After the Great War 1815-1915
By William Morton Fullerton
[Scribner's Magazine, December 1914]
"I speak with the freedom of History and I hope without offence."—Burke.
Almost one hundred years ago to-day the French army commanded by Napoleon was being undone at Waterloo. And it is just a century since, at the Congress of Vienna, the representatives of almost all the European states, great and small, signed a score of treaties for the reconstruction and readjustment of the national barriers that had been overthrown by Bonaparte. It was obvious at the time, and it is even more obvious to-day, that the dominant aim of the majority of the plenipotentiaries at this congress was to repress, in the interests of the monarchs by Divine Right, the expansive tendencies of France.
Three and a half generations have passed, and Europe is face to face with a situation of an importance even more stupendous than that confronting it in 1814-15. The little Prussian state, shattered at Jena, resuscitated at Vienna, made an empire at Versailles on the ruins of a dismembered France, set forth, in the autumn of 1914, on a gigantic raid of pillage, over the neutral lowlands of Flanders and across the glens of Luxemburg, to complete in the Gallo-Roman fields and vineyards the cycle of its fortune.
After having achieved its dream of becoming the taskmaster of the Germans, and after having humiliated the haughty Hapsburg at Sadowa, the Hohenzollern turned his chief attention to France. Humiliation of France, going at times up to what Henri Houssaye called its "crucifixion," has been for a century the constant aim of Prussia. By the Treaty of Frankfort Prussian policy became German policy. That policy, save for a brief tentative period, when Germany fancied to enslave France by boorish caress and corruption, has been brutal and browbeating. From the entrance of the allies into Paris in 1814 down to the mad and futile demonstrations of Teutonic aggressiveness with reference to Moroccan affairs in 1905 and 1906, with a view to breaking up the Anglo-French entente, Germany has never for a moment abandoned her policy of crushing France: 1870 did not satisfy her. The "French scare" of 1875, exploded by de Blowitz and Decazes, was but the forerunner of the scare of 1905 ending in Monsieur Delcassé's fall, of the crisis of 1911, and of the assault of 1914. During more than forty years, indeed, Prussia has been preparing to add to her dominions the western Vosges and the Jura, Champagne, and the two Burgundies, Rotterdam and Antwerp, Dunkirk and Boulogne, Trieste and the middle east. To pretexts for action she has been indifferent; for fine occasions she has lain maliciously in wait. Two terrible wars in the Balkans, lifting athwart one of the great routes of German expansion an impassable barrier of strong Slav powers, offered her, at last, the occasion she desired. Methodically she prepared for war. Suddenly, notwithstanding the efforts of her neighbors to arrest the irreparable—efforts that more than once all but skirted the abyss of national dishonor—Prussianized Germany (with no pretext decent for the ears of God or man, but impelled solely by that aggressive gluttony, that land-hunger and that thirst for wassail that have always characterized this race from Attila to the incendiaries of Louvain and Rheims) launched more than two million men amid an innocent and neutral folk into the historic roads that lead to Paris. While the German armed aeroplanes were hovering over the head of Napoleon in the Place Vendome, the French and the English, luring these hordes on to the coign of vantage that they themselves had chosen, waited for their shock. In the battles of the Marne the Hohenzollerns met their doom. The sealing of that doom will be the epoch-making task of 1915. Whether it be at Brussels, or in another European capital, the congress which will be convened in 1915 to establish a new map of Europe and the world, will be an adjourned sitting of the Congress of Vienna.
Happily the century that has intervened since Talleyrand, Metternich, and Wellington wrangled amid the Vienna carnival of the springtime of 1815 has been a century full of admirable object-lessons. They who have fancied that, because we are living in an era of great material civilization—under the domination of a *law of acceleration" which has tended altogether to differentiate the modern man from his fellows of the preceding centuries—the lessons of history are no longer applicable, will learn in 1915 the magnitude of their blunder.
The historians have passed round the countersign: the Treaty of Vienna is a dead letter. They have repeatedly noted the caducity of the majority of the separate stipulations signed in 1815. They have remarked that, after all, only a certain number of the dispositions of the treaties of Vienna are still in vigor. Because the texts relative to the partition of Poland and to the formation of the North German Confederation "have at present only a theoretic and retrospective interest"* [*See "Les Grands Traités Politiques," by P. Albin. (Alcan, 1912, 2d edition, p. 4.)] and because there still remain intact of this great instrument, after the upheavals of the nineteenth century, only a few notable declarations—that with regard to the neutrality of Switzerland, that with reference to the free navigation of rivers separating or traversing different states, or that determining the relative rank of diplomatic agents—it has been too hastily accepted that the curious works of diplomatic art accomplished at Vienna have only an "historic" or even merely an aesthetic import. Instead, however, of being a dead letter, it has been a living word for a tormented century. Although the hegemony of Prussia was not publicly consecrated until, by the Treaty of Prague, Austrian power collapsed, it still remains that the German Confederation, established by the Congress of Vienna, was the broad foundation on which the Prussian monarchy began to plan the outworks of the future imperial structure. What the Prussian plenipotentiaries, Hardenberg and Humboldt, in their note to Metternich of February 10, 1815, on their proposed scheme for a German confederation, called "the beautiful variety of the German tribes,"* [* See "Le Congrès de Vienne et les Traités de 1815," by Comte d'Angeberg. (Amyot, 1864, vol. I, p. 744)] was soon to be converted into a pudding-stone of peoples, compactly united in the solid Prussian matrix. Later on a Bismarck who had spent his days and nights in the study of the labors of the Congress of Vienna had only to ally himself with a Moltke in order to sweep away such flimsy obstacles as Napoleon III—who had broken the great tradition of French diplomacy—to complete provisionally that unity of Germany under Prussian hegemony which it had been all along the high resolve of the Brandenburgers to secure.
Napoleon III would better have studied the Obiter Dicta of his great homonym.
Hypnotized by the idea of laying the ghosts of the Grande Armée, of annulling the fiats of Napoleon, and of humiliating France, the coalition of powers of the old regime, the plenipotentiaries of Divine Right, failed to take one essential precaution. Yet Napoleon—of whom Mary Caroline of Naples had magnificently said, "If he were to die, his body should be pulverized, and a dose of it should be given to each sovereign, two doses of it to each of their ministers, and then matters would go better!"* [* Correspondance inédite de Marie Caroline, Reine de Naples et de Sicile avec le Marquis de Gailo. Publiée et annotée par le Commandant M. H. Weil et le Marquis C. di Somma Circello. (Paris: Emile Paule, 1911, tome I, p. 490.)]—had more sagacity than all the Metternichs, the Talleyrands, and the Castlereaghs; and whatever the exasperation of these diplomats, and of the people and sovereigns they represented, against the ogre, the plenipotentiaries of the Congress of Vienna, if they had been perspicacious statesmen, would have taken to heart the utterance of Napoleon at Tilsit: "It is part of my system to weaken Prussia. I mean that she shall no longer be a power in the political balance of Europe."* [*See "Problems of Power," by the author, p. vii.] By failing to heed this warning they laid the foundations of the grandeur of Prussia. Bismarck and Moltke, it should constantly be repeated, were in being in the Vienna treaties that extended the frontier of the little Mark of Brandenburg across the provinces of the Rhine, leaving just outside the elastic ring a set of small, confederated German states that were destined to be the prey of intrigue and to become, owing to alien racial pressure, inevitably coagulated under Prussian hegemony. ''We receive on the Rhine some picturesque and splendid provinces," writes the Princess Radziwill on February 18, 1815, to her husband, Prince Antoine, "provinces which are, no doubt, a fine acquisition; and if the kingdom which we are getting on the Rhine touches the old one, I don't think that we would really chuck for it any other empire ("je crois que nous ne pourrions plus de troquer avec tout autre empire.") * [* This hitherto unpublished document, which I owe to the extreme courtesy of my friend, Commandant Weil, emanates from the archives of the Austrian Ministry of the Interior, where it is classed with the ''Reports of the Secret Political Police during the Congress of Vienna." It will be published soon after the war with some 3,000 documents of the same epoch in a book to be entitled "Autour du Congrès de Vienne."]
Even before the close of the Congress of Vienna an observer in Paris fully abreast of the time could have had no doubt as to the forces that were at work for the construction of some such European future has been marked by the dates 1866, 1870, 1914. And, in view of this fact, it is to be hoped that the allies who are to dictate peace to the Hohenzollerns after the war, or the plenipotentiaries of the coming congress, will arm themselves for their great duties with a cautious irony. A hundred years ago an ancestor of the present Czar, the Emperor Alexander, was fêted in Paris to the cry of "Vive Alexandre, notre liberateur." Napoleon had just signed his abdication and retired from the great stage of the world to his islet of Elba. The allies who had compassed his downfall, assembled under the roof of Prince de Talleyrand, meditated the Treaty of Paris. To France was accorded, not only her former frontier of 1792, but portions even of the departments that are now Belgian or German, the towns of Beaumont and Chimay, Sarrebruck and Landau, rich regions of the Lower Rhine, another million of subjects. Navigation on the Rhine was declared free. And amid the fervor of generous emulation that surrounded the plenipotentiaries, finally released from the nightmare of the twenty years' war, the Emperor Alexander—anticipating the act of his mystical descendant, Nicholas II, at the outset of the war of 1914—announced his intention of restoring the former kingdom of Poland, the fusion of all the Polish provinces detached by the partition of 1772. Officers and courtesans, bankers and diplomats, supping in the Palais Royal, drank the health of the handsome Czar, "the peacemaker, l'Ange de la Paix."
Meanwhile, the Prussian armies were still in Saxony. The Saxon King, was a captive at Breslau, trembling at the possible loss of his hereditary states, which Prussia already regarded as her own. The Congress of Vienna, convened to elaborate the details of the stipulations fixed by the Treaty of Paris, was about to open, and Louis XVIII, faithful to the principle that had inspired for centuries the diplomacy of France prior to Napoleon, insisted in his instructions to his ambassador to that congress. Prince de Talleyrand, on the necessity that not only the great but the small powers should be represented at the congress. Considerations of justice, as he put it, required that none should be excluded, but, above all, the interests of France demanded it. "The interest of the small states is likewise its interest," said the perspicacious monarch. "All will wish to preserve their existence, France must want them to preserve it. Some may wish for an extension of their frontier, and it behooves France to let such extension take place, in so far as that may diminish the aggrandizements of the big states." And, with his eye intently fixed on Prussia, Louis XVIII specifies at length in these memorable instructions the list of small German states whose nationality must be maintained against the "innate ambition" of that power.
It is good in 1914, just after the decisive battles of the Marne and the Aisne, to recall the following passage, written just one hundred years ago for the guidance of the plenipotentiaries of France about to participate in the reconstruction of the map of Europe:
"For the Prussian Monarchy any pretext is good. It is altogether devoid of scruples. Mere convenience is its conception of right. Thus, within sixty-three years, its population, originally less than four millions, has become ten millions, and it has succeeded in creating a vast dominion by the acquisition of divers separate territories, which it is tending to unify by incorporating with them the territories that divide them. The terrible discomfiture that has befallen its ambition has taught it nothing. Even at this moment its agents and partisans are agitating Germany, depicting France as being again ready to invade it, pretending that Prussia alone is capable of defending it, and asking it to hand itself over to her for its very preservation. She would liked to have Belgium. She wants everything between the present frontiers of France, the Meuse and the Rhine. She wants Luxemburg. All is up if Mayence is not given her. Security is impossible for her if she does not possess Saxony. The allies, it is said, have agreed to restore to her the power she possessed before her fall, to give her ten millions of subjects. If this claim were admitted, she would soon have twenty, and the whole of Germany would call her master. It is necessary, therefore, to set a limit to her ambition, first, by restraining, as far as her expansion in Germany, secondly, by restraining her influence by means of a federal constitution. Her expansion will be restrained by preservation of all the small states, and by the aggrandizement of those that are her nearer rivals."* [* See "Le Congrès de Vienne et les Traités de 1815," by Comte d'Angeberg. (Amyot, Amyot, 1864, vol. I, pp. 215-238.]
This prophetic document illuminates a century of European history. Above all, it lights up the second half of that century from the wars of the duchies and Sadowa to the violation of Belgian neutrality by Prussia in August, 1914. It may be confidently affirmed that its radiance will not be spent when the successors of the Talleyrands, the Castlereaghs, and the Metternichs meet in the Congress of 1915. Under the menace of the brow-beating methods of international business inaugurated by William II—the method of Real-politik and haute-finance, The world has been too long divorced from the serener tradition of the old diplomacy. The voice of the great Napoleon, as its echo reaches us from Tilsit, should dominate the counsels of the future Congress of Brussels. The well-meaning dreamer of the second empire, in his passion for nationalities, sought mainly to aggrandize every nationality but his own. Catspaw of Bismarck, he half-consciously, half-unwittingly, aided Prussia to achieve German unity. He beheld vanishing amid the smoke of the battle-field of Sedan the pathetic cohort of his generous dreams. If France, England, and Russia have not learned the lesson of this past, let them suffer the consequences! The war of 1914 means many things; it means, above all, the defence of the great idea of national freedom, the respect of nationalities; but no French generosity and idealism, no British notion of justice, no Slav mysticism should be suffered to suggest, in the coming congress of the nations, such respect for freedom and for nationalities as will bring into being another European system liable, at all events before a generation to come, to lose its balance. One may even say that the great danger of the coming hour will be, not the establishment of injustice, but the creation of too much "justice." The meaning of this paradox is clear. Were the Austrian Germans, for instance, to be united to the German Germans, to the destruction of Austria, under a mistaken conviction of the "justice" of protecting the German nationality, Brussels would repeat the blunder of Vienna and prepare another war. Were France, again, to confine her claims to the recovery of Alsace and Lorraine, thus magnificently repudiating from sheer idealism the taking of legitimate precautions against future aggression on the Rhine and in the Rhine provinces, she would belie her most characteristic traditions. Even at Vienna the Rhenish provinces demurred to becoming Prussian. The mystical pact signed in Paris on September 26, 1815, between the Czar Alexander, the Emperor of Austria, and the King of Prussia, and known as the "Holy Alliance," was, in reality, a declaration of war on the part of arbitrary power against national aspirations. On September 5, 1914, all but a century later, the nations took their revenge. France, Russia, and England, engaged in a great war in order to establish the freedom of peoples and to maintain the balance of power in Europe, signed, without canting emphasis or appeal to Divine Right, a declaration to hold together to the bitter end. This declaration was, in a new and very real sense, a holy alliance. The task before the Allies after the present war will be, in spite of its apparent complexity, a task of an astonishing simplicity. Its guiding lines are few and neatly defined.
The idea of freedom, of nationality, has dominated the whole war. There is not an army in Europe to-day that has not its eyes uplifted toward the labarum, the symbolic banner, bearing the words Freedom, Nationality. To all the hosts of all the allies the time-spirit has seemed to say: "In hoc signo vinces." Moreover, miracle of miracles, even the Germans—"that beautiful variety of German tribes"—will shortly descry the same liberating symbol. The German chancellor, Herr von Bethmann-Hollweg, sought in a famous speech in the Reichstag in 1912 to distract the attention of the great liberal Powers by creating a Russian scare. But at the very first occasion given her Russia pricked this bubble and raised the standard of national freedom for the Slavs, for the Poles, and for the Armenians. Why did Austria go to war? Because the rise of Servia had blocked her way to Salonica. Why did Russia champion the Servian cause? To prevent Hungarian vindictiveness and Pan-German ambition from stifling the self-conscious Serbs just on the point of entering into their own. Why has England intervened? To save the Belgian nationality, brutally violated by a Power that had sworn to safeguard Belgian neutrality; to assure, by the maintenance of an integral, and even aggrandized France, the equilibrium of Europe, a balance of power synonymous with the freedom of peoples; and, above all perhaps, because of its belated perception of the clear verity which her idealism and her self-engrossment had so long prevented her from seeing: namely, that when Germans spoke of "claiming their place in the sun" they really dreamed of looming so largely there as verily to eclipse that luminary and to fling the planet behind them into their shadow. Europe is full of Alsace-Lorraines. This is an anomaly which it will be the destiny of the early twentieth century to abolish. Wherever there be a national soul, it must be allowed to breathe at ease.
Nationality is the self-conscious struggle of a people to maintain its integrity when it is exposed to the gravitative attraction of a powerful neighbor. The present war is a war of nationalities. It is a war of nationalities even for the Germans. Yet a world-renowned sophist, the juggler of "The Great Illusion"—when was a book ever so happily named?—duped himself, as well as many of his readers, by the argument that the state was not a person. This sciolistic visionary's gaze, ranging over the peoples of the planet, was attracted only by the more obvious signs of the time. What he and his fellow economists called the "stratification of interests," the many apparent indications that the claims of class interest were overriding boundaries and shattering frontiers, was a truth too evident really to be ignored. But, contemplated too singly, it was a truth bound to ruin the judgment of any intelligence. The interesting facts were of another order. At no epoch of history, indeed, had there been so many instances to show, not merely that the state is a person, but that it is the sublimest of all persons. It is the sovereign conscience synthesizing all the reactions of the human soul. And if, contrary to appearances, the fact and the idea of nationality are more splendidly evinced than ever to-day, it is just because of the extent and number of the causes apparently making to their destruction. It was hardly necessary to have waited for such proof of this as has been offered by the Great War of 1914, the key-note of which was struck in the proclamation which the French Government addressed to the country when it said: "Gloire aux vivants et aux morts! Les hommes tombent. La Nation continue."
Germany and Austria were almost alone among the nations that had not succeeded in creating a national soul. The latter case is self-evident; and although, in presence of the enthusiasm with which Berlin sang the "VVacht am Rhein" in the nights of early August, 1914, the casual listener may have gathered that a real union (Einigung) had sprung from the artificial soil of German unity (Einheit) created by the Prussian navvies, competent observers had known full well that the weeds of the particularism of the confederated states still grew rank in the parterres of the German Empire. This fact was, at all events, very patent to the rulers of Germany. Prince von Bülow himself confesses that it was the fortuitous amalgamation, in the fire of Koeniggraetz and Sedan, of the "German spirit" and the ' 'Prussian Monarchy" that welded the German Empire, and created the conditions of a lasting German political unity. ''Ten centuries of German history," he said—and his testimony is grave!—"had not availed to bring forth a single result in politics."* [* See the final chapter of Prince von Bülow's book, "Imperial Germany.] The intellectual life of Germany, he reminds us, is the work of western and southern Germany. There alone resides the "German spirit." The German state was born in Prussia, which prepared the political culture of the German people. And he concludes that "reciprocal penetration of the Prussian genius and the German genius should be for Germany the task of the immediate future."
The Prussians manoeuvred at the outbreak of the war of 1914 to convince the singularly ill-informed, the utterly "unpolitical" German people, that Germanism, the "German spirit," had been attacked by Russia and Pan-Slavism. Pan-Germanism would never have indulged in such frantic excesses if what Prince von Bülow says of the German spirit and the Prussian Monarchy were not true. The conclusion is obvious. It is a corollary of the chancellor's testimony, as it is the profound suggestion of the present Great War, that decapitation and destruction of the German Empire will be instantly secured by paralysis of the Prussian Monarchy. For the freedom of the Germans, for the security of the French, the British, the Belgians, and the Dutch, above all for the peace of the world, imperial Germany must go. The Hohenzollerns must retire within their Brandenburg Mark. Prussia must henceforth content herself with her frontiers of 1806. An emancipated south Germany will be the first to thank the armies of the Allies for this deliverance. Vienna—or, at all events, the function that Vienna has so long represented in the balance of power on the Continent of Europe—must be augmented to the diminution of Berlin. The Czar must be held to his promise by satisfying the nationalistic dreams of the Poles, to establish in the centre of Europe, between his millions of Slavs and the hordes of Germany, a buffer state, artificially relieving the westward pressure of the formidable Russias. The Congress of Brussels, in a word, must learn and apply all the lessons of the Congress of Vienna.
It must temper and control the inveterate idealism of its participants by a fearlessly pragmatic criticism based on a complete knowledge of the past. There is a multiplicity of minor matters which it will be called upon to solve: the balance of power in the Mediterranean (the islands of the Aegean, the Dardanelles, the coast of Syria, the Adriatic); the exploitation of the Middle East from Syria round by way of Persia to Bagdad (matters, most of them, happily solved just before the war); the problem of Turkey, the definitive sanctions of the renaissance of the Balkan peoples (Rumania in Transylvania, Servia and the southern Slavs); and even the new frontiers of the spheres of influence in Africa and among the islands of the Pacific. But this host of warring interests need not in reality bewilder nor darken counsel. Europe's prime duty is clear. That duty is to establish Gallo-Roman discipline and order and English liberty and fair play in a world—beginning with the German world—longing to continue to cultivate the arts of peace. Throughout all the lands that the Prussian, by his menace, had converted as it were into a sinister concentration camp, one vast entrenchment of tax-ridden nations in arms, mankind, finally relieved of the hated bloodtax that the foes of the human race had for more than one hundred years imposed upon it, must be suffered at last to sow in peace and to reap in joy. For the accomplishment of this dream, there is only one sure way. Listen again to the words of Napoleon at Tilsit: "It is part of my system to weaken Prussia. I mean that she shall no longer be a power in the political balance of Europe."
Paris, September 22, 1914.
© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013
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THE HEADLONG FURY
A Novel of World War One
By J. Fred MacDonald