At the moment when the Paris Conferences are to be convened, the European society presents a curious sight. These conferences are akin to huge arenas where the powers are wrestlers and the entire Europe spectates. It is true that in these wrestling matches, no weapons other than olive branches can be used and that it has been agreed that ultimately there will be and there can be neither victors nor the vanquished; it is true that the wrestling is simulated because the actual battles take place behind the diplomatic curtains, and the gladiators have a ready programme made in advance before entering the fray; however, the audience is unaware of this programme because it is hardly ever able to penetrate these curtains with its indiscreet eyes; its curiosity piqued, it awaits the result of the wrestling match, finally convinced that despite all the arrangements, complete consent may not have been achieved because otherwise there would be no conference.
The current moment is also like that.
Europe is preparing for the third time for this spectacle where representatives of the powers weigh not only the fates of individual nations, but also of the general peace, which – as it has been repeatedly stated – is indispensable for the entire society.
Hence the curiosity. But from this common curiosity, it does not follow that all spectators share the same feelings. They are mostly divided into two camps.
Those from the first camp, although they are not actors in the political drama, still evince considerable interest in it. While they do not take part in the wrestling, the loss or victory of this or the other competitor affects them directly. The changes will be reflected in their status and position; the decisions made will have a greater impact on their finances than on the finances of the general public. For this group, the conferences are a thing of great interest; each guess is important and each development is not only significant, but raises fears, doubts or hopes as well. Therefore these people look on the preparations and on the work itself primarily from the political, i.e. practical point of view. For them, it does not matter why things happen, but only what happens and what will happen.
The second camp does not pin any hopes on the conferences and is not afraid of disappointment; for these people any outcome will not bring any change or at least cannot affect them directly, so they observe the proceedings out of a scientist’s curiosity more than out of genuine interest. The conferences preoccupy them insofar as they reflect the social movement in politics and the form of this movement in connection with political questions. The conferences are not providential acts, unpredictable and incalculable in their consequences, acts whose ultimate purposes could almost be associated with a higher will that directs the fate of mankind. One may investigate their causes as well as guess or predict their consequences. The main cause for this phenomenon, which has today become an entire political system with all the pomp and organisation of a tribunal before which nearly all cases are brought and to which both governments and nations resort, is the direction in which the entire society is moving. What is the first thing that strikes us about this movement? What is its main trait?
First, everything grows, expands and becomes enormous because the masses are getting more and more involved in public life. This introduction of the masses into public life must necessarily have been to the detriment of private life. And all this is reputedly done to benefit the general public; the public benefit is the accepted slogan everywhere and it prevails over the comfort and even the laws of private life.
In this way, the society becomes individualised, but the further we follow this road, the fewer individuals we can see. Individuals are lost from view and only the masses are interesting. One could say that there are no more individuals in fact. The greatest, and perhaps the only individual in Europe only has the power to deny. It can build nothing and its only distinguishing features are the prohibitions that it sets. As a result of the society having become fragmented, individuals increasingly intermingle, become masses, dissolve among the general public; soon, the only way to live will be within the public, among the public and for the public. This becomes more pronounced with each day; each day, individuals mean less and less because they do not represent anyone, and each day, the masses become more important. Individual influence weakens directly in proportion to the increasing prevalence of general influences.
There is an unstoppable social drive towards unity or simply towards cosmopolitanism, and within this drive the so-called public interest or social interest will increasingly oppress the private or individual interest. Everything is moving in this direction: customs, institutions, laws, inventions, science – almost everything furthers this social movement. The society itself is moving, and wishes to move, in this direction because theories go further than practice and principles go further than execution. The state, which is the form that the society takes within this movement, cannot respond to the general public’s demands of absolute equality, levelling, disintegration and centralisation; it cannot accept all the obligations that arise out of the rights that the society is handing to it, waiving them for its benefit. What does not the society demand from the state today? Oftentimes, it not only requires the state to regulate property, but even to raise families. So the state must restrain this overly hasty movement; but how far can it be restrained?
And so the society slides down this slope or, as everyone says, moves further on the path towards progress and civilisation, and accelerating this movement is supposed to benefit the public. One could argue whether this will eventually be the case. Only the future will tell, but it is certain that irrespective of whether the public gains something or not, the individual will lose. As a result of this shift, he will lose his freedom, rights and strength. Today, one could say, he only has as much of these three elements that make up his essence as the state is willing to lend him. Is it good or bad? All deliberations would be in vain, because this trend is inevitable as if it were destiny. Outrage would be absurd, one must simply surrender.
Many think that the individual used to play too great a role in the society, that he lived for himself too much. Now he may not find any place in society at all and may not be able to live for himself to a sufficient degree, since in a society where everything happens in the name of the general public, and nothing in the name of individuals, no balance of interests can be preserved. One interest must then oppress the other and we know that there is nothing that eliminates private interests more selfishly than the public interest. However, when we live with people, we must accept them as they are, so likewise we cannot renounce the times we live, since no one is able to change them.
A movement that is so strong, so pronounced and so deeply transformative of old social relations was by the very nature of things bound to influence politics, i.e. the relations between states. The political direction had to be somehow aligned with the direction in which the entire society is moving. The conferences are precisely the key that tunes social relations in particular and the relations between states, i.e. between entire societies, so that they are properly aligned. These meetings, regarded as a new political institution, have exactly the same characteristics as the social movement in question.
Their basis, which includes common principles and the solidarity of interests, corresponds quite well to this cosmopolitan trend of today’s society. Nations play the role of individuals at the conferences, and they are not mentioned at all there. States represent the masses and together they constitute the general public. And everything happens for the benefit of the general public; the conferences only pursue European interests. This interest is supposed to be above all else and in its name, individual interests must be sacrificed. Earlier, probably no one thought that European peace could be created artificially in order to be subsequently artificially maintained. If there was peace in Europe, it was because it was there – there was no war. Today, there is peace because the states present at the conference consider maintaining peace to be a necessity. Peace is maintained only because it has been agreed on paper; states do not want to allow war to break out because the will of two states is not enough to wage one today. Allowing such wars would be to recognise individuality in politics while solidarity should reign supreme. Anyway, just as individual states cannot accept all the rights that the social movement is trying to entrust them with, so too the conferences do not want to deal with all the matters that the various states are attempting to bring before them. In Europe, nothing can happen now without conferences – there is no single dispute or matter that would not be brought before their tribunal. Is this really caused by the fact that the outcome always satisfies both parties to the dispute? This does not seem to be the case, but such is the trend, the direction of the social movement that is reflected by the conferences on the political level.
Only the future will tell whether the entire Europe will derive political gains from the establishment of this tribunal. But one thing is certain: individual states are losing their dignity and independence, and especially the individuality of nations is being taken away. A great European cosmopolitanism is coming, which has treated money as its only god so far. The power and advantage that money gives as well as financial matters are the main source of the anomalies that can be noticed in this social movement. Hence all the inequalities, resistance, clashes, contradictory interests, concerns and unrest that cannot be silenced. Any matter that threatens a financial crisis is more difficult to resolve than even the most complex case involving the law of nations.
In the end, just as the social movement has not yet managed to swallow all other elements so that there would be no individuals, traditions, institutions or natural rights that could resist it, so too with the conferences there is no complete equality (or even their complete recognition) in Europe. Not all states belong to the conferences and not all wish to be subjected to the judgments of this tribunal where ultimately the European political community is represented by the five great powers.
This social aspect of the conferences is noticed especially by those who do not take part in them, apart from the degree of participation required from each member of the European community. The political aspect of the conferences is incomparably more diversified, and ever more dynamic, and it cannot be predicted in advance. Subsequent conferences may have new political characteristics. Any diplomatic note or question asked in the English Parliament could send the entire edifice crumbling, even when it has been constructed most carefully and on the most credible guesses. Thus we have to await the outcome of the third Paris Conference to assess its political meaning and significance.