The order of feudal society regularly imposed fetters on the productive forces which, beginning in the 16th century, began to develop on a grand scale. The nascent urban bourgeoisie felt themselves embarrassed and oppressed in their work. The traditional authority of public powers was hostile to their vital interests. Undermining and reversing this authority became the mission of bourgeois society. It took centuries to accomplish this task. The work of decomposition and demolition which was the golden hunt for the bourgeoisie, should open unlimited spaces, lured by their purely destructive character, since it would unfold in the nimbus of the “idea of liberty.” Spontaneously, liberty was considered as one of the greatest values of humanity. It presages that state in which man expects that it will suppress all that crushes and afflicts him, all that overwhelms him. The bourgeoisie would want to remove the corporations and diverse guilds. They were condemned because they believed that with the abolition of these institutions, limiting the thirst for profit, the entirety of humanity would be liberated from all internal and external pressures. The movement of bourgeois emancipation was considered purely and simply as “the war for the liberation of all humanity.” Thus, they found allies everywhere where men held the hope and ardent desire to find the roots of their misery and constraint. But when the victory of the bourgeoisie, under the flag of liberty, was obtained, what did they discover? They learned that their goal had procured for a thin layer of the population the right to exploit, shamelessly and unceremoniously, millions of others. Certainly, the idea of liberty was expressed, in a pertinent fashion, the general direction of events, the progressive destruction of bonds, but finally it no longer was able to keep its explosive force: that is to say a certain change towards a better future and a more elevated form of human existence.
In a similar manner, one can “unmask” all political ideas. Thus, we see that the last idea of “freedom of the seas” hid in itself the Anglo-Saxon ambition to dominate the oceans, the last idea of “Pan-Europa” concealed the hegemonic will of France towards Europe. The pacifist idea is the sparkling veil which clothes the sated property instincts – whether those be English or Dutch – fearing for their colonies. But in certain cases, poor and weak people can equally turn towards this idea. It must serve as a narcotic that they strongly administer. It should coax the strong into giving respite to the weak, then they can discretely, become stronger. In no case, did the Hague Peace Conferences, suggested by the Tsar, give birth to true pacifist sentiments. Muraviev, the Russian statesman, had pressed for these conferences. After, the Russo-Japanese war, they should procure a time of tranquility in Russia, which manifested so energetically its love of peace. They thought to utilize this calm to put in order Russian finances and reorganize and reinforce the Russian army. The idea of the right of people to rule themselves was a weapon of Czech, Polish, and Yugoslav nationalism. The usage by French politics of the idea of security was a veritable masterwork of extravagant audacity. In a frivolous fashion and by playing everything, they dared the worst of those who could demand good faith from men. Shamelessly, they advanced themselves over the last limit, where impudence was not only in itself a revolting provocation but where they must inevitably be resented as such. French politics asserted the idea of security to make the entire world understand that France is never more peaceful than when it constructs fortresses, uses tanks, makes military aircraft, and stockpiles toxic gas bombs. The idea of progress took, during the war, the form of a recommendation that was advantageous, useful, and profitable for the enemies of Germany. The idealized contents of the Fourteen Points of Wilson should incite the German people to renounce their cause and to deliver all their confidence to the generosity and nobility of heart of their enemies.
It is the same in cases where the root of an idea is the direct negation of the essence and tendencies of reality with which it is put into relation. The idea is not the reflection or model anticipating the perfection of existence, but on the contrary, its antipodes. It attracts the glance and general attention. Cannot reality discretely evolve in an opposite sense? By imposing itself as a credible interpretation of reality, it is in truth the denial of reality. It does not reveal the base, it abuses. Since it does not even find confirmation in reality and that it constantly courts the danger of being unveiled and refuted as trickery, it must be argued with a screaming rudeness. The appeal that is addressed to humanity must be especially pretentious that must be affirmed desperately against the uncontrollable impression of reality, arising from the weight of things. It especially cries strongly that the task that it lowers itself to accomplish is dirty. Its impertinence becomes insupportable in the measure in which it wants to distort judgment.
Disarmament is part of a type of idea which serves as a screen that dissimulates the evolution of reality. The evolution must do without the visual field to which man pays attention.
The superhuman efforts, that the European peoples had made during the war, their need to remain soldiers during the four years, provoked a reversal of public opinion. The people were tired of bearing arms, of being in uniform. They would become pacifists because of militarist force feeding. They were “pacifists of fatigue.” In the victorious peoples vibrated the memory of the goal that they once had enthusiasm for: crush Germany to finish definitively with the war. Germany was vanquished – they could and should uproot its warmongering. The leaders made a profession of faith in favor of disarmament, it was a promise in this sense. The people believed in this promise, taking it at face value, and abstained from verifying if it held. However, the governments held in perpetuity the new distribution of power. Under the pretext of disarmament, the would proceed with adaptations, modifications, restructurings, and perfecting of their armies. To express it with the words of Machiavelli: they would speak of peace and prepare for war.
Political ideas are always founded on the currents of the epoch: the ardent desires of peoples, the wish to change, the hostility in regards to the authorities, the nascent sentiments of national pride, the self confidence of peoples, the forms of influence of a power in place, that, as for example, “Americanism,” make felt their vitality, their robustness, and their endurance. Sometimes, the idea reflects the characteristics of the phenomenon of the epoch. It is the formula that allows to take the conscience and which, thereby, becomes an effective propaganda. In another case, it is an ideal moving away from the forms of daily life. Politics then seizes the constraint, to the requirement which emanates by pretending to take dispositions to appropriate the same ideal. Sometimes, it is a grandiose protest against the “status quo.” But behind this pathos, it only conceals a malignant egoism whose hour comes when the traditional state and its right to exist are put in question under the weight of protest. But in no case, it is not in the nature of politics to realize this political ideas, regardless of the type to which they belong. Also, even with moral and religious ideas, they are only means of politics. It is only because they turn directly around these phenomena, objects, modifications, and structures, ascensions and declines, which together with their interactions constitute the contents of politics, which are “political” ideas. But they are not it, because politics aspires to consciously transport these ideas from the sphere of their spiritual existence into a living reality.
The problem posed by the relation between politics and ideas, in the sense of a symbolic concept, is more simple and transparent. This idea reunites the characteristics with facts based on experience. “The idea of the German state” gathers the essential elements of the German state; given historically, living through the centuries. “The idea of the art of war” is evidently shown as all that is common in war from the past to the present, all that is regular and all that follows the same laws, a bit like what Clausewitz magisterially did in his remarkable book Vom Krieg (“On War)”. Even if there are certain idealistic elements, various idealized components are mixed into the abstract notion, which was created from experience, however the fact remains that it better serves the knowledge of political facts. Sometimes, politics grabs these ideas to clarify itself, to arrive at a frank comprehension of its ways and methods. Certainly, such introspection reveals that one is in accord with the nature of things, given a certain force and a certain courage: taking into account its convictions with more firmness and assurance.
We have seen that the idea is not the motor of the political process. One time, it will be signboard and a war cry, another time, a pretext and ruse, but never is it the primal force that causes and produces true effects. But the political force, coming directly from events, what is it in reality?
It is the will to existence and the power of the state through which the will of the people manifests itself. This will to affirm and to extend its power is something elementary. It is a fundamental fact which bears its right and law. To win, to be worthy, is the sole commandment they obey. Certainly, this commandment does not come from the outside. It is the formula that summarizes the need and the force which, per se, characterizes nature. It is the same that Machiavelli means, when he writes: “When it is for the nation, to be or not to be, he must not reflect if this or that is just or unjust, humane or cruel, laudable or shameful. But not unceremoniously, it must take measures to save its life and preserve its liberty.” The English then formulated it more concisely: “My country, right or wrong.” Here it is to make the will to existence of the state which orders and imposes norms, which is an absolute and sovereign fashion, uniquely by the function of itself, and which, imperiously, brings back all to itself.
Certainly, there is a variability in the force of this will to life. Sometimes, it is fiery and irascible, suddenly inflamed, all devouring, such an immense fire; sometimes it is tenacious, unswerving, flowing in large waves, such a powerful stream; and in another case, it lacks assurance, is weak, without endurance, as if it drew from meager sources. The more this will to life unfolds, strongly, untamed, with a tranquil assurance, this named “political instinct” is more developed and infallible. It is a wisdom of full equilibrium, coming from unfathomable depth, a wisdom that never tricks itself and which, in all circumstances, finds that which needs to be done. It is equally that foolproof tact that always says what is opportune. The sense of political reality: it is seen as incorruptible, the sure hand that seizes without hesitating, the feeling that can never be tricked by that which is useful, this developed flair for that which is necessary, and at the same time, possible. Its fierce “sanguine character,” its proud certainty, resting on solid bases, its sustained attention., its positivism, and its elevated degree of interior concentration which inspires confidence; all of those are only phenomena, manifestations of health and of force of the national and state will. Its health and boundless force gives a particular tint to the relation between ideas and politics, whose basic elements are seen everywhere. It is this particular tint that distinguishes and differentiates between peoples. The French, the Americans, the English, the Germans live this relation differently, with a variable and divergent manner.