Social Process

Chapter 23: Social Control in International Relations

Charles Horton Cooley

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WHAT ground have we for hoping that a society of nations has become possible in our time, when all previous history shows failure to attain it? Mankind has always cherished this aspiration, and if it is at last to be realized, there must be some general change in conditions, making practicable what has heretofore been merely visionary. I wish, therefore, to recall certain developments in the social situation which have taken place during the past century and seem to me to justify our belief that the problem of international order may be not far from solution. They are in the nature of a general growth in that organization of human life of which international order is but one phase.

I may note first that there has been a revolutionary change in the social mechanism. The means of communication have been transformed, enlarging and animating social relations and making possible, so far as mechanism is concerned, any degree or kind of unity that we may be able to achieve. In this respect alone we have a new world since the failure of Prince Metternich's scheme of pacification after the Napoleonic Wars.

(256) The second change is the growth, and what appears to be the establishment of nationality as the principle animating those members of which a world-organism must be composed. This change is bound up with the preceding, since nations are masses of men united by language, literature, tradition, and local associations, and it is through the growth of communication that they have come to feel their unity more and more and to demand expression for it in a political whole.

I know there are some who hold that the national spirit is hostile to world-organization, and who picture the present state of things as a struggle between nationalism, on the one hand, and a higher principle, such as internationalism, fraternalism, or socialism, on the other. It seems, however, that, although the national spirit must be chastened and regenerated before it is fit for the larger order, there is no possibility of dispensing with it. Sound theory calls for a type of organism intermediate between the individual or the family and the world-whole which we hope to see arise.

A ripe nationality is favorable to international order for the same reason that a ripe individuality is favorable to order in a small group. It means that we have coherent, self-conscious, and more or less self-controlled elements out of which to build our system. To destroy nationality because it causes wars would be like killing people to get rid of their selfishness. Our selves are poor things, but they are all we have, and so with nations in the larger whole. So far as the world is nationalized it is organized up to the point where supernationalism must begin. Having achieved the substructure, we are ready to add the upper stories. We seek a synthesis, and anything synthetic already achieved and not hopelessly un-

( 257) -available is so much gain. It is only too obvious that, on account of their incoherence, those regions where a national consciousness has not yet developed are a peril to any system we may erect. The national state, supported by patriotism, is our central disciplinary institution, the backbone of historical structure, which could decay only at the cost of a vast collapse and disintegration involving the degradation of human character. Even intermittent war would be better than this.

And just as it takes ambitious and self-assertive persons to make a vigorous group, so we need national emulation and struggle in a greater society. A world-life that was altogether supernational, without aggressive differentiation, would, I believe, be enervating, and I agree with the militarists in so far as to find this an unsatisfying ideal. We sometimes think of the Commonwealth of Man as likely to resemble the United States on a greater scale; but it would not be well to have the nations of the world so much alike, or even so harmonious, as our States; nor is it likely that they will be. We need a more energetic difference.

Another favoring change is the rise of democracy. This has been contemporaneous with the rise of nationalism, and is likewise based upon the new communication and education that have made it possible to organize social consciousness on a great scale. Indeed nationalism and democracy, although they may at times conflict, are phases of the same development. In both the individual gets a congenial sphere of expression. The people , awakened by the new intercourse, are no longer inert and indifferent to the larger relations of life, but live more in these relations and aspire to feel themselves members

( 258) of great sympathetic wholes. They find these in democratic groups united by the spiritual bonds of language, ideal, and tradition; and strive, accordingly, to make the actual organization correspond to such groups.

The view that democracy will insure international peace is, in my opinion, not so certainly true as many think. It is not impossible that a whole nation may become possessed by military ideals and passions, as has at times been measurably true of France. And democracy affords no guarantee that an energetic militant faction, even though a minority, may not grasp the lead and rush a nation into war. Something of this kind took place in the Southern States at the outbreak of the rebellion. Would the world-war have been impossible if Germany had been as democratically organized as France? I do not see that it would, though it must, no doubt, have come on in a different way. The conflict of ideas and ambitions would still have been there, with no adequate way to settle it.

Yet there are practical reasons for thinking that democracy, on the whole, will be pacific. It gives power to the masses, who are the chief sufferers from war and normally the most kindly in sentiment. Homely and friendly ideals of life have always had their stronghold among the common people, and war has been fostered mainly by rulers and upper classes, not merely for aggrandizement, but as a kind of sport to which they were addicted for its own sake. It may safely be assumed that modern democracy will not share this taste, but, although still subject to martial excitement, will pursue, in the main, ideals more likely to promote every-day happiness.

Another reason why democracy tends to international peace is that under modern conditions it is necessary for

( 259) content and equilibrium within a nation. One of the main causes of recent wars has been the need of sovereigns and ruling classes to forestall internal revolution by the pressure of external conflict. Napoleon III, not only once but several times, sought war in the hope of supporting his power by the prestige of victory, and there is reason to believe that Russia, Germany, and Austria were all influenced by this motive in the year 1914. Extending radicalism was threatening to split these countries, and it was felt that conflict without would close the rift within. We all know how true, for the time at least, this proved to be.

As a fourth of these general changes favorable to the prospect of enduring peace, I would reckon the diffusion of organizing capacity among the people, not only by education and political democracy, but quite as much through economic experience. The administration of business in its innumerable branches and the participation in labor-unions and other economic groups have developed on a great scale that power of the individual to understand and create social machinery which is essential to any well-knit organization. The industrial nations, at least, are equipped with all kinds and degrees of organizing ability, and if they do not organize peace it will be because they do not want to.

The changes I have mentioned may all be summed up in the statement that the world has been taking on a larger and higher organization, which now demands expression in the international sphere. There is no doubt of the preparation, and the time seems fully ripe for achievement.

And, finally, we have the lessons of the Great War.

( 260) I am far from presuming to expound these, but it is certain that there is scarcely anything in the way of social ideas and institutions that has not been tested and developed. We know the extent and disaster of modern war as we could not before, and a fierce light has been cast upon all its antecedents.

We hold that the war must establish at least one great principle, fundamental to any tolerable plan of peace, namely, that no nation, however powerful, can hope to thrive by power alone, without the good-will of its neighbors. From this point of view the main purpose of the war is to vindicate the moral unity of mankind against self-assertion. We are resolved that it shall register the defeat of self-sufficiency and domination, and so point the way to an international group within which national struggle can go on under general control.

Assuming that the general conditions have become favorable, I wish further to inquire whether it is reasonable to expect that a society of nations may be formed upon the same principles that we rely upon in the association of individuals. How far is a group of nations like a group of persons? Can we anticipate that the members will be guided, for better or worse, by the ordinary impulses of human nature, or must we have a new psychology for them?

Whether the behavior of a social whole will be personal or not depends upon whether the members identify themselves heartily with it. If they do, then, in times of aroused feeling, those sentiments and passions which are similar in all men and are easily communicated will inflame the whole group and be expressed in its behavior. It will act personally in the sense that it is ruled by the

( 261) live impulses of human nature and not by mere routine or special interest. Most groups are far from answering to this description, which, as a rule, applies only to those that are small and intimate, like the family. But the case of the nation is peculiar, since it is known to evoke the emotion of patriotism, which has a special power to draw into itself the whole force of personality.

The psychological background of patriotism I take to be the need of human nature to escape from the limitations of individuality and to immerse the spirit in something felt to be larger, nobler, and more enduring. This need is expressed also in devotion to leaders, like Napoleon or Garibaldi; in the passion for causes, like socialism and the labor movement, and in many forms of religious service. Its main object in our time, however, is one's country; and it is because of the wholeness with which men put themselves into it that a nation comes to have a collective self in which such sentiments as pride, resentment, and aspiration are fully alive. A self-conscious nation is a true socius, and consequently may unite with others in a social and moral group. The whole doctrine of international relations might well start from this point, that the units with which we deal are truly human and not mere corporations or sovereignties.

It is true that their relations have been mostly selfish or hostile in the past, but this is true also of persons except in so far as, by working together, they have acquired habits and sentiments of co-operation. And nations, even in their conflicts, confess their unity by seeking one another's admiration. Each wants to distinguish itself in the eyes of the international audience, and war itself is waged largely from this motive. We wish our country to be glorious, to excel in the world-game; and the fact

( 262) that the game is destructive does not destroy the social character of the impulse. If this were not present, we should not find our leaders instigating us by appeals to national honor, resentment, and pride. Perhaps there is no better proof of the personal nature of national feeling than the large part which "insults" play in arousing it. An entity that can be insulted is essentially human.

If the national spirit is truly human and social it should be capable of a moral development and of participating in a moral order similar to that which prevails in personal relations. And perhaps the surest proof that international social control is possible is that nations have shown themselves capable of feeling and acting upon a sympathetic indignation at aggression upon other nations, as in the case of Belgium. Such indignation is in all societies the most active impulse making for the enforcement of justice. There is an incredible doctrine taught by some writers that the national self can feel greed and hate, but cannot rise to justice, friendship, and magnanimity. Why should its human nature be so one-sided? Is it not quite conceivable that we might come to demand an even higher standard of honor and conduct from our country than we do from ourselves, because tile idea of country, like the idea of God, is the symbol of a higher kind of life? The gods have been in the mud too, and as they have risen from it to an ethical plane we may hope the same of the nations.

If this view is sound, it follows that if we can change the ruling ideal so that nations come to admire one another for being righteous, magnanimous, and just, as well as strong and successful, we shall find them as eager to live up to this ideal as they now are to conform to a

( 263) lower one. It is all a matter of the standards of the group.

If there is a nation that has deliberately set out to be unsocial by adopting a theory of national aggrandizement by Macht alone, that nation is believed to be Germany; but even here, however unlovely the resulting type of self may appear to be, there can be little doubt that it is a social self, ambitious to shine in the eyes of the world. Strange as we may think it, the self-conscious part of Germany felt that she was doing a glorious thing when in 1914 she assailed two great nations and defied a third; and she looked confidently to others for admiration. Perhaps we may expect that, having learned where she misjudged the sentiment of the group, she will in the future conduct herself in a manner more acceptable to it.

Nations, then, are normally moral agents, subject to control by the ruling opinion of the period as to what is honorable and praiseworthy. The trouble has been, in great part, that this ruling opinion has set barbaric standards and approved a style of conduct such as prevails among savage tribes or lawless frontiersmen in a new country. A nation was held to be great in proportion as it extended its possessions, its rule, and the dread of its arms. The expression "national honor" in the history of the nineteenth century will be found to mean chiefly warlike prestige, a reputation for valor and success, the power to punish enemies or reward friends. It was sullied by failure to take revenge, by declining a challenge or deserting an ally, but not by lawlessness, arrogance, or greed. The ideal from which honor took its meaning was national prowess, not the welfare of a group of nations; there was no reference to a general right springing

( 264) from organic unity. It was the honor of Achilles or Rob Roy, not the team-work honor of a modern soldier.

Temporary peace was obtained by a balance of power, that is, not by any real unity, but by the clans being so nearly matched that each hesitated to start a fight. Such hesitation might be expedient, but it was not in itself honorable. Honor was to be won mainly by victorious conflict, on no matter what occasion, and by displaying the power which followed. Napoleon shone in this way and dazzled all Europe, including Goethe, who was in many things the wisest man of his time. His nephew tried to do the same and had no lack of honor so long as he seemed to succeed. Bismarck did succeed, and the German Empire became the standard-bearer of this type of honor, continuing to uphold it after it had been partly abandoned by other nations. 

The organic unity of Europe, real as it had become, was slow to transform national idealism, and diplomacy as well as war remained a game for mutual injury and humiliation. England, which was in a position to lead the way, took some steps in a better path, but not enough to convince the world. The old ways were too strong upon her; she upheld Turkey and crushed the Boer republics, giving an indifferent example to Germany, whose imperialism is largely an imitation, however distorted, of that of England. The accepted ideal continued to be one which implied war, open or covert, as the road to honor and success.

It is clear that this ideal is no longer congruous, as it once was, with the general state of the world, but is a pernicious survival, unfit, unevolutionary, and ripe for elimination. The obstacles to this are institutional, not inherent in human nature, and if the momentum of cus-

( 265) -tom and the glamour of honor can be transferred from the ways of war to those of peace, the hardest of the work will be done.

The logical outcome is an organic international life, in which each nation and each national patriotism will be united, but not lost, as individuals are united in an intimate group. Our national individuality will subsist, but will derive its guidance and meaning from its relation to the common whole, finding its ambition, emulation and honor in serving that, as a boy does in the play group or a soldier in his regiment. A spirit of team-work will be substituted, we may hope, for that of unchastened self-assertion. There will be rivalry, not always of the highest kind, and even war may be possible until we have worked out the rules of the game and the means of applying them, but the moral whole will assert itself with increasing power. The new system means bringing the national state under social discipline, making it a responsible member of a larger society. Its significance is not to diminish, but to become of a somewhat different kind, like that of a woman when she marries. Hitherto not Germany alone but all the nations have clung to an individualism incompatible with any permanent international order and with any discipline except force.

I do not look for any disappearance of national selfishness, even of the grosser kinds. Human nature has various moods, most of them unedifying, and the every-day grumbling, quarrelling routine of life will no doubt go on among nation,,, a,,, among individuals. But in spite of this we have idealism and a social order among persons, and we may expect that nations will have them also. We must organize both ideals and selfish interest, so that

(266) the former may work with as little friction on account of the latter as possible. Fundamentally both depend for their gratification upon a social order.

The unity of the international whole will be of a different quality from that of the nation. It will be less intimate and passionate and will lack the bond of emulation and conflict with other wholes like itself. There is a kind of conflict, however, which even an all-inclusive whole must undergo, namely, that with rebellious elements within itself, and this struggle for unity will enhance self-consciousness, as the Civil War did for the United States. The league of nations will not be merely utilitarian, though its utility will be immense, but will appeal more and more to the imagination by the grandeur of its ideal and the sacrifices necessary to attain it; and, as it achieves concrete existence in institutions, symbols, literature, and art, human thought and sentiment will find a home in it. And just as patriotism is akin to the more militant and evangelistic type of religion, so international consciousness corresponds to religious feeling of a quieter and more universal sort, to the idea of a God in whom all nations and sects find a various unity.

I realize something of the immense importance and difficulty of the economic and political problems involved with the question of an international social order, which I must leave to abler hands. We must do our best to provide equal economic opportunity for all nations, to establish at least the beginnings of an international constitution, with judicial, legislative, and executive branches, and also to provide a process of orderly change by which the world may assimilate new conditions and thus avoid fresh disaster. I think, however, that all these questions

( 267) need to be dealt with in view of the more general social problem. We shall not have an international society unless we have political and economic justice; but neither can these endure except as the fruits of a real international solidarity.

We are likely to overestimate the part that force can play in keeping international order. It will, no doubt, be necessary, especially at first, to have a reserve of force to impress the less civilized nations, and possibly the more civilized at times of exceptional tension. But our discipline will fail, as it does in schools and families, unless we can get good-will to support it. Force cannot succeed except as the expression of general sentiment, and if we have that it will rarely be necessary. To exalt it by brandishing a club is to exalt an idea whose natural issue is war. A single powerful nation, whose heart remains hostile to the system, will probably be able to defeat it, and certainly will prevent its developing any spirit higher than that of a policeman. The Commonwealth of Man must have force, but must mainly be based on something higher; on tolerance, understanding, common ideals, common interests, and common work.


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