Books / Digital Text
As long as nations were ruled by monarchical despots, the idea of adjusting the boundaries of the state to coincide with the boundaries between nationalities could not find acceptance. If a potentate desired to incorporate a province into his realm, he cared little whether the inhabitants—the subjects—agreed to a change of rulers or not. The only consideration that was regarded as relevant was whether the available military forces were sufficient to conquer and hold the territory in question. One justified one's conduct publicly by the more or less artificial construction of a legal claim. The nationality of the inhabitants of the area concerned was not taken into account at all.
It was with the rise of liberalism that the question of how the boundaries of states are to be drawn first became a problem independent of military, historical, and legal considerations. Liberalism, which founds the state on the will of the majority of the people living in a certain territory, disallows all military considerations that were formerly decisive in defining the boundaries of the state. It rejects the right of conquest. It cannot understand how people can speak of "strategic frontiers" and finds entirely incomprehensible the demand that a piece of land be incorporated into one's own state in order to possess a glacis. Liberalism does not acknowledge the historical right of a prince to inherit a province. A king can rule, in the liberal sense, only over persons and not over a certain piece of land, of which the inhabitants are viewed as mere appendages. The monarch by the grace of God carries the title of a territory, e.g., "King of France." The kings installed by liberalism received their title, not from the name of the territory, but from that of the people over whom they ruled as constitutional monarchs. Thus, Louis Philippe bore the title, "King of the French"; thus too, there is a "King of the Belgians," as there was once a "King of the Hellenes."
It was liberalism that created the legal form by which the desire of the people to belong or not to belong to a certain state could gain expression, viz., the plebiscite. The state to which the inhabitants of a certain territory wish to belong is to be ascertained by means of an election. But even if all the necessary economic and political conditions (e.g., those involving the national policy in regard to education) were fulfilled in order to prevent the plebiscite from being reduced to a farce, even if it were possible simply to take a poll of the inhabitants of every community in order to determine to which state they wished to attach themselves, and to repeat such an election whenever circumstances changed, some unresolved problems would certainly still remain as possible sources of friction between the different nationalities. The situation of having to belong to a state to which one does not wish to belong is no less onerous if it is the result of an election than if one must endure it as the consequence of a military conquest. But it is doubly difficult for the individual who is cut off from the majority of his fellow citizens by a language barrier.
To be a member of a national minority always means that one is a second-class citizen. Discussions of political questions must, of course, be carried on by means of the written and spoken word?in speeches, newspaper articles, and books. However, these means of political enlightenment and debate are not at the disposal of the linguistic minority to the same extent as they are for those whose mother tongue—the language used in everyday speech—is that in which the discussions take place. The political thought of a people, after all, is the reflection of the ideas contained in its political literature. Cast into the form of statute law, the outcome of its political discussions acquires direct significance for the citizen who speaks a foreign tongue, since he must obey the law; yet he has the feeling that he is excluded from effective participation in shaping the will of the legislative authority or at least that he is not allowed to cooperate in shaping it to the same extent as those whose native tongue is that of the ruling majority. And when he appears before a magistrate or any administrative official as a party to a suit or a petition, he stands before men whose political thought is foreign to him because it developed under different ideological influences.
But even apart from all this, the very fact that the members of the minority are required, in appearing before tribunals and administrative authorities, to make use of a language foreign to them already handicaps them seriously in many respects. There is all the difference in the world, when one is on trial, between being able to speak in court directly to one's judges and being compelled to avail oneself of the services of an interpreter. At every turn, the member of a national minority is made to feel that he lives among strangers and that he is, even if the letter of the law denies it, a second-class citizen.
All these disadvantages are felt to be very oppressive even in a state with a liberal constitution in which the activity of the government is restricted to the protection of the life and property of the citizens. But they become quite intolerable in an interventionist or a socialist state. If the administrative authorities have the right to intervene everywhere according to their free discretion, if the latitude granted to judges and officials in reaching their decisions is so wide as to leave room also for the operation of political prejudices, then a member of a national minority finds himself delivered over to arbitrary judgment and oppression on the part of the public functionaries belonging to the ruling majority. What happens when school and church as well are not independent, but subject to regulation by the government, has already been discussed.
It is here that one must seek for the roots of the aggressive nationalism that we see at work today. Efforts to trace back to natural rather than political causes the violent antagonisms existing between nations today are altogether mistaken. All the symptoms of supposedly innate antipathy between peoples that are customarily offered in evidence exist also within each individual nation. The Bavarian hates the Prussian; the Prussian, the Bavarian. No less fierce is the hatred existing among individual groups within both France and Poland. Nevertheless, Germans, Poles, and Frenchmen manage to live peacefully within their own countries. What gives the antipathy of the Pole for the German and of the German for the Pole a special political significance is the aspiration of each of the two peoples to seize for itself political control of the border areas in which Germans and Poles live side by side and to use it to oppress the members of the other nationality. What has kindled the hatred between nations to a consuming fire is the fact that people want to use the schools to estrange children from the language of their fathers and to make use of the courts and administrative offices, political and economic measures, and outright expropriation to persecute those speaking a foreign tongue. Because people are prepared to resort to violent means in order to create favorable conditions for the political future of their own nation, they have established a system of oppression in the polyglot areas that imperils the peace of the world.
As long as the liberal program is not completely carried out in the territories of mixed nationality, hatred between members of different nations must become ever fiercer and continue to ignite new wars and rebellions.