Slike strani
PDF
ePub

INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

I SHALL have the honor to ask your attention this morning, without preface or exordium, to some thoughts upon the subject of international relations. What I have to say must be both general and discursive, but I hope may not be found altogether without the interest that arises from practical application.

The branch of jurisprudence upon which the rights and intercourse that exist between civilized nations are based has been commonly called international law. I do not think a less accurate phrase has often gained acceptance among instructed minds. In this subject, as in so many others, inexact language is both the cause and the result of inexact ideas. The word law, employed in any juridical sense, implies two indispensable elements—a supreme authority by which its obligation is prescribed, and a paramount force by which obedience is exacted. A system of proposed human conduct that lacks either of these conditions may be just and desirable, but it cannot reach the dignity of law. It may appeal, as the precepts of morality do, to conscience, to reason, and to policy, but it must remain only persuasive in its requirements, and voluntary in its obligation. Such are the rules that regulate the intercourse of nations.

It does not appear to me, therefore, that the world is much indebted to Jeremy Bentham (if it is particularly indebted to him for anything) for the invention of the term "international law." The older title, "law of nations,” if it has a different meaning at all, as has sometimes been claimed, acquires it by being less accurate still. The term “international morality," which some writers have suggested, seems equally inadequate, because it expresses only the source instead of the comprehension of the system it attempts to define. I venture to suggest the term “international usage," not as beyond criticism, but as more nearly descriptive than any other I am able to propose for this youngest and most rapidly developing chapter in the science of jurisprudence. But whatever the name, perhaps you will pardon a few introductory words in respect to the foundation upon which the fabric rests and the nature of the superstructure that has been raised upon it.

Much speculation has been lavished upon the subject of the true origin and sanction of international obligation, by many and celebrated writers, from Grotius down to the present time. Each has constructed his own theory, and has criticised with more or less success those who have gone before. It would be neither possible nor interesting to attempt to review them here, or to point out how many are the distinctions that have been laboriously constructed out of how few real differences. They seem to arise in great part from efforts at an artificial division of an inseparable whole; from a widely variant understanding of the meaning of unnecessary terms; and from a confusion, which is often the bane of juridical writing,

between the statement of a conclusion, and the history of the process out of which it has come to pass. The outcome of all the speculations on the subject, by all writers whose views are worthy of attention, may, I think, be fairly and clearly stated in a very few words.

What has been called “international law" obtains its authority from the general assent, gradually acquired, of civilized mankind. It consists, first, in the application to the intercourse of nations of those principles of natural justice and morality which are inherent in the human conscience; and, next, in a body of rules and customs, more or less conventional and arbitrary, designed to give effect to those principles which have grown up under the guidance of experience until they have come to be regarded as established, and which are adopted and enforced, when they affect jural rights, by enlightened courts of justice. The system divides itself, therefore, as all bodies of law must which obtain supremacy among a free and intelligent people, into principles and rules. Principles that are unchangeable and of perpetual duration; rules that are subject to constant modification and improvement for convenience sake, as the changeful exigencies of society and business demand. Principles which are accepted as law because they are right; rules which are accepted as right because they have come to be law.

Perhaps I should excuse myself for pausing on the way to the more practical suggestions I desire to make, to expend any words at all upon abstract propositions that do not seem to need to be supported by argument. But it is worthy of remark, in passing, that only a few months ago the Earl of Lytton, a gentleman of much literary as well as inherited distinction, and now Ambassador from Great Britain to France, in an address delivered upon his inauguration as Chancellor of the University of Glasgow, announced, somewhat I think to the surprise of his audience, a very different theory of international conduct from that which I have stated, and brought to its support the subtlety of reasoning, the grace of style, and the fertility of illustration so easily at his command. The proposition of Lord Lytton is that the principles of morality have no control in the intercourse of nations: that governments are neither capable of nor amenable to ethical rules, and are to be guided only by considerations of expediency, and that obligations based upon the natural rights of man (which he seems to reject altogether as a foundation of law) have no place in determining the rules of international action. He attempts to find support for this theory in the conduct of states, exhibited in so many instances in history, where right has been sacrificed to policy; in the assertions that a government is an entity not capable of the practice or sentiment of morality; that the rightfulness of war cannot be controverted, and that war is not reconcilable with morality; and that law is the result of positive authority, rather than of absolute right.

These propositions appear to me to be not only erroneous in theory, but destructive to the peace of the world if they should be generally adopted. They result in the very state of things it is the object of all law to prevent—the supremacy of physical strength and the doctrine that might makes right. It seems impossible that they should ever be established in the only way international rules can be—by the general

assent of enlightened nations. Human society began in the right of the strongest. All the advancement it has ever made, all that Christianity or civilization has done for it, have been in the opposite direction. The whole fabric of international relations has grown up from that barbarous time when the foreigner cast upon the shore became a slave and his property plunder, when prisoners of war were put to death or sold into slavery, and when piracy was held to be meritorious, by the gradual assertion of the principles of moral justice, not only as the highest duty, but as the plainest and most necessary policy of nations. Is it not rather late in the history of the world to propose to return, in the dealings of one country with another, to the predominance of the strongest, dictated by self-interest, and exempt from the control of national conscience?

That history discloses in the conduct of nations much disregard of justice is true enough, but that does not diminish its obligation. As well might it be argued against the enforcement of the criminal law that crime has always been common. It is not the innocence of mankind from which that law has derived its origin, but the wrong it seeks to prevent. It is in the steady diminution of indefensible national conduct which has marked the progress of better principles that their best sanction is found. It is true also that states are not men, and are not, therefore, subject to all the moral duties that attach to personal life; but as aggregates of men they are not the less moral persons, and amenable to all the ethical principles which bear upon national conduct. The requirements of morality are limited, with governments as with individuals, by the relations in which they

« PrejšnjaNaprej »