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A Vision of Peace

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A Vision of Peace  (1906) 
by Lyman Abbott

As published in The Outlook, vol. 83, no. 9, pp. 507–511 (30 June 1906). See also Report of the Twelfth Annual Meeting of the Lake Mohonk Conference on International Arbitration, 1906, 28–33.

A VISION OF PEACE[1]
BY LYMAN ABBOTT

What does the development of law, first in the individual, then in the community, indicate respecting the future development of law which we are to hope for among the nations of the earth?

Every act oft repeated becomes a habit; habit long continued becomes a second nature. Thus we as individuals grow into a subjection to the laws of our own nature which we have ourselves helped to make. But we certainly are not, as Omar Khayyám insists, billiard-balls, knocked nither and yon; on the contrary, we have an intelligence which is able to understand these laws and a will which is able to modify their operation. We can see in what direction our habits are leading us, and then we can, if we will, change these habits, modify them, or absolutely reverse them. Finally, with these habits and with this intelligence to understand and apply the laws of our own nature that grow out of our habits, and this will to resolve to do the thing which our intelligence directs us to do, there is a power to execute that which our will has resolved.

The comparison of the individual to the State is at least as old as Plato. The State also has its personality; the State also grows as the individual grows. First there are customs; these customs, continued, come by and by to have the force and effect of law. These laws, long persisted in, become the second nature of the State—that is, its constitution. But the State has an intelligence to understand these laws, to interpret them, and to apply them; not merely the individual intelligences of the seventy millions of individuals; it has an organic intelligence, a crystallized intelligence, a central intelligence. This organic intelligence which interprets and understands and applies these laws of the State is the court. It is not merely the function of the court to determine questions at issue between individuals; it might almost be said that this is its minor function. Its function is to interpret the nature and orderly development of the nation to itself. It has been well said that Chief Justice Marshall did quite as much in forming the United States Constitution as we have it to-day, as was done by any of those who helped to frame it and signed their names to it. In our own time I do not think it is too much to say that the Supreme Court of the United States has done as much to guide the Nation in the new channels and the new life on which it is entering as Congress has done. The court is the intelligence of the community applied to the problem of rightly adjusting its customs, its habits, its State or National life. But the State has not only an intelligence to understand, it also has a will by which it can vary its customs. This will is expressed through the legislature. As the courts are the intelligence to understand and apply, so the legislature is the will to enact and determine. Finally, there is an executive force to put this will into effect. The Indian soloist tells me at half-past seven that my early-rising friends are going in to breakfast, and I judge it is time for me to get up; that is the court. I resolve that I will get up; that is the legislature. Then I turn over and go to sleep; that is the lack of executive power.

In the development of our international life we can trace some of these successive stages as we trace them in the individual and in the community. At first every nation was a pure individualist; it cared only for itself, was absolutely indifferent toward all other nations. The only international law was the law of the strongest; the only international code, every nation for itself and the devil take the hindmost. As a result, the devil often got a grip on them all. Nation made war against nation whenever it thought it could get anything by making war. The law of the wild beast of the forest was the only international law. At first, when prisoners were taken, they were killed, flayed alive, variously tortured. But after a little the conquering nation saw that it could do something better than flay its prisoners alive: it could make slaves of them and set them to work. So slavery came as the product of war. It was found better to make man work for you than to flay him alive. Later it was discovered that a community could enrich itself more by not making its captives slaves, but by bringing them into the community and making them free men; and so freedom took the place, little by little, of slavery. Then it was discovered that it was better to leave them where they were and tax them. This was the great discovery made by Rome. So, without going into it in detail, international customs respecting the conduct of war grew up, much as customs grow up in the State and as habits grow up in the individual.

Then the intelligence of the separate nations began to see what these customs meant, what they ought to mean, how they ought to be modified in order to do justice or to conduce to the welfare of the individual nation; and so international questions were brought before State courts and the State court exercised its judgment upon the international custom. But the intelligence of the different nations did not agree, and the customs of the different nations did not agree. If my memory serves me right, the courts of Great Britain hold that coal is not contraband of war, and the courts of Russia that coal is contraband of war. We have international customs and national intelligence applied to the customs, but not as yet a common intelligence unifying and harmonizing the customs. Now and again there are treaties in which there is some attempt to adjust these customs and to bring some kind of an agreement about. Finally, as the last step in this progress of an international unification, came the Hague Tribunal. The Hague Tribunal is not merely a contrivance for putting an end to war, it is not merely a contrivance for settling individual quarrels between separate nations; it is a permanent tribunal, and has for its object, in the minds, I think, of the greater statesmen, something more than the adjustment of specific quarrels; it was, in their thought, to be the international intelligence of the civilized world, the organized expression of the thought of the civilized world respecting the justice and righteousness which one people owe to another people, one nation to another nation. It was to become the organized intellect and organized conscience of civilized humanity.

What is the next step to be taken? The next step to be taken is the organization of the will of the civilized world. It is true that in the history of nations the executive has generally preceded the legislative, because despotism preceded liberty. First we have a Cæsar or a Czar, later a legislative assembly. This is because at first the people have no organic intelligence and no organic will; there are a great many different wills and a great many different opinions, but no organized intelligence, no organized will. Therefore they are subject to the intelligence and the will of the imperial dictator, the Napoleon, the Cæsar, the Czar. But just as soon as the nation comes to possess a national consciousness, as soon as it comes to possess a national will, it demands a legislature. Why? I suppose there is not a mother in this room who has not had the experience of a child organizing in himself a duma, and she has been just as much puzzled to know what to do with the child with a duma as the Czar of Russia is puzzled what to do with a nation with a duma. If I may be allowed to offer a piece of parenthetic advice to the mothers, it would be: Adjust yourselves to the duma in the child; lead it, but do not attempt to repress or destroy it. But that is in passing.

As soon as the nation begins to get a corporate intelligence it must have a court; as soon as it begins to get a corporate will it must have a legislature. We have already organized an organ of international intelligence in the Hague Tribunal. Our next step is to bring to this corporate intelligence the problems of justice that perplex us, and settle them, not by our pride, not by our selfishness, but by our brains. We have created the Tribunal; the next step is to come to a universal international agreement to use the Tribunal. We have organized an international brain; we have next to correlate our international muscles to the brain and make them agree to accept the decisions of the brain. When I say that the Supreme Court of the United States is the brain of the United States, I do not mean that all the brains in the United States are in the judges of the Supreme Court; nor, when I say that the Hague Tribunal is the brains of the civilized world, do I mean that all the brains in the civilized world are in the Hague Tribunal. I mean this—that if the State is to act as an organism, it must have an organized thought—that is, a court or courts—to think for it; and if the civilized world is to act as an organism, it must have an organized international thought—that is, an international court; and what the Supreme Court of the United States is—the organ of the thought of the United States in its interpretation of the customs of the life of the Nation—that the Hague Tribunal is to the civilized world—the interpretation of the organic thought of the civilized world in relation to the problems of international justice and peace.

But, having this organized thought, and having agreed to submit our questions to it, we must take the next step in world organization; we must have an organized will. We must have some organ by which, as the community acts as a community, the nations of the world can also act as a community; and that is the International Parliament. We have had some tentative experiments in this direction. There have been congresses of the nations on various special subjects. Perhaps the most notable of these is the Postal Union, which does not, indeed, have as yet power, if I understand the facts aright (perhaps I ought to say that it was only last night that I was notified I was to speak to-day, and some of these questions lie a little vaguely in my mind, for I have had no opportunity to verify my general impressions)—the Postal Union has no legislative power to determine what shall be the postal laws of the different nations; but its advice and recommendation, unless I am mistaken in my recollection, have always been practically adopted. It is an advisory parliament on postal matters, representing not merely the intelligence but representing the will of all the nations that are brought together concerning international postal affairs. We have our Pan-American Congress, which as yet is not a permanent body, but I think we shall learn here before this session is over that it is likely to become a permanent body, representing not merely the intelligence and thought, but working toward an expression of the will of the American people of both North and South America. We have had an Interparliamentary Union, which as yet has had no official recognition—again if my memory serves me right—from the different governments. I do not think that any of the governments unofficially represented recognize the Interparliamentary Union, although it is wholly composed of members from the different national parliaments. But the next step is an official organization of a Parliamentary Union, with advisory powers at first, which shall become legislative powers by and by. First an organic intelligence of the nations, next an organic will of the nations, and—

Next an organic executive power of the nations. Less armament? Yes. But how shall we determine how much less armament? Just as long as we have this conception that England must have her armies and navies to protect her interests, America her army and navy to protect her interests, France her army and navy to protect her interests, Germany her army and navy to protect her interests, so long we shall have more or less of competition between the contending nations, each determined at least to be strong enough to resist its neighbor if it is attacked. It may be that Russia is the only country that would object to lessened armament, but I suspect that so long as Russia objects Japan will also object. I would if I were the Japanese. Napoleon undertook to make all Europe one great empire without a national consciousness, without a national intelligence, without a national will, and to focus all intelligence and all will in his own brain. Europe combined its forces and put them under the command of a common leader to protect every nation from the one whom they regarded as the foe of all nations. The Boxer movement threatened representatives of every nation; we did not send a Japanese force under a Japanese commander, a German force under a German commander, an English force under an English commander, and an American force under an American commander; we said, “Here is police duty to be done,” and the nations put their police forces under one man and they marched to Peking—English, German, French, and Japanese—under a German commander, to set the embassies of all the nations free from the perils which threatened them.

At Lake Mohonk, as I take it, we are to dream dreams and see visions. I make no apology for describing my vision. It is this. The time is coming when all the military forces of the civilized world will be one police force, under one chief of police, with one international legislature to decide what is the will of the nations, with one international court to interpret the official and legal intelligence of the nations, and just enough army and just enough navy to make the world safe, under a common direction and a common control—and no more. To-day Europe is pretending to dread the yellow peril, without reason, and China is dreading the white peril, and with very good reason. How shall we of the West avoid the yellow peril, and they of the East avoid the white peril? There are two ways. One way is to build up armies and navies and get ready for the worst war the world has ever seen. The other way is for China, Japan, Europe, and America to organize a common intelligence through an international court, a common will through an interparliamentary union, and under their guidance select a common chief of the police, call him what you will—that is the other way. It is the sane way. It is the righteous way. It is the way in which lies peace. The world is moving very fast—very fast. When Edward Everett Hale, in 1895, said here, “We want a permanent court of arbitration, a permanent tribunal,” there were men on this floor, you remember, who said, “This is the dream of the dreamer and the vision of the visionary;” yet in four years we had it.

What Edward Everett Hale prophesied God has already brought to pass.

God is moving fast. He who would run ahead of God’s chariot must gird up his loins and run rapidly. What we want to-day is not merely a court to settle international difficulties—that we have already; not merely a body of men to consult together on international matters, though we are going to have that; what we want is a common international consciousness and a common international life. The Psalmist said, “The kings of the earth take counsel together against the Lord and against his anointed,” and they certainly did. What we want is that the kings of the earth should take counsel together for the Lord and for his anointed. Paul said, “The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in holiness of spirit.” What we want is a common international consciousness, interpreted by a common international tribunal, expressing itself in a common international will, and enforced by a common international executive, that shall make for righteousness, for peace, and for human welfare. ——

  1. Address delivered extemporaneously at the Lake Mohonk, New York, Conference on International Arbitration, May 30, 1906; reported stenographically by Miss Lilian D. Powers, and revised by the author.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1926.


The author died in 1922, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.