E. Belfort Bax August 1912
Source: New Age, 1 August 1912, p. 320-321;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.
Like all moral persons, Socialists are sentimentalists. All morality is based upon feeling or sentiment. Sentimentalism, as the term is commonly used, simply means the moral sentiment with which the speaker who uses the word is out of sympathy. It is not, of course, to be denied that there are unsentimental persons in the world. MM. Bonnot and Garnier, of recent French police fame, were undoubtedly untainted by sentimentalism of any sort. But the Socialist as said, like the moral being that he is, is a thorough-going sentimentalist. The iniquity of the present system of society, of the oppression of weaker nations by stronger, the horrors of war, are things that touch him profoundly. They are for him things that matter. On the other hand there are pieces of sentimentality that usually do not stir the fibre in his composition. Among these latter is the sentiment of nationality, commonly termed patriotism. The fact of whether his own nationality gets the better or the worst of it, morally or materially, in its struggle with the State system of another country, leaves him cold. National or imperial glory, prestige, honour, etc., are usually for him phrases expressive of the most mawkish of sentimental twaddle. They represent to his thinking a slavish and artificial attitude of mind. His contempt for them is deepened by the evidence he has that the sentiment evoked by them is almost invariably, in the present day, the manufactured product of commercial and financial interests.
In accordance with this view the whole diplomatic machinery of inter-State relations embodied in the Chancelleries of the Great Powers is the enemy to be destroyed. The abolition of secret diplomacy and the democratising of inter-State relations will be the first step in that internationalism, which is the political god of modern Socialism. With this transformation in the inter-Governmental relations of modern States the whole of Foreign Policy, as we understand it to-day, must go by the board. The intrigues of diplomats, behind which are to-day the great financial interests of the world, just as in former days there were the great dynastic interests, of the world, cannot exist in the daylight of publicity. Bismarck, I believe, on one occasion, replied to a demand of the Social-Democrats and Progressists of the Reichstag, that his diplomatic correspondence should be laid before the Imperial Legislature, that that would only mean that he would have to write two despatches instead of one, the first for the Chancellery of the Power concerned, and the second for the edification of the Reichstag. The implication was of course, that inter-State relations could only be carried on through the customary secret diplomatic channels. This is undoubtedly true, if the end and aim of all foreign policy is to continue to be, as it has been and as it is at present, the furtherance of the interests of the dominant financial and bureaucratic rings and cliques in the various countries of the civilised world. For the fall of the present system of secret diplomacy means the end of capitalism as a systematic factor in international affairs. It means the destruction of the direct political power of the great financial rings. By this it is not meant to imply, of course, that that power will entirely disappear, but its most powerful organ would be gone. The direct and uncontrolled facility of making peace and war and deciding the destiny of States would be taken from it. The masses of the various countries would for the first time have something to say in their foreign as well as in their domestic policies.
As it is at present public opinion is excited on a question of Foreign Policy and is worked up for or against any other State exactly as it suits the interests of the Foreign Office and of the financial clique concerned in the particular question in dispute. Were foreign affairs taken out of the hands of the present diplomatic bureaucracy and made subject to democratic control, powerful financial and commercial interests might still, by means of public speeches and by their control of influential organs of the Press, fan the spark of Jingoism, always latent in the present-day public opinion, into a flame, but the fulcrum it now has in the operations of secret diplomacy being gone, its efforts would be less concentrated if less effective.
The opinion is steadily gaining ground among political thinkers of the present day that the world will never again see a war between any two first-class Powers. Of course, there are many fire-eating bounders (many of whom have never smelt powder in their lives) who make the wish the father to the thought, who will affect to scorn this view and will trot out stale claptrap about war and national rivalry springing from eternal qualities in human nature and the like. But, nevertheless, as above said, the conviction is slowly but surely growing among thoughtful observers of the signs of the times that we have seen almost, if not quite, the last of war among the greater Powers. This does not mean, of course, that all war is likely to come to an end in the immediate future. There remain weaker States inadequately safeguarded by any first-class Power or combination of such Powers which may at any time be swallowed up. More than all, there are backward, barbaric, and savage peoples outside the range of the modern capitalist world which remain to be absorbed into it on the first convenient opportunity by one or other of the leading capitalist States. Given the continuance of the capitalist system these colonial wars must continue also until the process of the absorption of all the outlying territories of the world into the system of modern civilised capitalism is finally completed. At the present rate of progress in this direction it can hardly require many generations before such is the case. Then it is obvious war would die a natural death even under capitalistic conditions. Meanwhile the policy of Social Democracy is not merely the prevention of any possible conflict calculated to endanger peace among the leading States of modern civilisation themselves, but also the checking of that so-called colonial expansion by which capitalism, with a true instinct, seeks to prolong its life and without which it must sooner, rather than later, succumb before the forces of Socialism. In order to make its voice heard effectively, Social Democracy inexorably demands the complete abolition of the modern diplomatic system and its bureaucracy.