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THE MOTIVES OF NATIONS., Issue 15690, 2 January 1915
THE MOTIVES OF NATIONS.
"Much interest in the present time centres in the work of those German authors, Treitsehke, Von Bernhardi, and the rest, whoso writings have wrought the temper of the nation up to the pitch of war. They are being rapidly translated into English and published at popular prices, so that anyone who wills may satisfy his curiosity with regard to them. They make strange reading. We open our eyes and wonder how the lessons of history can have been so missed, when we find Treitsehke asserting that the State is power, its fundamental requirement is obedience, and the assent of the- governed is altogether a secondary consideration. We open them wider when we go on to read that small States are essentially incapable of producing anything great in art or literature, or statesmanship. We open them wider still when we are told that the. fault of the German is his tendency to self-depreciation. We are not much less surprised when Von Bernhardi declares that the appropriate and conscious employment of war as a political means—that is to say, the calm and deliberate determination to force on. war so as to gain a chosen end —has always led to the happiest results; or when he looks forward to the conflict that is now being waged, and maintains that in it Germany will represent the common, interests of the world, and will have on her sides the universal sympathy of mankind. From a recently-issued version of Von Bernhardi's 'How Germany Makes War' we take two sentences which illustrate significantly the kind of political ethics he inculcates. The sentences aro these : Nothing can compel a State to act counter to its own. interests, on which those of its citizens depend. The political behaviour of a State is governed only by its own interests. By interests here is obviously meant its material interests, wealth, commerce, industry, and power to get its own way in the counsels of the nations : and the contention is that no higher motive than selfinterest can actuate a nation or direct its policy. The conduct of an individual may at times be .governed by moral considerations, an individual may occasionally riae to heroic self-sacrifice; but not so a nation. What is right and admirable for the citizen is foolish and wrong for the State. There is but one criticism meet for such a doctrine, and valid. It is that history is against it. History supplies us with many examples of national movements which were based on moral and spiritual grounds, and which were followed out at the cost of great, material sacrifices. * * * * * * * To go back to an early date in the records of the nations, we may take as a striking- instance the break-up of the alliance between Israel and Phoenicia in the time of King Ahab. The alliance was of great value to Israel. Israel was entering upon the stage of an industrial and commercial development. The Phoenicians were masters of the sea, the greatest traders of the ancient world. The udlianuj en~l>}--.'] J :!/,*•! t- ship her pi'oaucts in Phoenician bottom*? and to extend her commercial relations wherever the ships of Tyre and Sidon went. But more than that, the wealthy Phoenicians could put a, goodly array of cavalry and charioteers into the field in the "event of war. Israel was constantly threatened by the confederacy of Syrian States on her northern frontier : the alliance just secured to her' sufficient martial strength to hold the Syrians at bay. Of such importance to her was the friendship of her western neighbor that King Ahab sought to cement it by a marriage with the daughter of the. King of Sidon. Here, then, was an alliance vital, as it seemed, not only to the prosperity, but to the very existence of Israel; yet it was repudiated on moral and religious grounds. The close association of the two nations, and particularly the advent of the Sidonian princess to the Israelite court, led to the spread of Baal-worship in Israel and the - corruption of the national religion. When this result came to be clearly perceived, the conscience >f the people rose in revolt. A great popular movement declared against tuo edianee which brought such moral evils in its tiain, and though its repudiation n.eant the collapse of foreign trade Mid the certainty of a Syrian invasion, the nation did not hesitate. The great prophetic narrative in the First Book of the Kings, which describes how the. people, inspired by Elijah, voted against their own material interests for the sake of something they held dearer, is one of the finest pieces cf prose in all literature, and worthily celebrates a nation's sacrifice.
The Crusades in the Middle Ages afford I another illustration of the possibility of | national sacrifices prompted by lofty mo- ; tives. For although the Crusades were not, strictly speaking, State enterprises, they were the result of emotions and asj pirations which filled the breasts of wholo } nations. To recall in barest outline the story of those wonderful events we follow the account given by Mr George Steven. In the eleventh century it was reckoned highly meritorious for a. Christian to visit the sepulchre of our Lord, and many persons of all ranks made the difficult and dangerous pilgrimage. When, however, the Turks captured Jerusalem such pilgrimages became impossible. News spread through Europe that the holy places had been desecrated and pilgrims persecuted. The utmost indignation was aroused, and Peter the Hermit found ready listeners when ho appealed for volunteers to march to Palestine and save the honor of the Christ. The rewards he offered were not of this world. Forgiveness of sin and the blessing of God were to be the onlv recompense. Yet thousands upon thousands responded to his call. Pope Urban himself addressed one company of Crusaders, assuring them that the Turks were cowards and promising them .success. They stood to win. ho told them. If they conquered the Holy Sepulchre was theirs; it thev died, eternal glory. His hearers answered voice, crying "It is the will of God." The Hermit could not bide the appointed day of starting. Tie set out before the time at the head of an immense throng of men, woman, and children, 200,000 in number. Ever/ one of that vast multitude perished. Yet so overmastering had become the idea of rescuing, the Holy _ Sepulchre from the unbeliever' that within a'century no fewer than four crusades were organised, only to encounter the same overwhelming disaster. The Crusaders stand out in history as a witness to the fact that whole nations will spend themselves and be spent from motives that have nothing to do with material interests or material rewards. Coming down to comparatively recent times, we may take, as a further instance, the suppression of the slave trade and the abolition of slavery. How much England stood to lose by the total prohibition of the traffic in " black ivory " can hardly be ' estimated. Some idea may be gained from the fact that little over a century ago Liverpool had 185 vessels engaged in the business, capable of carrying 44,000 slaves. During the eighteenth century upwards of 600,000 negroes were imported into the island of Jamaica alone. For a lons seiio4 &« teSaiU was an Erudish .
monopoly, and the profits accruing from it blunted the consciences of wise and humane men. Dr Samuel Johnson condemned' it, but his biographer entered hia most solemn protest against his hero's opinion. "To abolish a status," he said, " which in all ages God has sanctioned, and man has continued, would not only be robbery to an innumerable class of our follow subjects, but it would be extreme cruelty to the African savages, a portion of whom it saves from massacre or intolerable bondage in their own country, and introduces into a much happier state of life. To abolish this trade would be to shut the gates of me rev on mankind."
In spite of such advocacy, however, the movement begun by Thomas Clarkson and Grenvilie Sharp grew. The- feeling of humanity and the sense of. Christian duty permeated the nation, and within 20 years the iniquitous commerce received, its death blow. From the suppression of the slave trade to the emancipation of the slaves was a short step which took but 25 years to accomplish. Slavery ceased throughout the British Dominions on the Ist of August, 1834. And so pure was the motive which lay behind the Act of Emancipation that the State agreed to pay no less a sum + than £20,000,000 as indemnity to the slave owners. Whatever the ultimate result of abolition, it is unquestionable, when we study the history of the movement, that the end it had in view and consciously sought was not wealth or power or self-interest of any kind, but justice for the weak, freedom for the oppressed, and right as between man and man. ******* Finally, if further proof were needed that a nation is capable of being moved by higher considerations than its own material well-being, we need only point to the action of our Empire in entering upon the present war. The causes of the war uonol, of course, lie on the surface; ami neither do all the ends which the nations have in view. Our statesmen and diplomatists are aware of farther issues than the man in the street knows. It may be that we are fighting for our very -existence. Quite possibly, if we had held back, we should have found in the long run that we had sealed our own fate. But the vision of the Empire* is focussed meanwhile -upon one point—namely, the violation of Belgian territory by the armies of the Kaiser and our sworn obligation to maintain the independence of that little State. What has united public feeling and put iron into the purpose of the people in all the Dominions is the sense that a great wrong had been done, and we are called upon to 'right it. We are fighting, in deed and in truth, not to add to our territory or to capture German trade, not even to defend ourselves in view of future developments of German policy; but because we gave our promise to B'elgium and to France, and we still believe that nations as well as individuals should keep their plighted word. It is not true that self-interest and self-interest alone should govern the behaviour of a State. There are eternal laws of righteousness which kings as well as subjects, governments as well as individuals, ought, to and can obey.
THE MOTIVES OF NATIONS., Issue 15690, 2 January 1915
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