Democracy Is Stronger
IF ONLY WE KNEW IT
By COUNT CARLO SFORZA, Carnegie Visiting Professor of International Relations at Union College
Delivered at Union College, November 28, 1940
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 180-181.
THE new element—half material, half psychological—which has added unexpected forms to our political and international struggles is propaganda. Never in history had publicity become such a determining weapon. It is through the technical perfection achieved by political publicity that the invention of a Bolshevist Spain (which never existed) induced the leading classes of two proud and old nations, England and France, to accept almost gladly the first of their defeats—the Nazi-Fascist invasion of Spain. It is through the same method that French and British high circles were brought to applaud as a victory their second defeat—the Munich agreement.
One realizes how important it has been that the first of European dictators has been a newspaper-man; only one thing he knew, but he knew it well: the publicity part of his profession. It is this man that first discovered the basic maxim of Totalitarianism in this standardized world of ours: "A lie is a lie when it is timidly expressed; a lie remains sometimes a lie when it is repeated only a hundred times; a lie always becomes a truth when it is repeated thousands of times."
The applications of this principle have been wonderful, even in this country; for instance when some honest Americans have been induced to believe and to say that the dictatorial regimes have serious popular backing in their own countries.
If it is so, one wonders why the dictators do not give freedom of opinion to their press and freedom of vote totheir subjects, and why they have suppressed even fake elections for civic magistrates so dear to the hearts of the Italians since the XIIIth century; why, in Germany, the pick of the Nazi youth are taken away from their families, trained in special mysterious schools and, renouncing all ties of blood and kin, brought up in blind devotion to a supposedly infallible Fuhrer—with not a single thought of their own.
The dictators shout their confidence in their blinded masses; in reality they are not so sure. They shout because they are afraid. Is it not a fact that as soon as hundreds of thousands of Italians have been let out of the great Fascist prison, they have shown their minds, in Albania and Greece, by refusing to fight against a small nation whose freedom had been dear to our Italian fathers? Indeed, not only had the poets of our Risorgimento sung, like Byron, the independence of Greece, but many heroic Italian volunteers went all through the XIXth century to fight and die for Hellenic independence, which means for the same ideals that inspired the six hundred thousand Italians who gave their lives for a free Italy in the first World War.
I have been one of them; I know what they thought. They oped to make democracy safe for Italy, for the world. We were wrong, all of us, if we thought that Democracy is a stable place to reach and to live in, comfortably. The truth is just the contrary. Democracy is a constant creation which each generation must deserve and fight for. Democracy is in front of us, not behind us, even for America.
That is why no desertions, no defeats, no disasters prove anything.
But have we really been confronted by essential defeats and disasters of Democracy?
Many pragmatists believe so, and some of them already bow a smiling approval to prospective masters of tomorrow. In reality, even contemporary European history, tragic as it is, proves that they are wrong. Why? Because the only conclusive argument against Democracy would be the existence of some free nation having been converted to accept Totalitarianism. No such nation exists. It is only through violence that they have been subjected to Totalitarianism, all of them: Russia, Italy, Germany, Spain, France.
I alluded already to Italy; but what of France, the latest victim of dictators and traitors? I have lived in France most of the last three years, and I may assure you that the immense majority of the French think only of the day when they will get rid of invaders and of would-be dictators.
Today, the dictators—inventing a new psychological trick—try to make us believe that they are creating a "new order" in Europe, a new economic order which the Fifth Columns might hail as an improvement on the Europe of yesterday, stupidly divided by customs walls and by national hatreds. But the truth is that although this time propaganda and Fifth Columns may rely on blood and terror there is not one example of any nation wishing to participate in the newly advertised Nazi "order". All the peoples of Europe refuse to join a system based on hatred of Democracy. When it happens, as now in France, that certain leaders declare themselves ready to collaborate with Nazism, all their compatriots know what they are,—traitors. But the dictators have won so many victories through propaganda—from the conquest of Spain to the invasion of France—that they still continue in all the democratic countries their constant secret work of demoralization.
This work takes the most varied forms, as when, in this country, an exquisite master of English style, misled by sentimental emotions, shows in Totalitarianism one of the "Waves of the Future", one of the new political philosophies which the free nations should try to understand. No, Nazism and Fascism have no philosophy; they are based onpragmatic theories which change from day to day—as their crusades against Stalin and their successive alliances with Stalin should prove to everybody. Opportunism, gangsterism, systematic cheating will never form a philosophy.
But American Democracy has in its bosom more dangerous enemies than writers ready to compromise with dictators. This enemy is Complacency. Complacency is almost as dangerous as Fifth Columnism. To take only one example, learned economists begin to whisper that, after all, Totalitarianism, once master of Europe, would be so busy in organizing the old world that the United States would have all the time it needs to become supreme in this new hemisphere, from Canada to Patagonia.
It is not so, simply because history is mainly made by passions, not by interests,—a thing certain economists rarely understand.
Those who believe that a victorious totalitarianism would not undertake to impose itself on this continent do not realize that for the dictators it is a question of life and death to have all the great democracies destroyed, all of them.
The dictators would never feel safe as long as the enslaved nations—Italians and French, Dutch, Belgians and Norwegians, Spaniards and Czechs—were able to point to a great country still free,—especially if this country were more or less prosperous. In the dictators' eyes the worst crime of a democracy is merely the fact of existing, of existing in an atmosphere of freedom.
But, on the other hand, a great democracy is not worthy of her past, not worthy of her future, if she does not realize an old law of history, and a new one.
The new law is: there is no more place for isolation in a world, all the parts of which become more and more interdependent; just as there is no place for a free nation in a world of slaves.
The old law is: the riches, the gold, the economic possibilities of a powerful nation may become instruments of decadence, of intellectual and political decadence (as has happened with great empires like Rome and Venice), if they are not constantly used in the service of the ideals that first made the moral greatness of the nation.