The Fascist Idea of National Interest in Foreign Relations
This book has been written as far as possible in terms of broad principles rather than specific details. This has been done because any discussion in terms of details would be sure to prove largely obsolete and irrelevant by the time the book got through the press. Thus, for illustration, one might have laboriously analyzed the N.R.A. and offered a set of concrete recommendations approaching the problem of industrial control along the lines there followed, only to find all one’s detailed drafting rendered completely useless by the decision of the Supreme Court and the implications of that decision.
So, in the field of international relations, the discussion will be kept as much as possible in terms of principles so broadly defined as at times, perhaps, to seem almost evasive of urgent problems of details. But what is the use discussing details, except for the purposes of day-to-day decisions, in connection with matters like tariffs and trade policies or laws, neutrality laws and policies, treaties, the League of Nations, or the World Court, on the eve of war and world changes which will undoubtedly sweep away much or most of the factual groundwork on which one may painstakingly build a body of premises and long range recommendations? In these days, when discussing social reorganization and long range plans, one must build chiefly on general principles and on evaluations of constant factors or trends. A book of this kind is no place to discuss proposals which might have a chance of tiding over an immediate crisis, just as at least four crises within the decade before the outbreak of the World War were smoothed over, leaving, however, the fundamental issues unchanged and certain eventually to precipitate a world war.
The chief purposes of any discussion of foreign relations and fascism in a book of this sort should be to indicate clearly certain public order imperatives and certain more obvious fascist choices in the orientation of public policy related to foreign relations. Scientific evaluation of the probable consequences of each given policy should be the supreme criterion. This philosophical attitude towards the working out of a foreign policy may well be stressed as a distinctive feature of fascism, and a feature conspicuously absent from the liberal approach to the same order of problems. Liberal influence over the minds of statesmen leads them to try to reduce every conflict of national interests, and every possible choice of policy, to an issue of right versus wrong, legality versus illegality, humanity versus inhumanity, good business versus bad business, always in a way to give to the dictates of self-interest or the whims of preference an ethical, moral, legal, and economic sanction.
The choices are not ordinarily evaluated by the true liberal in the light of their probable consequences — given conditions as they are and not as he chooses to assume they are. Having unctuously postulated a series of high-sounding ethical and legal imperatives, with interpretations and applications appropriate to a given situation, the statesman, if he has any sense of honor or decency, has but one choice every time he has to make an important decision. The assertion during the late War of our legal doctrine of neutral rights, or the right of our business men to trade with the belligerents under conditions prescribed by our lawyers, could only have in that particular conflict the consequence of dragging us into it. But the drafting of State Department notes setting forth our legal position was always done by lawyers expounding a theory of law which we said was international law and common justice. Our notes were not drafted by statesmen weighing the probable consequences of their words.
Our foreign affairs are luminous examples of what is wrong with lawyers when allowed to determine public policy from a legal point of view. The trouble with lawyers is that, after passing a judicial sentence or giving a legal opinion declaring what is right, they leave to other branches of government and the community the problems of execution and the problems of the costs or consequences of execution. Judges who issue mortgage judgments do not look after evicted farmers and homeowners. Lawyers who write State Department notes defining justice or international law, as we see it, do not weigh military plans for upholding their legal opinions. The War Department has to attend to the execution, and the community to the costs.
The American doctrine of neutrality was entirely rational and suited to our interests and powers of asserting it at the time evolved. But it has since become not only unsuited to our interests but utterly impossible to maintain, due mainly to changed technological conditions. These changes render invalid all our prior legal distinctions between contraband and non-contraband, or between belligerent and non-belligerent. Every legal rule or ethical principle for the maintenance of which we fought in the last War is certain to be violated by both sides in the next war. Must we fight in every future war in a futile effort to uphold doctrines which technological changes have rendered obsolete and unenforceable?
In wars before the 20th century, the armed forces went to combat with a limited set of weapons and economic resources, while the rest of the people went about their usual business. In 20th century warfare, the entire nation is mobilized for the war effort, and almost every resource becomes essential to the destruction of the enemy. Every able-bodied citizen is a belligerent, and everything is contraband. For the lawyers, however, right is right and wrong is wrong. What was right in 1815 must be right in 1915. They cannot be expected to be aware of changes and the implications of changes, for their science is not concerned with the events of today but with the rationalizations of the events of yesterday. The moral, of course, is that our foreign policies must not be shaped by lawyers but by an executive statesmanship responsible for finding ways to meet the consequences of a policy.
From the viewpoint of the believer in absolutes, or the average lawyer or judge, there is little point to considering the consequences of public decisions. One has to obey certain highsounding ethical. or legal imperatives, whatever the consequences. Indeed, consequences have little to do with the validity of ethical and legal postulates based on the transcendental premise that a given course is right and anything different is wrong. One has to do right, though the heavens fall. One has to defend at all costs one’s national honor or one’s vital interest, thus defined, not by rational calculation, but by some body of inspired truths, all of which usually means a holy war at the end.
Fascism differs from liberalism in its conduct of foreign policy by proceeding on the premises that the only authority which may usefully be thought of as exercising any measure of supremacy is the human will; that the supremacy of the human will is synonymous and commensurate with the force factors or might it exerts; and that the only norms for the rational control of the human will in its highest expressions are facts and scientific probabilities. If the facts conflict with the logic of a given law, or rule, or concept of right, the facts win out and the law, commandment, or eternal truth, loses out. This, of course, is what always eventually happens. Rationality says, the sooner and more easily it happens, the better.
Taking the human will as the source of authority and power, we are forced to recognize the national State as the highest organism expressing this authority, and the only organism so far proved capable of expressing the authority and might of the human will in a way to maintain social order. The nation is a social necessity which has no substitute. In international relations there are only national interests to be considered. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as an international interest in any useful sense of such a term. Of course, it is possible to define the sum of several national interests as constituting an international interest. But the trouble with this definition is that there will always be found opposed to the sum of any given number of national interests (thus defined as an international interest) the opposing interest of one or more nations. Then we have the sums of two sets of national interests opposing each other. To call the sums of two sets of national interests in opposition to each other two respective international interests is not a useful sense or meaning to give to the term international interest. If the term or concept of international interest is to have any useful meaning, it must apply to a unique, or common, or universal, interest in respect to a given matter.
Just such an interest is the eternal dream of the internationalists. Similarly, a body of law, to be called international law to any useful purpose, must be law accepted by all nations. The trouble with so much that passes under the name of international law is that it is the law of a nation or group of nations. And it does not serve any useful purpose to call a body of law accepted by nations X, Y, and Z, but rejected by nations A, B, and C, international law, because this body of law is as much a body of international illegality as it is a body of international legality. One should only say of it that it is the law or legality of nations X, Y, and Z, and the illegality of nations A, B, and C.
The dream of a unique international interest or a unique international law (for law is but an expression of a public interest or a set of private interests having found the might of a State to uphold it) can never be realized. Situations will always be developing in which it will pay one nation to wrong another nation, or in which one nation can get away with wronging another nation and also get something advantageous out of the wrong. Part of our national patrimony, as every one knows, was obtained by wronging Mexico, not to mention our exterminating most of the original inhabitants of our present territory by way of taking their lands.
It is possible to conceptualize a world of individuals in which there would be no wrongs, but it is impossible rationally to visualize a world of nations in which there would be no wrongs or in which no wrongdoer ever profited from wrongdoing. The great and powerful nations have all been built up on the wrongs they have successfully perpetrated on other nations to their own advantage. Of course, it often happens that the perpetrator of a wrong to another nation will force that nation to acknowledge that the wrong was right, which, for juridical purposes, makes the wrong right, but never in the feelings of the wronged nation.
Given nations as they are now constituted, and as they are constrained by the logic of their very being to behave, it is a sheer contradiction in terms to say that there could be a universal interest in a wrongless course of events in the world of nations. It is absurd either to suppose that the wronged nations will ever consider that their wrongs of the past have been made right, or to imagine that a situation can be created in which powerful nations having military superiority will never find it advantageous to themselves to wrong a weaker nation.
It is, perhaps, slightly less unreasonable to suppose a world of individuals so conditioned under the direction of one universal and supreme will as to feel a universal interest in having everything happen in a certain way. This supposition is still conceivable, though somewhat fantastic, because individuals might be reduced by a long process of purposive and selective breeding to such a degree of similarity of basic reactions that they would behave as much alike as bees or ants. But it is wholly absurd to suppose a world of nations so homologized as to have a set of universal or common interests about everything. It is absurd, because the fact of nationhood, unlike the fact of anthood, necessarily implies great inequalities in might and great differences in ideological and behavior patterns.
Most of the internationalists reason from the false premise that all nations have an interest in peace, or that peace is a universal or international interest. This premise is obviously refuted by history. In 1848, our interest was not peace with Mexico but war and annexation. It is undoubtedly a fact today that our interest is to hold what we have with peace, and that there is no good war for us on the horizon. The same may be said of Great Britain and France. Any war we get into is likely to be one of defense of what we have, rather than endeavor to get what the other fellow has. But the fact that we today have nothing to gain by a war should not be turned to support the non sequitur that no other nation in the world will find a good chance to win a profitable war. We have to see to it that our national defense or war potential never weakens to such a point that we might seem or prove an easy mark for some other nation, exactly as Mexico in 1848 proved for us. And we should, from time to time, balance the costs of buying peace with concessions against the costs of fighting to keep what we have without making concessions.
Here it should be emphasized that there is no point to the oft-repeated argument comparing nations with individuals and deriving from such comparison the conclusion that, as honesty can be made by municipal law and social convention the best policy for individuals living within the police power of a nation, honesty can be made by international law and universal opinion the best policy for nations living within a society of nations. The comparison and derived argument are totally invalidated by the simple fact that, whereas individuals within a nation can be deprived of the means of getting away with theft and murder on a large scale with personal profit, nations cannot be nations and kept deprived of the means of getting away with successful war to their profit. No degree of equilateral disarmament would deprive nations of their war potentials. If all nations were disarmed down to only policemen with night sticks, nations like the United States and Germany would still have a tremendous war potential in their ability to create on short notice vast armies and quantities of war supplies. Speed in rearming would be the decisive factor.
The power of a strong nation to get away with a war of conquest and annexation is inherent in the facts of nationhood and would not be terminated by disarmament. Under complete disarmament, the present war potentials would remain substantially unchanged except by reason of differences in the speed potentials. It would be no gain for humanity to slow up the starting of the war and thus prolong its duration. Under total disarmament, the chief difference would be that nations capable of the speediest rearmament would have greater advantages than they have under a regime of universal armaments. Thus, under total disarmament, Germany would have a greater advantage over France than under any regime of equal armaments, for Germany could rearm more quickly than France.
To minimize the frequency of wars and wrongs by one nation against another, the only historically validated formula is a fairly even balance of power in which the sums of different national interests are so evenly matched as to force factors that there will be a strong deterrent to starting a big war, and a virtual impossibility of getting away successfully with a. small war except with the assent of the powers making up the balancing factors in the balance of powers. Standing armies and strong navies make it possible to maintain an effective balance of power and to insure considerable periods of peace. If there were no great national armies and navies, it seems certain, if history is any guide, that we should have the conditions of perpetual, petty private warfare which prevailed in Europe for over a thousand years following the collapse of the Roman Empire. A similar state of petty factional warfare has prevailed for decades in certain small Central American Republics too small to maintain a strong national army. And, of course, a similar condition prevails over a large part of China, whose territory is too large, and whose resources and organization are too deficient, to allow of the essential national army to eliminate bandits and private warfare.
And it should not be forgotten that it took four years of warfare by a national army of the United States to end one sectional war and to prevent a successful precedent which might have led to innumerable other sectional secessions and civil wars. The best contribution the United States can make to world peace is to maintain such a war potential as will enable us to rope off a large section of the globe included within this hemisphere as territory in which outsiders may not come and fight, without having to pay a higher cost for such an adventure than it is likely to seem worth.
Fascism is nationalist and opposed to anything going under the name of internationalism which seems bad for the nation. In this connection it is well to emphasize the fact that much of the ideology of so-called internationalism is largely a matter of confusion of thought. Use of terms like internationalism or international, though made with dictionary correctness, may easily lead people to suppose that whenever the prefix “inter” is added to something national it means that that something has ceased to be national. The use of the prefix “inter” is thought to imply that that something which was national, but which also affects several other nations, by reason of its affecting other nations is transmuted into something which is no longer national and is quite different from national. It is by this process of reasoning that much national law and policy gets called international law and policy. In this way, institutions like the League of Nations are thought of as being the antithesis of nationalism and the nation, when, as a matter of fact, the League, in so far as it is an effective agency, is but the tool of some strong nation or group of nations. Whenever the League of Nations essays to do anything important, which is not often, it becomes ipso facto, or in that essay, not a thing apart from nations but merely two or three nations making a joint gesture against another nation or group of nations. Undoubtedly the gesture is properly called international, but it is also essentially national. If one wants to get down to tangible persons or things in the matter of the gesture, one comes to intensely real grips with national realities like the British fleet or the French army.
In brief, the internationalism of the League of Nations never amounts to anything more or less than the internationalism of any three or four powerful nations making a joint démarche or a war as allies. The démarche or war alliance is an international reality only as long as it lasts. While it lasts, the nations making it remain nations and behave as nations. The gesture or the war always ends. When it ends, the international reality has ended, but the national realities which made it, go on as ever. Hence, it serves no useful purpose to try to think internationally and so to lose sight of the perennial national fact. The international fact always embodies several national facts. And the international fact is never an organic whole made up of national facts. The international fact is merely a passing phase or aspect of several separate national facts.
There is no conflict, as many good people like to suppose, between nationalism and internationalism. There are just conflicts between nations and between nationalisms. The simple fact that these conflicts necessarily involve more than one nation makes them international. Nor is there any international spirit or unity except as the passing phase of relations between nations, such relations, when important, usually being connected with war. That is to say, the only effective international cooperation of importance is that which takes place between nations allied in making war or with a view to making war. The underlying idea or wish of much talk about internationalism is that the nation may be weakening, or entering a phase of dissolution into a something or other which will have absorbed all the nations. But that is exactly what is not happening. The more international relations there are-most of them related to the liquidation of past wars and preparations for future wars-the more vigorous become the nation, nationalism, and the national spirit. There is no indication, even, of a vague trend towards the laying of the groundwork of a superstate which would swallow up the existing national States. The nation was never more vigorous or sharply defined than in 11935, and nothing has contributed more to the fortification of nationalism than international gesture publicizing institutions like the League of Nations, peace pacts, and the World Court. There is no need here to expatiate on why it is that the nation is showing greater vitality and gives no signs of early dissolution into any sort of international unity. Suffice it to state the indisputable fact that the nation was never more vital or significant.
There is for every nation, however, an international problem, or a problem of foreign affairs, precisely because there are many nations, and because they have national problems which involve relations with each other. The international problem, therefore, is always the national problem of several States. Any human mind approaching the international problem of any moment must approach it as a citizen of a nation who is interested in having that international problem solved or dealt with in a way agreeable to the interests of his own national State. This is equally true, whether that person be a high official of the Roman Catholic Church, the League of Nations, or the Communist International. When a person says he is interested in international welfare he merely means that he is interested in the national welfare of his own country in some international connection. He may or may not also mean, though he will usually say that he does, that he hopes or believes that what he considers good for his own country will prove good for other countries.
American fascism will proceed in foreign relations with a clear recognition that our interest in international affairs is a national interest. In the formulation of the specific scheme of national interest to be followed from day to day, an American fascism will be guided by the dictates of the national will, by indications of facts, and by as scientific an evaluation of the probabilities as it is possible for the fascist leaders to make.