Stead, William Thomas: Europa

The progress of mankind to a higher civilization has been marked at every stage by the continuous widening of the area within which no sword shall be drawn and no shot fired save by command of the central authority. In pure savagery every individual is a sovereign unit. The mateless tiger in the jungle is the most perfect type of the first stage of human individualism. Whom he will or can he slays, and whom he will or must he spares alive. His appetite or his caprice is his only law. He has power of life and death, and the sole right of levying war or making peace without reference to any other sovereignty than his own. From that starting-point man has gradually progressed by irregular stages across the centuries, until the right to kill, instead of being the universal prerogative of every man, is practically vested in about twenty hands -so far as white-skinned races are concerned. The first step was the substitution of the family for the individual as the unit of sovereignty. War might prevail ad libitum outside, but there must be peace at home. After the family came the tribe. After the tribe, the federation of tribes for purposes of self defence or of effective aggression. Then came the cities, with the civic unit. From time to time a despot or conqueror, driven by sheer ambition, established an empire, which, however imperfect it might be, maintained peace within its boundaries. Then nations were formed, each with their own organism and each allowing at first a very wide latitude for private and local war to their component parts. In our own history, not even our insular position prevented our forefathers, long after they had achieved some kind of nominal unity, preserving with jealous eye the right of private and provincial war. By slow degrees, however, the right to kill has been confined to even fewer and fewer hands. The mills of God have ground as usual very slowly, but those who took the sword perished by the sword, and the pertinacious asserters of the ancient inalienable right of private war were converted from the error of their ways by the effective process of extermination at the hands of a stronger power, determined that no one should wield the power of the sword but itself. In Germany to-day, in place of a hundred potentates, each enjoying the right to kill, William II is the sole War Lord.

And as it is in Germany so it is elsewhere. The right to suspend the Decalogue so far as the command “Thou shalt not kill” is concerned is now confined in Europe to William II, Nicholas II, Francis Joseph, Humbert, Victoria, and President Faure. These are the lords of the first degree, whose right to kill is practically absolute. After them come the lords of the second degree, who are allowed a certain latitude of killing provided they can secure the neutrality of one or more of the War Lords of the first degree. There is a nominal right to kill enjoyed by all the kings of all States. But as a matter of fact it cannot be exercised except in alliance with one or other of the greater Powers. Greece thought that it was possible to exercise this nominal prerogative of independent sovereignty. Her experience is not such as to encourage other small States to follow her example.

But in reality the persons who have the unrestricted right to kill in Europe are even fewer than the six absolute lords. Europe is now practically divided into two camps. There is the Russo-French Alliance, entered into for the purpose of restraining France from precipitating war, which practically gives Nicholas II a veto upon the right of levying war enjoyed by the French Republic. On the other hand, there is the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria, and Italy, which practically renders it impossible for Austria or Italy to go to war without the permission of William II. Between these two Alliances there is the British Empire. In Europe, therefore, the right of levying war is vested almost solely in the Queen, her grandson, and her granddaughter’s husband. Nicholas II, William II, and Victoria -these three are the Triumvirate of Europe. And as the late Tsar said to me at Gatschina, “If these three -Russia, Germany, and England- hold together, there will be no war.” So far, therefore, we have come in our pilgrimage to the United States of Europe, that the power of the sword, which last century was a practical reality in the hands of a hundred potentates, is now practically limited to three persons, without whose permission no gun may be fired in wrath in the whole Continent.

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