The idea of peace
Added: 2017-10-30
Added: 2017-10-30
Idea pokoju


First edition: „Czas”, 4 kwietnia 1926, nr 78.



The idea of how to keep peace forever, or at least for long, has been giving the most noble of thinkers sleepless nights for many centuries. It consumed Dante1 in 1313, driving him to visualise a solution that involved establishing an immense Christian federation with a Roman “imperator” at the head. The monarch would have been omnipotent and rule the federation, he would have administered justice to all Christian states in the name of God while accountable to God alone. This was a utopian thought but one of those that can germinate further underground. At the outset of the 17th century, the idea was revived by Henry IV of France2, who developed a more tangible plan of the Christian republic, composed of 15 European states (Excluding Moscow and Turkey) and ruled by the “Highest Council” of several dozen (60) delegates. His untimely death prevented his attempts – which would have likely been futile anyway – to convince Europe to his “grand plan”; however, the thought has continued to germinate in people’s minds. It was encouraged and analysed by the 17th and 18th century thinkers, Grotius and Leibniz, Saint-Pierre and our Staszic, it was critically and sceptically formulated by Kant, it was envisaged by Pushkin alongside Mickiewicz in Saint Petersburg. How abundant were even finer minds and more exquisite visions throughout the 19th century Europe. Nearly all joined them in dreaming of the moment when they end wars and unite into one great family.

Efforts began in the mid-19th century to put this utopia of poets and philosophers into practice. Peace leagues were formed (1867) to propagate this idea. International law was perfected, inter-parliamentary alliances were established, demands were made to curb armaments, develop arbitration courts, and by all means seek ways to prevent or at least impede wars in the near future. But the militant manner of peacekeeping had its triumphs in the years that began with invading Schleswig (1864-1914),3 while the idea of war as a reviving factor for humankind found ardent supporters (Moltke),4 and it was likely that the mounting contrasts in Europe would be vented in the form of a world war.

It was finally the Great War and its aftermath that deeply shook minds and brought the subject of peacemaking back to the fore. The war turned out to be neither the school of patriotism nor the massive ethic effort or the purifying storm that war apologists had deemed it to be. Quite the contrary, not only did it destroy millions of human lives and cultural achievements, but it also brought deep moral decline and intensified mutual hatred. In Europe, which was its main arena, it unleashed three immense threats: the spectre of Bolshevism, racial antagonisms (concerning yellow and black races), and finally economic and political Balkanisation. Another war like this and Europe will become a barbarian desert.



These major threats provoked a turnabout in the approach to the need of ceasing warfare – not only among philosophers and theorists, or public opinion, but also political practitioners. As war drew to an end, voices could be heard from Socialist parties (most notably English Labour Party) urgently calling for the upcoming conference to definitively eliminate supremacy of violence and prevent all future wars. It was first imagined as fairly simple, almost just as Henry IV had visualised it three hundred years back, that a peace league would be formed and a tribunal established to settle international disputes, ensuring its verdicts would be jointly enforced, which would render wars redundant. So was the thought of permanent peace conceived by Woodrow Wilson,5 who arrived in Paris with a desire to become the arbitrator of a feuding world and the builder of new relations in which no room for warfare would be left.

There is no need to remind how Wilson, at the conference in Versailles, imposed his plan but also contributed to its fiasco. The American society delivered the strongest blow to the plan by refusing US membership in the League of Nations set up by Wilson. The absence of Germany and Russia, the two greatest European powers defeated in the war was another reason why Wilson’s entity could not thrive. A bad system of the League Council, fussiness of all its members (including England) over all its resolutions, concerns of lesser states unrepresented in the Council, lack of the executive or moral strength of the entire organisation – these are the reasons behind the ongoing tensions and sometimes fierce clashes within the League; this is also why it could do so little for the cause of securing peace to this day. Its activity has proved secondary in this field; it disappointed even its keen supporters, which Europe initially had aplenty. Whenever it tried to go beyond opium trade issues or anti-epidemic measures, beyond what is called intellectual cooperation of nations, beyond petty local quarrels and theoretical disputes, its actions failed. Most notable failures include the fiasco of the Geneva Protocol,6 thwarted by England, and the fiasco of Germany in joining the League, still fresh in our memory.



Scepticism, which has recently clouded the vision of permanent peace being ensured by the League, is by no means tantamount to abandoning the belief that peace is possible. Long-term peacekeeping is a condition of not only further development but also the very existence of our culture. If we are not to share the fate of the desert Mesopotamia and degenerate Roman Empire, we must make peace for ourselves, our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. And if something is necessary, it must also be possible.

However, as it transpires, peacekeeping is not an easy thing to be done at one go. It branches into many issues, each posing different difficulties to be tackled in different ways. The current fiasco of the League results from the fact that a single tool was sought to address manifold problems, and no such tool proved suitable for any.

The League has utterly failed when it comes to the general issue of disarmament. The only positive step forward in this field was the Washington Conference, which at least partly limited naval armaments, but it was organised outside the League. There are also no chances to solve a much more important problem of land armaments within the League. All arrangements made by the League in this respect raise scepticism. If this issue is to ever go beyond the stage of questionnaires, surveys and preliminary studies, it will probably only progress insofar as directly interested neighbouring countries regulate it with individual agreements. The option that countries will otherwise willingly consent to the control and reduction of their weaponry seems ruled out.

It is also unlikely for the League to play any major role in solving problems connected with the security of present territorial borders of each country. The most important attempt to actually secure these borders – the Locarno Treaties7 – was made outside the League by specific stakeholders. The remaining countries will probably follow suit and the League will only supervise regional agreements. Another task essential for world peace, conciliation and amicable settlement of disputes (arbitration) in cases of misunderstandings arising between states, cannot be successfully delivered by the League. The United States, which have eagerly resorted to arbitration for sixty years (Alabama Claims8), evade submitting their disputes to the League’s judgement or conciliation. Likewise, League member states will not take this course in any important business, despite being obliged to do so under the Covenant of the League, Article 12-17. Only bespoke conventions between stakeholder countries may spread arbitration and conciliation. A number of European countries have already concluded such tailored conventions and this is probably where future lies.

The same rule applies to regulating colonial issues, which remain the primary bone of contention between world powers (because colonies are providers of raw materials and recipients of goods). This issue once lied in the hands of the League (1919), but it was mishandled dismally, in spite of hopes expressed in Article 22 of the Covenant. Instead, this bred difficulties and even caused exotic wars that have severely affected today’s world. The question of mandates9 will also need undergo revision, as demanded by Germany and Italy as well as colonial peoples. Otherwise the embers of war will continue to glow. But does anyone believe the League will tackle this problem? Bespoke deals on these matters should rather be expected, like the treaty on Pacific of 1921.10

Another point is ethnic minorities. To address this matter by imposing treaties on selected countries and submitting them to the League’s control proved an erroneous idea. The inherent injustice in this method – why should German minorities in Poland be under protection of the League, while in Italy they are not? – as well as the possibility of ethnic conflicts being incited domestically, ensuing from the League’s control, sufficiently explain why this idea was wrong. The issue of minorities is undoubtedly one of potential hotbeds of new wars, but when trying to prevent them, we should take the course of tailored conventions between the involved states and a course of strict reciprocity.

Finally, the perhaps most important issue for maintaining permanent peace: the issue of world economy. Everything is driven to promote it while, at the same time, everything seems to hinder it. Developing customs borders, curbing the movement of people and goods, medieval-style neomercantilism (not Colbertian),11 impossibility to settle debts, the ruin of currencies in most states, impossibility to establish blocs and concerns within Europe, reluctance to internationally share workload between industrial and agricultural countries – these are the largest obstacles on the way to regulating world economic life in a uniform and peaceful fashion. Eyes turn to America, which has the ability and responsibility to become involved in an initiative for a global economic agreement that would gradually help each civilised country to find its place under the sun. The League of Nations can neither manage this task nor even duly prepare it.



I have touched upon only a few important aspects of the issue of peacemaking but even they are enough to illustrate a complex web of interests difficult to untangle. The problem cannot be solved by one action or quickly. Each aspect needs to be individually dealt with, slowly and with patience. It seems most likely that each can be solved by means of bespoke deals between directly involved parties rather than under pressure from the League.

This is a natural conclusion given that statehood, by definition, includes state’s sovereignty (authority and independence). Although the concept of sovereignty has been undermined by the science of recent years (Kelsen12), it has never been invalidated. The time is not yet ripe for a supra-sovereign institution, which the League threatens to be, despite all circumstances. This entity has been created prematurely and has functioned amid an atmosphere of general distrust, hence its inefficiency. Only agreements struck by countries on their own account, based on equality and reciprocity, have so far proved practical when seeking peace. To perfect and popularise these agreements is a task for the nearest future.

Only when mutual agreements pave the way for dealing with sensitive matters that divide nations, pave it both in people’s minds and practical life, the time perhaps will come for crowning the work of many generations with some form of a worldwide and truly efficient League of Nations. It will then top a strongly-founded construction, while today’s League of Nations appears to be a building with no cornerstones. It will be a common belief that every war is a concern of the entire world and that no one is allowed to take up arms by themselves. However, this outcome must be achieved through evolution rather than a leap from Bismarck13 and Moltke to the utopias of Dante, Henry IV and Wilson. Utopias can be and should be made real, even nowadays – but instead of taking a leap, one must take the stairs. No progress in the world has ever been made otherwise. The more zealous an advocate of pacifism one is, and the more one wants to put this idea into practice, the more one must support all step-by-step efforts to materialise it. Because such efforts are most likely to succeed.





1               Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) – Italian poet, philosopher and politician, author of e.g. the Divine Comedy.

2              Henry of Navarre (1553-1610) – king of Navarre, from 1589 king of France, first of the Bourbon dynasty. One of the great leaders of French Protestants in religious wars that lasted over thirty years. He converted to Catholicism prior to his ascent to the throne (he is believed to have said “Paris is worth a mass.”). He issued the tolerant Edict of Nantes in 1598.

3              Schleswig was a German duchy that had remained in personal union with Denmark since the 15th century. In 1864, Bismarck’s Prussia used the opportunity of Denmark’s transition of the throne to seize the territory with support from Austrian armies.

4              Helmuth Karl Bernhard von Moltke (1800-1891) – Prussian field marshal, reformer of Prussian army, commander at victorious wars with Denmark (1864), Austria (1866) and France (1871). He is considered the creator of modern military strategy.

5              Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) – US president, one of the first American political scientists. Author of Wilson's Fourteen Points (1918) – a programme to make Europe more just and thus ensure peace. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1919 for his efforts in founding the League of Nations.

6              Geneva Protocol (1924) – a convention signed by all members of the League of Nations that rendered war illegal as a means of solving international conflicts, provided for compulsory arbitration and automatic help for the country under attack. Adopted by left-wing governments of Great Britain and France but never ratified by Great Britain as the Labour party lost snap elections in the same year.

7              Locarno Treaties (1925) – an agreement between selected members of the League of Nations and Germany, in which the latter acceded to respecting the inviolability of German-Belgian and Franco-German borders in exchange for the admission of Germany to the League of Nations and a seat in its Council (Germany refused to make this commitment with regard to their borders with Poland and Czechoslovakia). Germany revoked the Locarno Treaties in 1936.

8              Alabama Claims – demands put forward by the US government concerning the involvement of British-built ships (most famous of which was CSS Alabama) fighting for the Confederates in the American civil war (1861-1865). The disputing parties reached no agreement but consented to international arbitration in the Treaty of Washington (1871). The arbitration commission in Geneva in 1872 rejected the American claims regarding indirect consequences of Confederate fleet’s actions but endorsed the American demand that Great Britain should pay damages for direct losses. The solution was accepted by both sides of the feud.

9              Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations stipulated that colonising states have authorisation (mandate) to provide guardianship on behalf of the League over territories “which are inhabited by peoples not yet able to stand by themselves under the strenuous conditions of the modern world.” The mandate was envisaged to pursue the interest of local residents as “the well-being and development of such peoples form a sacred trust of civilisation.”

10             Between 12 November 1921 and 6 February 1922, an international conference was organised in Washington to regulate the situation in the Far East and the Pacific, and address naval armaments. Its major conclusions were expressed in the Washington Naval Treaty (signed 6 February 1922) imposing tonnage limits and proportions between the naval fleets of the USA, Great Britain, Japan, France and Italy. In December 1921, the so-called Four-Power Treaty was finalised between the USA, Japan, France and Great Britain, which all gave mutual guarantees.

11              Neomercantilism – a policy that echoed mercantilism after World Wars I and II inasmuch as it stipulated protecting domestic production from foreign competition by forming customs barriers, implementing transit bans and monetary restrictions. Here used in a pejorative sense, as opposed to the 17th-century mercantilism of Jean Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683), French politician, close aide to Louis XIV, who above all promoted economic development and export production.

12             Hans Kelsen (1881-1973) – Austrian jurist and legal philosopher, one of the most renowned exponents of normativism, author of the “pure theory of law.” He wrote: Die Staatslehre des Dante Alighieri (1905), Hauptprobleme der Staatsrechtslehre (1911), Vom Wesen und Wert der Demokratie (1920), Die philosophischen Grundlagen der Naturrechtslehre und des Rechtspositivismus (1928), Wer soll der Hüter der Verfassung sein? (1931), Reine Rechtslehre (1934).

13             Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898) – Prussian-German statesman, Prussia's envoy to the Diet of the German Confederation in Frankfurt, Prussia's ambassador to Russia and to France. As Minister President of Prussia, he secured Prussia’s hegemony in Germany (victorious war against Austria, 1866). The victory over France (1871) enabled him to unite Germany, after which Bismarck became the first Chancellor of the emergent German Empire.

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