‘No substitute for free nations’

No Substitute for Free Nations – Editorial, Jan 30, 1919

“Beaten down by facts and the reasoning that is based upon them, President Wilson is retiring as gracefully as possible from his untenable position on the question of the league of nations. The supreme peace council is helping him to “save his face” by outlining a so-called league of nations, which is as different from his original proposal as day is from night. The league as now agreed upon will be nothing more than an international association, without power. Sovereign nations like the United States will remain sovereign, determining for themselves, absolutely without interference, upon such course of action at any time as seems best to them. The world is merely to have another advisory, statistical, rhetorical headquarters. President Wilson’s original league of nations, the United States of the World, armed with military and naval power, and bound to suppress any nation that should dare to disturb the world’s peace, has gone glimmering into the shadows of Never-Never land.

It is well. There should not be any league of nations on the original plan. It is in its essence internationalism, destructive of nations, and therefore dangerously resembling bolshevism. In order to live such a league of nations would have had to draw its strength from the nations, and therefore each nation would have been left weaker than before. No nation’s peculiar problems could have been solved by itself alone, but would have been passed upon also by other nations, perhaps secret enemies.

The hard facts which have wrecked the ideal supernation are these: The civilized peoples of Europe have just saved themselves from slavery by the exercise of their strength organized in separate distinct nations. These nations are far from perfect organizations, but they are the best working systems yet devised by man for making his life, liberty, and welfare reasonably secure. By grouping themselves in nations, people of the same blood and sympathy are able to combine their individual strength in fairly effective cooperation. Autocracy decreed that there should be only one nation; bolshevism decrees that there shall be no nations. The free and civilized peoples beat one of their assailants by sticking to the plan of fighting by nations. The fight with the other assailant is now beginning.

The logical deductions from the foregoing facts are these: Governments organized and maintained by free peoples are effective barriers against the tyranny of both autocrats and anarchists. Any project which aims at weakening free nations is therefore dangerous, if not fatal, to liberty. A league of nations acting as a substitute for free nations is an experiment. If not powerful, it cannot prevail; and if powerful it must derive its power from free nations, thereby weakening their individual strength. Free peoples cooperate within a nation, but whether they would cooperate in a universal league of nations is doubtful, for this reason: In a nation all treason is purged, but in a league there may be traitor nations. Racial differences form barriers which are not removed by formal compacts, and different standards of living form economic obstacles which no league can surmount.

Nations must determine their own standards of living according to their ability. In a certain sense every nation is perpetually at war with other nations, with offensive and defensive economic weapons. Since the proposed league of nations was essentially a project to deprive individual nations of these weapons, it was an attack upon them. They resisted the destructive effect of direct attack by autocracy. They are resisting the destructive effect of indirect attack which would disarm them. They will resist the destructive effect of direct attack by bolshevism, or go down in universal anarchy.

In the oncoming war between liberty and anarchy there is no other plan which takes the place of organized nations acting in harmony according to the exigencies of the hour. If civilization is to be saved, it will be saved by free nations, not by a substitute.”

Washington Post, 30 January, 1919

The editorial writer displays a great deal more common sense and savvy than today’s crop of people. And it’s hard to imagine that the Washington Post would argue for nationalism — and not watered-down civic nationalism. Notice where he refers to nations of people connected by the ‘same blood and sympathy.’

And the writer was prescient to mention the oncoming conflict: liberty vs. anarchy.

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