rest Take, simply as fictive symptom, the patriotic exhorta tion " Buy British," commended to the plc of Great Britain by the Prince of alb by Cabinet Ministers and by almost every organ of the Press. What could be more rational or desirable ? Buy British goods, even if the cost be a trifle higher, instead of French or German or Czechoslovakian or Italian.
No one is likely to challenge the wisdom or propriety of that except an odd individual or two here and there who may reflect that there is no more reason why Englishmen should buy British goods than why Frenchmen should buy French, or Czechoslovaks Czechoslovakian.
The end of the process is the collapse of that international trade by which, incidentally, Great Britain stands to profit more than any other European nation. Not, of course, the complete collapse. There will always be a certain number of commodities a country cannot produce for itself and must therefore import from abroad—coal or rubber or copper or tin but, so far as European countries are concerned, that happens to apply mainly to raw materials coming from other continents.
Kept within reasonable limits the advice to buy goods made within the country is open to no serious criticism. It is only as a mild symptom of the economic nationalism threatening to ruin Europe today that the " Buy. British " movement is a reference. The special emphasis on the purchase of British goods, moreover, came at a moment when there were special reasons why Englishmen should not send too much money abroad. But economic nationalism in its acuter manifestations is the gravest of menaces to Europe as a whole. The desperate endeavours of each nation to make itself self-sufficient, or as nearly self-sufficient as may be, spring partly from the fear of war there must be as little dependence as possible on external supplies which an outbreak of hostilities would cut off and partly from the insistence of special interests on protection for their products against competition emanating probably from some country com pelled by hard necessity to export or perish.
Germany, required by treaty to raise vast sums for the payment of reparations and capable of doing that only out of her trade ce—not that she has, in fact, proved capable of it at all—is the most obvious case.
Russia, pledged to the success of her Five Years Plan, needing machines and certain kinds of raw material to carry the plan through, can buy them only with her exports, and consequently throws exports on the market at anything they will fetch. These are only aggravated examples of the prevalent commercial conflict. The result is automatic.
Up go the tariff walls against external competition, and under that protection unnecessary wheat is grown that could better be imported, mills are built to grind corn that might far better be brought in not as corn at all but as flour ground at some already existing mill across the frontier. In consequence, there are now two mills to do the work that one has always managed com- fortably in the past. The same with all sorts of commodities, doors and windows,boots and shoes, glassware and furniture.
The means of production have been developed beyond the scope of any possible demand and the owners of them everywhere are facing ruin.
What the future of Europe will be if that process goes on unchecked who would risk is reputation by predicting ? In a world where the one hope of salvation is in large-scale production, which is possible only in large marketing-areas like the United States, Europe is indefatigably dividing itself up into sheep-pens, with the barriers round each of them growing higher every day. Economic nationalism has run mad. Sinn Fein, " Ourselves Alone," may serve well enough as rallying-cry for a nation striving to be free, but for nations striving to keep their populations employed it is folly beyond redemption. Trade, instead of being an exchange of goods for mutual benefit, becomes relentless war, with mutual destruction as its inevitable end. In country after country it may be Great Britain balancing her budget with a struggle and after agitation without precedent, it may be Hungary striving to balance hers on lines laid down by the League of Nations—the doctrine everywhere is proclaimed : " Increase exports and reduce imports." The more widely that doctrine finds acceptance the more impossible it becomes to carry it out. For each country, to reduce its imports, puts up tariff barriers against the exports another country is doing its utmost to increase. The tariffs in many cases are countered by export bounties, but that helps to ruin the country imposing them, and their immediate effect is to raise answering barriers higher still. And so the unemployed figures mount—in Great Britain in the winter of 1931-32, 2,600,000 ; in Germany, 5,000,000 ; in Italy, 800,000 ; in France, 2,800,000. Russia alone claims to have all her population at work, and M. Litvinoff, when it is proposed at Geneva to form a committee of experts on unemployment and put a Russian on it, observes sardonically that as there is no unemployment in Russia he fears his country has no expert knowledge on the subject to contribute.
Europe in the narrow self-centredness of its several units, and the lack of any consciousness that to achieve the good of all is the shortest way to achieving the good of each, reproduces on a larger scale symptoms familiar enough in the national society of a particular country for example, Great Britain. National prosperity, some reliable advisers at any rate affirm, is best achieved by steady expenditure, wisely conceived of course, by the individual. That will give employment. The hitherto unemployed will acquire a new purchasing-power themselves.
Money will circulate. The country will recover. Taxes will diminish. Every one will be better off. That may all be true (pace the other school of advisers who hold that money saved and entrusted to the banks will be employed ultimately to better advantage still), but the individual mistrusts the counsel. To secure his own good by the roundabout method of securing first the good of all is too much a venture of faith. If be spends his money it will be gone when he needs it. If he puts it in the bank the bank will deliver it up at call though a German Dr Austrian can be none too sure of that. So he spends as little instead of as much as possible,which means that he gives as little employment as possible, unless it is indeed true that the banks use his money as well for him as he would use it for himself (which is very doubtful in a time of contracting demand when loans are not needed for such purposes as factory expansion or new construction). The resemblance to the behaviour of the average European State, with its fatal economic die of " Ourselves First," fallaciously supposed to be synonymous with " Safety Fust," is palpable.
There is no subject on which the average Rican holds stronger views than on thissubject. on this continent, he observes with perfed justice, is an area approximately the size of Europe, 3,000 miles across from east to west, 2,500 from north to south, divided into forty-eight States forty-nine if you count customs barrier to intercept the free flow of from was to Detroit, from San Francisco to Philadelphia. Whereas Europe -ape with its thirty States, some of them half the size of Ohio—is covered from end to end with a network of customs barriers so close-meshed that you can hardly travel a couple of hundred miles from any given point without coming up against some frontier or other. The comparison, of course, is completely misleading. There is no true resemblance between a State of the American Union and a European State at all. To put the matter at its briefest, one is a completely independent unit of government, consecrated usually by the tradition of centuries, with all their memories of battle and suffering, of nation-builders and other remembered heroes; the other is no more than a convenient territorial division. The original thirteen colonies on the Atlantic seaboard were in a more definite sense separate entities, but even they were merely subordinate parts of Great Britain till such time as they became instead subordinate parts of the American Union. They never developed the attributes, good and bad, of sovereign States (except momentarily during the War of Independence itself). The States of Europe did, and so essential an attribute of sovereignty is a tariff system considered that when the new States at came into t to being as result of the war were urged at the Paris Conference of 1919 to forbear from raising tariff barriers against one another they asked in indignation why they alone should be called on to limit their independence by restrictions no already established State had any thought of accepting.
The twentieth century, it has been said, is the age of internationalism. That is true politically, at any rate by comparison with the nineteenth. The best evidence of its truth is the League of Nations and other less elaborately organised associations of States like the Pan-American Union. In the political sphere nations have actually been willing to make real sacrifices of sovereignty, debarring themselves deliberately from following certain courses of action and binding themselves in certain contingencies to follow others. But economically there has been a definite throw-back to nationalism. Nowhere is that more conspicuous than in Europe, and there is no clearer evidence of it than in the changed estimate it is necessary to put on the economic work of the League of Nations. Five years ago the economic side was by common consent the most valuable of all. Austria had been saved by the League from complete financial break- down, and after Austria Hungary, and after Hungary Bulgaria. The Greek Refugee Settlement Scheme was being carried out with complete success. Smaller countries like Estonia had been given the help they needed at the moment they needed it. The moment seemed auspicious in every way for the Economic Conference of 1927. All States sent delegates to it, including the two great non-members of the League, the United States and Soviet Russia. Its purpose was, not to pass binding resolutions, but to lay down, for the guidance of all, principles and rules of life, as the Brussels Financial. Conference had done so successfully seven years before in another sphere.
At the conference itself all expectations were fulfilled. The right course for the world, and Europe in particular, was clear to all, and the delegates were unanimous (except for the abstention of the Soviet representatives) in defining and recommending it. " The time," it was declared in a passage that concentrated the universal conviction of the delegates, " has come to put an end to the increase in tariffs and to move in the opposite direction?' That was a declaration in favour not of no tariffs but of moderate tariffs, not of free trade but of freer trade. But what has come of it ?
Every nation acknowledges its truth and forthwith proceeds in practice to disregard it.
In 1929 a concerted attempt to secure what was called a tariff truce —a temporary respite from further tariff increases, so as to give time for systematic negotiations making for actual tariff reductions—broke down for lack of the necessary support. A convention designed to put an end to the absolute prohibitions imposed by various States on the import or export of particular commodities failed to get sufficient ratifications to bring it into general operation. Certain countries have half their frontiers hermetically sealed to commerce of any kind.
There are no commercial dealings between Poland and Lithuania and next to none between Poland and Germany in the former case, which is less important, because of a political quarrel, in the latter because of a commercial war which broke out in 1925 and remained still truceless at the end of 1931.
Europe has swung back, in part deliberately--, in part through the play of forces her states-- men are not competent to resist, into anmimic nationalism from which no State dares to break. away, though all of them realise that its end is ruin. The League no doubt has done something to check the disastrous tendency, Without the League, that is to say, things would be worse than they are.
And so far as the League has failed the League itself is not to blame. It is, after all, no more than an association of individual States, and its policy must be what those States decide it shall be. Moreover, when the policy has been formulated (as it was at the Economic Conference of 1927) it rests with the States themselves to put it into practice. And the common rule in the economic sphere to-day is for the League to point out the right road and for the Governments whose delegates have helped it to do that to turn their footsteps resolutely into the wrong one.