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Liberalism
Ludwig von Mises

3
Liberal Foreign Policy

5. Imperialism

The lust for conquest on the part of the absolute monarchs of previous centuries was aimed at an extension of their sphere of power and an increase in their wealth. No prince could be powerful enough, for it was by force alone that he could preserve his rule against internal and external enemies. No prince could be rich enough, for he needed money for the maintenance of his soldiers and the upkeep of his entourage.

For a liberal state, the question whether or not the boundaries of its territory are to be further extended is of minor significance. Wealth cannot be won by the annexation of new provinces, since the "revenue" derived from a territory must be used to defray the necessary costs of its administration. For a liberal state, which entertains no aggressive plans, a strengthening of its military power is unimportant. Thus, liberal parliaments resisted all endeavors to increase their country's war potential and opposed all bellicose and annexationist policies.

But the liberal policy of peace which, in the early sixties of the last century, as liberalism swept from one victory to another, was considered as already assured, at least in Europe, was based on the assumption that the people of every territory would have the right to determine for themselves the state to which they wished to belong. However, in order to secure this right, since the absolutist powers had no intention of peacefully relinquishing their prerogatives, a number of rather serious wars and revolutions were first necessary. The overthrow of foreign domination in Italy, the preservation of the Germans in Schleswig-Holstein in the face of threatening denationalization, the liberation of the Poles and of the South Slavs could be attempted only by force of arms. In only one of the many places where the existing political order found itself opposed by a demand for the right of self-determination could the issue be peacefully resolved: liberal England freed the Ionian islands. Everywhere else the same situation resulted in wars and revolutions. From the struggles to form a unified German state developed the disastrous modern Franco-German conflict; the Polish question remained unresolved because the Czar crushed one rebellion after another; the Balkan question was only partially settled; and the impossibility of solving the problems of the Hapsburg monarchy against the will of the ruling dynasty ultimately led to the incident that became the immediate cause of the World War.

Modern imperialism is distinguished from the expansionist tendencies of the absolute principalities by the fact that its moving spirits are not the members of the ruling dynasty, nor even of the nobility, the bureaucracy, or the officers' corps of the army bent on personal enrichment and aggrandizement by plundering the resources of conquered territories, but the mass of the people, who look upon it as the most appropriate means for the preservation of national independence. In the complex network of antiliberal policies, which have so far expanded the functions of the state as to leave hardly any field of human activity free of government interference, it is futile to hope for even a moderately satisfactory solution of the political problems of the areas in which members of several nationalities live side by side. If the government of these territories is not conducted along completely liberal lines, there can be no question of even an approach to equality of rights in the treatment of the various national groups. There can then be only rulers and those ruled. The only choice is whether one will be hammer or anvil. Thus, the striving, for as strong a national state as possible?one that can extend its control to all territories of mixed nationality?becomes an indispensable requirement of national self-preservation.

But the problem of linguistically mixed areas is not limited to countries long settled. Capitalism opens up for civilization new lands offering more favorable conditions of production than great parts of the countries that have been long inhabited. Capital and labor flow to the most favorable location. The migratory movement thus initiated exceeds by far all the previous migrations of the peoples of the world. Only a few nations can have their emigrants move to lands in which political power is in the hands of their compatriots. Where, however, this condition does not prevail, the migration gives rise once again to all those conflicts that generally develop in polyglot territories. In particular cases, into which we shall not enter here, matters are somewhat different in the areas of overseas colonization than in the long-settled countries of Europe. Nevertheless, the conflicts that spring from the unsatisfactory situation of national minorities are, in the last analysis, identical. The desire of each country to preserve its own nationals from such a fate leads, on the one hand, to the struggle for the acquisition of colonies suitable for settlement by Europeans, and, on the other hand, to the adoption of the policy of using import duties to protect domestic production operating under less favorable conditions against the superior competition of foreign industry, in the hope of thereby making the emigration of workers unnecessary. Indeed, in order to expand the protected market as far as possible, efforts are made to acquire even territories that are not regarded as suitable for European settlement. We may date the beginning of modern imperialism from the late seventies of the last century, when the industrial countries of Europe started to abandon the policy of free trade and to engage in the race for colonial "markets" in Africa and Asia.

It was in reference to England that the term "imperialism" was first employed to characterize the modern policy of territorial expansion. England's imperialism, to be sure, was primarily directed not so much toward the incorporation of new territories as toward the creation of an area of uniform commercial policy out of the various possessions subject to the King of England. This was the result of the peculiar situation in which England found itself as the mother country Of the most extensive colonial settlements in the world. Nevertheless, the end that the English imperialists sought to attain in the creation of a customs union embracing the dominions and the mother country was the same as that which the colonial acquisitions of Germany, Italy, France, Belgium, and other European countries were intended to serve, viz., the creation of protected export markets.

The grand commercial objectives aimed at by the policy of imperialism were nowhere attained. The dream of an all-British customs union remained unrealized. The territories annexed by European countries in the last decades, as well as those in which they were able to obtain "concessions," play such a subordinate role in the provision of raw materials and half-manufactured goods for the world market and in their corresponding consumption of industrial products that no essential change in conditions could be brought about by such arrangements. In order to attain the goals that imperialism aimed at, it was not enough for the nations of Europe to occupy areas inhabited by savages incapable of resistance. They had to reach out for territories that were in the possession of peoples ready and able to defend themselves. And it is here that the policy of imperialism suffered shipwreck, or will soon do so. In Abyssinia, in Mexico, in the Caucasus, in Persia, in China?everywhere we see the imperialist aggressors in retreat or at least already in great difficulties.

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