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Liberalism
Ludwig von Mises

3
Liberal Foreign Policy

10. The League of Nations

Just as, in the eyes of the liberal, the state is not the highest ideal, so it is also not the best apparatus of compulsion. The metaphysical theory of the state declares?approaching, in this respect, the vanity and presumption of the absolute monarchs?that each individual state is sovereign, i.e., that it represents the last and highest court of appeals. But, for the liberal, the world does not end at the borders of the state. In his eyes, whatever significance national boundaries have is only incidental and subordinate. His political thinking encompasses the whole of mankind. The starting-point of his entire political philosophy is the conviction that the division of labor is international and not merely national. He realizes from the very first that it is not sufficient to establish peace within each country, that it is much more important that all nations live at peace with one another. The liberal therefore demands that the political organization of society be extended until it reaches its culmination in a world state that unites all nations on an equal basis. For this reason he sees the law of each nation as subordinate to international law, and that is why he demands supranational tribunals and administrative authorities to assure peace among nations in the same way that the judicial and executive organs of each country are charged with the maintenance of peace within its own territory.

For a long time the demand for the establishment of such a supranational world organization was confined to a few thinkers who were considered utopians and went unheeded. To be sure, after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the world repeatedly witnessed the spectacle of the statesmen of the leading powers gathered around the conference table to arrive at a common accord, and after the middle of the nineteenth century, an increasing number of supranational institutions were established, the most widely noted of which are the Red Cross and the International Postal Union. Yet all of this was still a very far cry from the creation of a genuine supranational organization. Even the Hague Peace Conference signified hardly any progress in this respect. It was only the horrors of the World War that first made it possible to win widespread support for the idea of an organization of all nations that would be in a position to prevent future conflicts. With the end of the war, the victors took steps to create an association which they called "The League of Nations" and which is widely held throughout the world to be the nucleus of what could be a really effective future international organization.

In any case, there can be no doubt that what today goes under that name is in no way a realization of the liberal ideal of a supranational organization. In the first place, some of the most important and powerful nations of the world do not belong to the League at all. The United States, not to mention smaller nations, still stands outside. Besides, the covenant of the League of Nations suffers from the very outset from the fact that it distinguishes between two categories of member states: those that enjoy full rights and those that, having been on the losing side in the World War, are not fully qualified members. It is clear that such an inequality of status in the community of nations must bear within itself the seeds of war in the same way that every such division into castes does within a country. All these shortcomings have combined to weaken the League lamentably and to render it impotent in regard to all the substantive questions with which it has been confronted. One has only to think of its conduct in the conflict between Italy and Greece or in regard to the Mosul question, and especially in those cases in which the fate of oppressed minorities depended on its decision.

There are in all countries, but especially in England and Germany, groups that believe that in the interest of transforming this sham League of Nations into a real one?into a genuine supranational state?its present weaknesses and defects should be treated in the most indulgent possible way. Such opportunism never does any good, no matter what question is at issue. The League of Nations is?and this would certainly have to be conceded by everybody except the functionaries and the staff employed in its bureaus?an inadequate institution in no way corresponding to the demands that one is entitled to make of a world organization. This fact, far from being minimized or ignored, needs to be repeatedly and insistently emphasized so that attention is called to all the changes that would have to be made in order to transform this sham into a real League of Nations. Nothing has done greater harm to the idea of a supranational world organization than the intellectual confusion arising from the belief that the present League constitutes a complete or virtually complete realization of what every honest and sincere liberal must demand. It is impossible to build a real League of Nations, capable of assuring lasting peace, on the principle that the traditional, historically determined boundaries of each country are to be treated as inalterable fixed. The League of Nations retains the fundamental defect of all previous international law: in setting up procedural rules for adjudicating disputes between nations, it is not in the least interested in creating any other norms for their settlement than the preservation of the status quo and the enforcement of existing treaties. Under such circumstances, however, peace cannot be assured unless it be by reducing the whole world situation to a state of frozen immobility.

To be sure, the League does hold out, even though very cautiously and with many reservations, the prospect of some future boundary adjustments to do justice to the demands of some nations and parts of nations. It also promises?again very cautiously and qualifiedly?protection to national minorities. This permits us to hope that from these extremely inadequate beginnings a world superstate really deserving of the name may some day be able to develop that would be capable of assuring the nations the peace that they require. But this question will not be decided at Geneva in the sessions of the present League, and certainly not in the parliaments of the individual countries that comprise it. For the problem involved is not at all a matter of organization or of the technique of international government, but the greatest ideological question that mankind has ever faced. It is a question of whether we shall succeed in creating throughout the world a frame of mind without which all agreements for the preservation of peace and all the proceedings of courts of arbitration will remain, at the crucial moment, only worthless scraps of paper. This frame of mind can be nothing less than the unqualified, unconditional acceptance of liberalism. Liberal thinking must permeate all nations, liberal principles must pervade all political institutions, if the prerequisites of peace are to be created and the causes of war eliminated. As long as nations cling to protective tariffs, immigration barriers, compulsory education, interventionism, and etatism, new conflicts capable of breaking out at any time into open warfare will continually arise to plague mankind.

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