Political Oligarchy
Added: 2017-10-30
Added: 2017-10-30


The Treaty of Paris of last year[1] and the related conferences have introduced a political system of solidarity between European states. After the recent congresses of monarchs, this system has become so well established in public opinion that there is hardly any political body in Europe that would not rely on it and that would not invoke this system in resolving almost every European issue and matter or dispute between states.

However, in applying this theoretical system to practice, which would allow us to actually evaluate it, one highly important question has been overlooked: is this system of solidarity of interests really a universal one?

The following proposition is a very simple one: for this framework to meet all the requirements of a practicable European political system and in order for it to meet all demands and to resolve all issues, matters and disputes, it should cover all of Europe and all states should be part of it. Moreover, it is not enough for all states to participate in it; additionally, their shares should be equal.

The very concept embodied by the word “solidarity” requires such equality. Solidarity cannot be smaller or greater

and it is necessarily voluntary. Forced solidarity is self-contradictory. Therefore it is not enough for all countries to yield to the imperative of solidarity. If they do not accede voluntarily but rather yield to it, then this system will be reduced to the law of the stronger but with a changed appearance.

There is nothing easier than incorporating this principle of equal shares into the solidarity system. The very idea of the state ensures this equality. After all, according to this idea, each state has equal rights regardless of its strength and size. Each state, even the smallest one, is equally independent, untouchable and equal in its duties to others, even the strongest and the largest, and deserves equal treatment with respect to the dignity of its crown, interventions and other relationships, and therefore it should play an equal role in the general European solidarity system.

However, as is well known, there is only one case of absolute equality – everyone is equal before God. All other claims of absolute equality in the world are, if not harmful, then at least false. They are utopias and nothing more. The mutual equality of states resulting from the idea of the state is utopian as well. There is really no need to cite numerous examples where practice was at odds with theory. And politics is practice, not theory.

Thus, if we remove the public perception of this system of solidarity, i.e. its theoretical aspect of equal participation of all European states, and only take into account its political value, it will immediately be obvious that this political system, just like its predecessors, is in fact limited to a certain solidarity agreed by the great powers to which the rest yields, although this could also be referred to as “recognition”. In order to ascertain this fact, it suffices to take a look at the functioning of this system, removing all the unnecessary veils under which it hides its operation.

Thus, after all these uncertain and vague terms such as “European interest”, “political equilibrium” and “seeking peace”, which every writer uses and explains freely, since their actual import and impact is not known and cannot be known, have been stripped – the Treaty of Paris, this source of public law, which is commonly recognised to have introduced the system of solidarity between European states, remains a simple consequence of the ultimatum put forward by Austria and backed by France and Britain, to which Russia yielded. At the moment when the question was whether Russia was going to accept the ultimatum, no one thought of asking whether Sardinia and Turkey agreed to it – this was implied a priori.[2] The question was rather – what will Prussia say? Russia yielded.

Peace was made in Paris. Since Austria, France and Russia agreed and since Prussia – a great European power – joined when it was urged to do so, England, although ready to continue the war and unwilling to make peace, yielded. After the five great powers agreed to peace, who would ask whether it suited Sardinia or Turkey, although it was the latter that was the main object of the war? The unconditional acceptance of peace by these two states was again implied a priori.

Upon the conclusion of peace, the system of solidarity between European states was announced. Under this system, France and England demanded reforms from the King of Naples. King Ferdinand resisted.[3] Were those internal changes not asked of him on the basis of solidarity and in the name of the European interest? Indeed, but the King of Naples did not feel compelled to show such solidarity, did not recognise his obligation to participate in the system, and interpreted the European interest differently. Against this system of solidarity, he pitted the equality that is inherent in the idea of the state; in his defence, he relied on independence, inviolability and dignity; he demonstrated the entire discrepancy that was bound to emerge between theory and practice if the system of solidarity were ultimately based on coercion, i.e. force. The Neapolitan King did not yield, but he was able to resist because it was only France and England that demanded reforms. In this matter, there was no consensus among all the great European powers. The solidarity system proved to be inadequate: Naples did not recognise it. As a result, only diplomatic relations were broken off. No political tool was used to enforce the system adopted. The issue of Naples was not brought before any conferences. Since the system had already been announced and European interest was at stake, what was missing? The missing element was consensus among the great powers – there was no coercion and Naples did not yield. And who cared about Sardinia, which belonged to the system of solidarity, insisted the most on these reforms in Naples and was most interested in them being introduced?

There were further difficulties in implementing the Treaty of Paris, namely the issue of Bolhrad[4] and of the Snake Island.[5] It appeared that the interest in question was Turkish, and it was indeed so. However, the matter was an English one. In this matter, England retaliated for the peace that it was forced to accept. According to the system, conferences were to settle matters, but those were only to be held after the great powers had come to an agreement. Russia yielded: the conference only signed the protocol that had already been prepared in advance. It was in a way a simple consequence of the ultimatum on which the Treaty of Paris was built – which served as its foundation. The essence of solidarity was that what France, England and Austria agreed and to what Prussia did not object, Russia could not reject.

Later, the Prussian-Swiss dispute emerged.[6] That matter had already been decided by the great powers in London protocols, but the current system of solidarity required a different procedure. Owing to its very nature, such cases could not be settled in absentia. Solidarity does not allow conferences de me sine me.[7] Thus Switzerland had to be summoned to attend the conference although, just like Naples, it did not feel obliged to accept the system of solidarity. We cannot know how it would have fared at the conference had the matter been an exclusively Swiss one. However, things had changed since the London protocols and the issue of Switzerland also became a French one. Imperial France could not abandon Switzerland. The great powers saw that the French intervened in the matter, and they could not accept a war, or rather its consequences. The issue was not who would prevail – Prussia or Switzerland – but rather how deeply France and the other great powers would be forced to be engaged in this struggle. So Prussia yielded not to Switzerland, but rather to the concord between France, England, Austria and Russia. Solidarity was again manifested in the great powers’ agreement concerning the necessity which France faced and there was no doubt that Switzerland would yield to its will.

It is not yet entirely clear from the few cases presented here that the system of European solidarity is limited to the great powers and to their interests. The system is just a veil under which a political oligarchy is hidden. Whatever the interest at issue and whatever question animates European politics, what matters is always exclusively the great powers and their mutual understanding. As another example, let us discuss two main issues that are now being considered in Europe today: the Danish-German question and the re-organisation of the Danubian Principalities.

In the first case, at stake is the autonomy of Holstein and Lauenburg, the German provinces that were incorporated into the Danish Crown under the Treaty of 1815. This autonomy is guaranteed by their own constitutions. In order to establish itself as a state and achieve complete unity, Denmark attempts to bring these separate provincial constitutions in line with one standard – the general Danish constitution. The provinces, however, do not want to yield and appeal to the German Confederation, to which, despite their union with the Danish Crown, they still belong. Their complaints are supported by Austria and Prussia on behalf of Germany: Denmark refuses to back down and the matter is brought before the Bundestag.

The rights of Holstein and Lauenburg and the rights of Denmark certainly appear to be important factors in this case; racial considerations are also relevant, since this issue involves both Scandinavism and Germanism; the Bundestag’s position and the question whether Denmark should consider the Bundestag to be the highest judge in this matter seem to be of significant importance as well.

However, anyone who would consider the matter from these points of view would be completely mistaken. Politics is not about the rights of German principalities or of Denmark, or even about Germany. “If the issue concerns Germany”, states one of the main German newspapers, “there must be agreement between Prussia and Austria. If the term ‘Germany’ is to denote a great power, then it must mean nothing else than agreement between Prussia and Austria. If Prussia is not in agreement with Austria, then one third of Germany does France’s bidding. Any disagreement between Prussia and Austria results in both being excluded from the circle of great powers. The spirit of time favours the centralisation and unification of all states; the entire Europe is moving in this direction and only Germany is neither unified nor centralised. If Prussia and Austria are not in agreement, how can Germany defend Holstein, which is a member of the Confederation, so that it is not swallowed by the unity of the Danish state?”.

Thus Germans themselves see the Danish-German case submitted to the Bundestag today as being not about the rights of Denmark or Holstein, but rather about Austria and Prussia. Will they be in agreement or not – that is the question. And should the matter cease to be an exclusively German one, as it remains so far, should it be considered a European one and should the system of solidarity be applied to it, then again it will be exclusively about Russia, England and France, those countries’ views on Scandinavism and, even more than before, about the agreement between Austria and Prussia. Denmark and Holstein would only occupy a subordinate place before either the Bundestag or the relevant conferences.

In the second issue that currently preoccupies Europe, i.e. the reorganisation of Danubian Principalities, we have seen from the very beginning, i.e. for almost two years, the system of solidarity in operation. The European protectorate introduced by the Treaty of Paris is to replace the Russian protectorate, which is considered contrary to the European interest. Inhabitants of both principalities were to present their wishes and the conference was to make final decisions. The entire procedure, including the selection of Ad hoc Divans and the Bucharest Commission, was stipulated in detail in the Treaty of Paris. Do we need to recall all the developments so far in relation to this matter? What was the reason for the difficulties? Were they caused by the principalities, which were most interested in the outcome, or even by Turkey, the country for which the most depended on this matter? No, the difficulties came from the overlapping interests of the great powers. No one will ask what Sardinia wishes, and Turkish demands only deserve attention as long as they serve as a pretext for one great power or another to make its case. After all, Turkey has issued another circular that repudiates the system of solidarity, but no one doubts that its opposition would be of no importance if only the great powers were able to come to an agreement on the union. The materials are all ready and the wishes of the principalities have been presented, but the Commission in Bucharest cannot draw up a report because there is no agreement between the plenipotentiaries of the great powers. Again, it is not about the rights of the Moldavian nationality or of the Wallachian nationality or both, and it is not about what Turkey demands; in fact, the French influence in the East competes against the English one. England is also concerned that the union of principalities could increase Russia’s influence; the schismatics consider such a union to be the first step towards independence for eastern peoples of the Greek faith that remain under foreign rule, and Austria’s policy cannot permit such a step to be made. Given such important and great matters and antagonisms, the re-organisation of two small principalities in one or another way is completely irrelevant, so it is no wonder that this issue is sometimes lost from view and must almost be searched for in the ensuing chaos.

It is also no wonder that today’s journalism is more and more akin to algebra and discusses unknown quantities that it designates in any way it can. Each matter is an algebraic problem that cannot really be solved – the best we can do is to arrive at an equation. We still need to take into account certain quantities that are to be added to, or subtracted from, both sides of the equation so that it continues to hold and the operation does not have to be suspended. It is no wonder that today’s journalism bases its reasoning on the system of solidarity, on European interests or on seeking peace when it cannot rely on any explicit laws, because these matters are not regulated in public law.

Certain issues can only be resolved by law: all other systems can only lead to a certain equilibrium. Moreover, the system of solidarity of interests cannot go any further. Ultimately, it is the result of an effort to find an equilibrium between the great powers. Europe yields to this equilibrium, and this is called handling current affairs.

The task of assessing the entire value of this system that is based on the oligarchy of the great powers will fall to history. In its assessment, history will not be forced to resort to these algebraic formulas to which current journalism is limited. It will gather important materials, order them, assign proper names and judge. It is quite possible that after comparing the current system with what went before, it will arrive at the following verdict: nihil novi sub sole.[8]


[1] The Congress of Paris (1856) was held to settle the disputes that had led to the Crimean War. It was attended by representatives of France, Turkey, England, Sardinia, Austria and Russia. It culminated in the conclusion of a “peace and friendship” treaty on 30 March; pursuant to the Treaty of Paris, Russia was to cede southern Bessarabia to Moldavia and the city of Kars to Turkey. The Danubian Principalities (Moldavia and Wallachia) were granted to Turkey as protectorates, with guarantees of broad autonomy. The Black Sea was to be closed to warships, while Russia and Turkey were deprived of the rights to maintain any military installations on its coast. Shipping on the Danube was to be free. Russia pledged to demilitarise the Åland Islands.

[2] Latin: in advance.

[3] Ferdinand II Bourbon (1810–1859) – son of Francis I Bourbon, King of the Two Sicilies from 1830 to 1859.

[4] Bolhrad – city in Ukraine (in the Odessa Oblast), which was founded in 1821 by Bulgarian settlers and belonged to Russia at that time; from 1856 to 1878, it was part of the Principality of Moldavia.

[5] Snake Island (Острів Зміїний) island in the Black Sea, located close to the Danube Delta; now part of Ukraine, and previously of Romania, which ceded it to the USSR in 1948.

[6] See M. Mann, Jeszcze jedna kwestia.

[7] Latin: about me without me.

[8] Latin: nothing new under the sun.

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