SOVEREIGNTY IS A RELATIVE TERM
By AMOS J. PEASLEE, Lawyer
Delivered before the Phi Beta Kappa Association, Swarthmore College, May 30, 1943
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. IX, pp. 647-650.
ON a sabbath evening in a Quaker Meeting House at a function sponsored by the Learned Society of Phi Beta Kappa, it seems redundant to offer any further stimulant to a search for fundamentals.
I propose, however, to suggest certain tests to apply to the plans which are being and will be offered for the future political organization of the world.
Preliminarily may I plead for a fifth "freedom"—the freedom from the fetters of phraseology. Words and terms which were created as our servants have been distorted into gods or demons. "Sovereignty", "democracy", "totalitarian", "private property", "communism", "laissez faire", the "Versailles Treaty"—all of these and more, have become as confusing as they should be helpful.
We could spend the evening on this speculation, but let me illustrate with two of them only, the staggering mischief born of the indolent habit of attaching preconceived notions to a word or a phrase. For 200 years we made a god of "sovereignty". For 20 years we made a demon of the "Versailles Treaty". Neither of them is either god or demon. But for fear of impairing "sovereignty" we delayed the erection of adequate organs of world government until we have lost in life and moral standards more than can be measured, and have been forced to a course more costly in money per hour than the combined annual budgets of all of the international organs of government which have ever existed.
For two decades after the last war it was the fashion to blame all of the world's ills upon the "Versailles Treaty"—until Germany believed the fallacy. Few people had read the Treaty, and, as Robert Hillyer says of it:
"* * * why blame rules that never were applied? Like Christianity they were never tried." It was not revenge, that inspired the decrees of the Versailles Treaty. That document merely said that a nation which assaults and robs its neighbor must be judged by the same rules that are found in the civil and the common law, and which are applied every day in our courts of law. The transgressor must make good, as far as is reasonably possible, the loss and suffering which it has occasioned. Until International Law accepts that principle we shall make but halting progress.
It is of major importance, I suggest, that whatever is to be done to Germany and to Germany's leaders when hostilities cease this time, be done mercifully and quicklyand that we then forget Germany and write her off the headlines.
Experts in journalism and advertising have learned the effects producible by silence. Can we not after this war give to Germany a little of that treatment? As a race, the German people are of inconsequential importance in comparison to the number of lines of type which have been devoted to them in the past quarter of a century. If there ever was any doubt of their incapacity to govern other people, that doubt has been dispelled. You just can't rule the world by shooting hostages and by reliance upon punishment and fear.
Nor can we afford to spend our lives in trying to match the infinite capacity of the German mind to wander through a labyrinth of logistic gymnastics and methodically arrive at erroneous conclusions.
In so far as Germany presents a constant threat to the public peace, let us turn our attention not to a continued discussion of those tendencies, but to the construction of instrumentalities of government which shall apply to all transgressors alike, whether they be German or of any other race or nationality.
If we will begin by sweeping away the superstitions attached to phraseology, and the unhealthy psychosis created by too much publicity for a spoiled and bad child, our progress may be easier.
The Raw Elements
What are the raw elements of the problem which we face? They include:
A globe in space—25,000 miles in circumference, with a population of two billion human beings who have risen to supremacy over other living creatures. There is no spot on this globe which we cannot reach in less than 48 hours. A mere 12 to 15 miles marks the limit beyond which no man can leave the globe alive. Whether we like it or not, we are in fact members of a global community. And let us not hang another phrase around that, to fetter us.
These two billion men and women have a variety of cultures, languages, colors and creeds. By and large they are friendly, intelligent people. They share a common condemnation of braggarts and bullies. They have a common ambition for peace and prosperity.
The people of the world are now organized into perhaps seventy-one national political entities. The precise number depends upon the standard of sovereignty which we employ. The United States in 1941 sent diplomatic or consular representatives to sixty-five nations. There are seventy-one members of the Postal Union. Sixty-two nations were at one time or another parties to the Covenant of the League of Nations. Sixty-two nations are parties to the Pact of Paris. Fifty-two nations adhere to the Statute creating the Permanent Court of International Justice.
The population of the entities which claim independent sovereignty, vary from about 1,000 in the case of the Vatican City, or 12,000 in the case of Liechtenstein, or 470,000 in Panama, to 132,000,000 in the case of the United States of America, 182,000,000 in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic, 352,000,000 in India and 450,000,000 in the case of China. About two-thirds of the nations have populations of less than 10,000,000 people. Many of the single nations are themselves a group of sovereign states or of integrated provinces. Several states or provinces within a single nation are larger and more important commercially than any one of a majority of the sovereign nations.
Already there are many groupings of nations and of states for limited governmental purposes. We have, for example, the United States of America, the United States of Brazil, the United States of Mexico, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the British Commonwealth of Nations, the Pan American Union, the League of Nations. As limited organs of international government we have a large collection of "Commissions", "Associations" "Unions", "Councils" and "Committees". The last yearbook of the United States of America lists sixty-four international organizations in which the United States already participates.
As a final element in our problem we find an economic situation of unparalleled confusion. Tariff barriers, trade quotas, "clearing agreements", defaulted governmental securities, depreciated currencies, clutter the outlook. Political organs have arrogated to themselves the functions of gigantic business enterprises.
At best our prospect in the sphere of international government is to provide some simple, fair, and effective machinery for dealing with these problems; because the intricacies of the relations themselves, of man to man and of nation to nation, will never grow less.
Those, briefly, are the raw materials with which we start. Our objective is comparatively simple. We want a more peaceful, more prosperous world in which we may achieve greater liberty and human happiness, with fairness to all and unjust privilege to none. But let us not make the mistake of trying to saddle upon new political organisms a programme so vast as to fore-doom it to failure. What then shall we build?
The architects abound. Artisans exist who are able to execute sound and sufficient plans. But we—the two billion peoples of this world—are the proprietors, the owners, the client, whom the structure is to serve. What tests shall we apply to the plans which are submitted?
I suggest the following as helpful measures for appraising any particular plan for so-called "post-war organization".
First, has it a basic, underlying concept that any breach of the international public peace, regardless of the merits of the controversy, is a matter of concern to the entire community?
Does it accept the distinction which Sir Arthur Salter has so happily phrased between the "good neighbor" as the man who does not cause trouble, and the "good citizen" asthe man who is willing to help put down trouble when it arises?
Second, does the plan propose a complete constitutional structure, or does it rely upon building particular instrumentalities from time to time?
The written constitutional system of government has been accepted and applied by over 90% of the national entities. It avoids much possible misunderstanding and confusion. It has worked. But great governmental institutions have also been built upon other bases.
Third, is the organism which is proposed, to be financially self-supporting?
This test, applied to international political structures, is one which has been suggested rarely until recently. It is a test, however, which searches perhaps fundamentally the prospect of success of any plan which may be proposed.
Fourth, does the plan provide a declaration of the rights of individual nations which may not be infringed by any international or supra-national authority?
Fifth, is it a working program, and one restricted to governmental problems, and to those which reach across national boundaries, or is it merely a collection of confused pious hopes?
Sixth, does it propose permanent judicial organs of international government, with mandatory jurisdiction?
Seventh, will the proposed organism contain a deliberative body or bodies which will have actual legislative power?
And, since that means the power to make laws without unanimous consent and without the ratification of each particular legislative act by every nation affected by it, does the plan offer fair treatment to both large and small nations, without penalizing those which already have achieved a considerable degree of federation or integration?
Eighth, will there be an executive organism, with the authority of a servant rather than the arrogance of a master, which will have actual power to enforce the considered will of the community?
In proposing these tests I seek not to imply that the answers to all of them must be in the affirmative. Vast improvement of our international political and economic structure is possible through a variety of programs. Unless tolerance and wisdom accompany our efforts we may lose in accomplishment what we gain in scholarship. If pride of scholarship, or restricted horizon, tethers us to our own particular project, our influence will wane. If plans which we favor cannot withstand merciless analysis and debate, they should give way to others.
We must be prepared for trial and error. Democracy's justification has never been rooted in efficiency. It is rooted in the ultimate ennoblement of the individual.
Time will not permit us to analyze all that is implicit in these eight tests. I do submit, however, some approaches to the problem which we will perhaps agree are fundamental:
First—A Voluntary Basis of Organization
The creation of an organism of international government through any process other than that of voluntary agreement is unthinkable.
International law, like any other species of law, does not require the assent of wilful lawbreakers nor mental incompetents, but the law must flow from reasonable agreement of the honest members of the community.
Nazi Germany's program of having an assumed "super race" enslave, if feasible, the other 1,900,000,000 of the world's population to do its bidding, is palpably nonsensical.
Second—The concept of an International Community
If the efforts of Nazi Germany to carry out logically her mad programme have strengthened our belief in democratic processes, they have also crystallized the concept of an international community. We know now that no nation has the right to be an outlaw. We have not only a common interest, but a common necessity, to organize international government capable of protecting our liberties and our lives.
Some of our compatriots tell us that America went to war in 1917 and in 1941 to defend itself. I deny it. That was not the reason of any man whom I knew in the American Expeditionary Forces in the last war. It is not, I believe, the motive of the men who are fighting today. We have believed—to put it bluntly—that an overbearing bully has needed a thrashing. Perhaps our sights have not been raised to the ultimate target of human endeavor. But we at least have had our eyes fixed upon a prostrate Belgium and a ravaged France, and not upon the safety of our own skins.
Third—An inviolable sphere of national rights
Whether we have indolently deified, or as "indolently excoriated, the term "sovereignty"—without searching beyond the term itself—we neither can nor should contemplate an international structure which fails to take account of the history and the rights of the present sovereign nations.
It is possible to define and declare national rights, and to reserve to the sovereign nations their sphere which must be preserved from encroachment. Whether the privilege of sovereignty itself, is to be permitted to any particular race of geographical area is a question which will always be subject to the consent of the community. Sovereignty is a privilege, just as citizenship is a privilege. But wherever the privilege of sovereignty is recognized, it imports a sphere of right which no organs of international government should be permitted to invade.
Fourth—A Restricted Sphere of International Supremacy
In the abstract, few thoughtful men of today outside of the so-called totalitarian countries will defend the doctrine of unrestricted national sovereignty. The doctrine offends our most elementary concepts of moral and municipal law. It is abhorrent to the maxim that no man should be the judge of his own cause.
But in the concrete, nations, very properly, are extremely practical. They are reluctant to hazard reliance upon international instrumentalities unless they are certain that they can perform the necessary tasks. Stronger organs of world government will grow as rapidly as men and nations see in them benefits to themselves.
We have at least learned a secret comparable to the discovery that an exchange of goods usually means value to both parties, and not a loss by one equal to the gain of the other. We know that nations can exchange a part of their sovereignty for a protection and economy far superior to any mythical advantage which some now claim in the "right" to be an outlaw.
Some Political Considerations
As members of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, it is fitting for us thus to have analyzed the theories which underlie contemporary thinking in this field. Before concluding, however, I ask you to consider the very practical political outlook.
No one can tell when the end of present hostilities will come, nor whether the outlaws will all be subdued at one time or only piecemeal.
No one can foresee completely the internal political situation in this country or elsewhere during the next fewyears, nor which political party will be in power in the United States when peace comes.
It is almost a foregone conclusion, however, that definite official proposals for a revised political international organism will be made. They may appear even before the hostilities cease.
There is a school of thought which believes that if the United States had entered the League of Nations at the end of the last war the present war would have been avoided, and that all that is necessary is for a similar League to be reconstructed and for the United States to give adherence to it. There is another school of thought which is confident that in the plan of the Pan American Union—applied regionally or universally—lies the complete and final solution of international organization.
Personally I doubt that our adherence to the Covenant of the League of Nations as drafted at Paris would have changed history very much. Obviously neither that League nor the Pan American Union sufficed to forestall the present cataclysm, or even to present a united front against aggression.
I do believe that if President Woodrow Wilson had possessed political acumen comparable to his magnificent idealism and had taken with him to Paris any one of the leaders of the opposition party such as Mr. Root or Mr. Hughes or Mr. Taft, quite a different document from the League Covenant might have been constructed. President Wilson himself labeled the original draft a "Constitution", and used that word instead of the word "Covenant", but he withdrew the term before that draft was officially presented to the plenary session of the Versailles Conference on February 14, 1919.
An extraordinary amount of misinformation has been written into the history books regarding what happened at Versailles and subsequently. In this meeting of alleged "scholars" we have the privilege of being completely iconoclastic. Mr. Clarence A. Berdahl in a searching article entitled "Myths about the Peace Treaties of 1919-1920", which appeared in The American Scholar last summer, points out that adherence by the United States to the Covenant of the League of Nations—weak as was that document—was defeated not by League enemies but by those who professed to be its friends; and that neither the American Senate, nor either political party, nor the American people, have ever declared themselves against the principle of sound international organization.
Certainly such cleavage of views as has existed in this country as to the desirability of stronger international government, has not followed party lines. Listen to this editorial of the New York Tribune, a leading organ of the minority party, of March 1, 1919, published just two weeks after the draft of the Covenant of the League of Nations was first announced to the world:
"The League was not to be another Hague affair, but was to possess within itself deterring power. It was not to be an embodiment of a toothless internationalism. * * *
Other elements were to go into the making of the League but the prime requisites were: The inclusion of all nations, original instead of derived power, an international police force responsible to the orders of the League executives and freedom of the seas.
Of these principles not one appears in the so-called Covenant. * * * The central body of the League is not to be an executive, but is to be merely an ambassadorial council, with delegates recallable at the whim of the contracting nations. There is to be no international police force-not even the nominal right of the Congress of
the old American Confederation to assign quotas. Freedom of the seas is not mentioned.
* * * All that is offered is another Hague Convention—another joining together in a sanctionless chorus of excellent intentions.
* * * The president holds adherence to the League implies no material impairment of national sovereignty—no surrender of national liberty of action. This is an admission that the Covenant creates no peace league. The creation of a peace league implies, necessarily implies, large subtractions from national sovereignty. * * *
A bogus league will lull the world into a false sense of security. * * * The country is asked to take out a policy of an insurance company when examination of its assets shows it cannot pay.
For a real league it would be worth while to give up much. To remove the war menace an impairment of sovereignty might seem not to be too high a price. * * * But to impair sovereignty * * * for nothing or practically nothing—here is a bad bargain."
The confusion of representations twenty-four years ago regarding interference with "sovereignty" was not confined to any political party. President Wilson told us that the League Covenant would not impair national sovereignty, but ex-president Taft made the same statement in his speech at the New York Metropolitan Opera House on March 4, 1919 when, in speaking on the same platform with President Wilson, he said:
"The Covenant creates no super sovereignty. It merely creates contract obligations."
Such statements were repeated over and over again by apologists of the League Covenant. It was a bad political argument because it was not sincere. If such statements were not misrepresentations of an essential fact, then, as the New York Tribune said, they were admissions that the Covenant would really create no effective Peace League at all.
Whatever we do now and whoever may do it, let us at least be forthright. If we are still not prepared to admit the basic fact that sovereignty is merely a relative term,that unrestricted sovereignty means merely a license to outlawry, and that any effective international organization will mean an exchange of some national sovereignty for something else, then we shall still be merely trying to fool ourselves and others.
If I were asked to summarize the gains made in this and the last war toward better international government, I would list them in this way:
(1) By the hard road the concept of a world community of interest is being crystallized.
(2) By the hard road we are learning the colossal waste and confusion which can result from unbridled and unregulated nationalism and unwarranted reliance upon the phantom of neutrality.
(3) We have found a name. The phrase "United Nations" created by the White House Pact of January 1, 1942 is a happy one around which much of permanence can and should be built.
To summarize the prospects for the future is more difficult. Perhaps we shall emerge with Tennyson's dream realized of "a parliament of man" and a "federation of the world". Perhaps we shall not.
Two things, however, augur well. In the first place we have reached depths of despair where we are willing to take very daring chances. In the second place we know, if we have learned our lesson of experience, that half-way measures are insufficient. We know that they may even possess the danger which the New York Tribune foresaw twenty-four years ago, of lulling the world into a false sense of security.
May it perhaps then be not too much to expect that the Voltaires, the Adam Smiths, the Thomas Jeffersons, the Alexander Hamiltons, will rise in this generation, or that they already are here? Their political affiliations will vary, but if they will free us from our present fetters, if they will submit blueprints which are both sound and bold, I believe that we—the two billion persons who reside on this globe—are prepared to follow them, and that we may be entering upon an era of unparalleled happiness and prosperity.