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The New International, February 1943

Frances Grey

Books in Review

A Bourgeois Mirage


From New International, Vol. IX No. 2, February 1943, pp. 62–63.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Plans for World Peace Through Six Centuries
by Sylvester John Hemleben
University of Chicago Press; January 1943; 227 pages; $2.50

Now that the world bourgeois politicians are wracking their brains for peace plans, this little volume comes in handy as a guide to the principle reasons for the failure of previous plans.

These plans vary from that of Dante for a world state led by an all-powerful emperor, who would be comparable to God in the city of Heaven, to the more elaborate plans of Cruci and Henry IV in the seventeenth century, providing for an international assembly to settle disputes among nations. Mr. Hemleben also describes the Holy Alliance and the Concert of Europe of the nineteenth century and the various proposals for international courts of arbitration of the twentieth century. In the main, these plans all proposed some form of a league of nations with a court to settle disputes among nations and a council to discuss and solve problems of international law, commerce and politics.

They were proposed by men like Erasmus, Cardinal Wolsay, William Penn, Immanuel Kant, William Ladd, Johann Bluntschli and James Lorimer. However, the majority of these never were put into effect, but those that were, all failed. The alliances of “Leagues of Nations” were instruments of oppression used by the stronger nations against the weaker. Despite the failures extending over several centuries, the bourgeois politicians of decadent capitalism proceeded to organize the now defunct League of Nations.

All previous plans were based on the theory that kings and ministers were responsible for wars. Again, all proposed to enforce the measures of their leagues by armed force, thus insuring a continuation of war as a social policy. Thirdly, they sought to convince kings that war was wrong by rational, logical arguments and that it didn’t pay – an ancient version of the modern theory that war in unprofitable. What they all failed to grasp is that most wars are fought for good, sound economic reasons. For the merchant class of the Middle Ages, the capitalist class of the nineteenth century and the imperialists of today war was the means by which important economic and commercial advantages were gained. No plan dedicated to maintaining the status quo in Europe or in any part of the world could have succeeded because it ignored the whole process of international capitalist development and expansion which swept aside all plans for peace.

However, in all due fairness to these men it must be said that many of them were the authors of proposals and concepts way ahead of their times. For instance, Erasmus in the sixteenth century pointed out that a previous plan for peace failed because “certain persons” who profit by war made the realization of the plan impossible. He also maintained that wars should not be declared by heads of governments “but by the full and unanimous consent of the whole people.” Crucé, in the seventeenth century, recognized the importance of the development of commerce and industry in securing peace. He also pointed out that hostilities between nationalities are not matters of nature and reason but are only political. In turn, Jeremy Bentham, in 1843, proposed that nations should renounce their colonies and disarm. He also pointed out the evils of secret diplomacy and that diplomats resort to it because they fear the “power of public opinion.” Kant also asserted that wars should be voted on by the people and therefore the governments of all the nations of the world should be republics.

Mr. Hemleben, in summing up all these plans, says that, in practice, all the schemes devised to settle disputes and maintain peace, such as arbitration and economic sanctions, failed because the system of alliances and the concept of the balance of power gave rise to secret diplomacy and “fostered the growth of suspicion, distrust and fear.” In a very apologetic way, he has to admit that “the idea (of a union to maintain peace) was sound, but it was nullified in large part by a philosophy which gave full vent to exaggerated nationalism, to selfish imperialism and to almost unbridled militarism.”

But don’t be misled. Mr. Hemleben isn’t one of your harebrained radicals who thinks that wars can be eliminated as a way of life only by the destruction of capitalism. Horrors, no! Being the head of the Department of History and Social Studies at Fordham University he comes forth with the only solution we could expect him to have. That is that the state must be subject not only to the positive law of treaties, customs, usages, etc., but also to “the moral law of nature, which is divine in its origin ... International conduct must be ruled by ethical standards. If permanent peace is to be attained, men must turn to God for guidance and strength.” And so they have turned for centuries and so we have had war for centuries.

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Last updated on 13 February 2015