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Diagnosing Europe

ISSUE:  Summer 1939

Europc in Retreat. By Vera Micliclcs Dean. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. $2.00. Europe on the Eve. By Frederick L. Scluiman. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. $3.50.

Here are two books on recent European politics, each of which is built around the Munich settlement, and each of which treats that event as a disastrous defeat for the democracies. “Europe on the Eve,” by Frederick L. Schuman, Woodrow Wilson Professor at Williams College, begins and ends with predictions of black doom; “Europe in Retreat,” by Vera Micheles Dean, Research Director of the Foreign Policy Association, ends on a feeble note of hope; yet it is the second book that is really depressing, and the first that is really cheering.

Although one would have thought that the public had received enough information on the subject from Hitler and other people, Mrs. Dean’s main idea is to tell us once more how everything came from the unjust peace treaty of Versailles. This is competently done, but when she gets beyond the point of Hitler’s “rectification” of the Versailles Treaty, she has essentially nothing more to say.

“Europe in Retreat” raises a number of major questions about the present international crisis, but none of them is answered. Not untypical is the author’s treatment of the question posed by herself: “Will concessions appease Germany?” She begins her answer by asking herself three further questions, each of which is unanswerable, if not nonsensical. The first is whether the German people are incapable of living peacefully, the second is whether Nazi-ism ought to be viewed merely as a childhood disease, the third is whether the German spirit is incompatible with the spirit of Europe. After listing these without comment, Mrs. Dean seems to conclude that concessions may or may not appease Germany. From the record of events in “Europe in Retreat” the reader is likely to conclude that international politics are very interesting and very confusing.

Professor Schuman’s book is a high-water mark in American political science. In the first place, literally thousands of facts are woven into narrative form and annotated with thirty-five pages of references, indicating, seemingly, that the author has read everything. But more important, the facts have been selected with a view to analysis, so that we have, for scores of recent international crises, not only a record, but also a scientific study of the consequences of these recent events. It is this detailed logical study which gives power to “Europe on the Eve.” Furthermore, the book is written with color and verve. Where Mrs. Dean is at pains to have us understand that certain European politicians are not particularly immoral, Professor Schuman takes pains to point out that they are gangsters and scoundrels. The uncritical reader might conclude that Mrs. Dean was scientific and Professor Schuman unscientific, but he would be wrong. If the major European politicians are scoundrels, we expect the political scientist to know this, and Professor Schuman is at no loss for facts to prove his points.

“Europe on the Eve” gives a clear picture of the techniques and objectives of Fascist policy as well as of the factors in the democratic camp that have been responsible for capitulation. The steps which could have checked the aggression are indicated in specific cases, and reasons are given for the lack of cooperation among the partisans of democracy. This cooperation, Professor Schuman has concluded, will not take place, and therefore he holds that Western civilization will go down before Fascism.

The usual political scientist would scornfully repudiate the layman’s idea that a man who was a scientist concerned with politics should be able to predict what will happen. The subject, he would say, is too complicated. But Professor Schuman, long before the appearance of this book, had predicted not only the general situation of contemporary Europe but also specific developments. His analysis was good enough to enable him to forecast not only the absorption of Austria but also the outcome at Munich. These successes were the rewards for close study and hard thinking.

It is doubtful, however, that Professor Schuman’s predictions about the near future will prove to be reliable. His analysis rests upon the premise that the British will either assist or at least not hinder Germany’s drive for the domination of Europe. But predictions in this book made as recently as the beginning of 1939 already sound dubious. Four very positive statements made on the same page may be cited as examples.

The first is that the Fascist Triplice is now so strong that it is “literally invincible and irresistible,” and the second is that Britain and France are no longer capable of offering armed resistance. These statements are certainly debatable. Apart from other considerations, it is reasonably certain that if the aid of the Soviet Union can be obtained, France and Britain are not doomed to defeat.

But Professor Schuman asserts in a third statement that “The Soviet Union, having been spurned and excluded from the councils of the West, would assuredly not aid unless it were itself attacked. . . .” This statement is a plain non sequitur. Professor Schuman seems here not to have allowed for any calculus of interest in Soviet diplomacy. Although, at the time of writing, the press is filled with speculations about German-Soviet rapprochement, it is none the less clear that the U.S.S.R. has nothing to gain from English and French capitulation to Germany.

But it may be said that if France and Britain wish to capitulate, the question of Soviet aid is irrelevant. This brings us to Professor Schuman’s fourth statement: as a result of pacifism and mass demoralization engineered from above, the democracies cannot mobilize popular support for a war of resistance. This reasoning seems to be based partly on some not very obvious reasoning about class interests, and upon evidence from the recent past. But Professor Schuman’s evidences relate to governments; he gives no evidence about the general public. Was it not popular opposition to the policy of appeasement which recently frightened the Conservative party politicians about their party’s prospects and forced Chamberlain to abandon his open adherence to that policy? Because of British popular opinion, another Munich will be very difficult to bring off, no matter what Chamberlain may desire. And with the Gallup poll showing eighty-seven per cent of the British people in favor of an alliance with the U.S.S.R., the Chamberlain Government may soon face the alternatives of making such an alliance or falling.

If Professor Schuman’s current predictions are suspect, it is largely because he has not yet made a study of the processes of democracy comparable to his study of fascism. Contemporary political scientists have been so much impressed by modern propaganda technique and by the ways in which governmental apparatus is used to serve special interests, that they implicitly assume that ordinary people cannot think at all and cannot find ways of enforcing their will. But misleading propaganda has often failed. The general public in democracies has not always been controlled. It has often succeeded in exercising control by finding leaders who will act as it wants. When Lincoln said that “You can’t fool all of the people all of the time,” he was advancing from two truths of political science to a third and more profound truth. This truth is important for predictions about the future of Europe, because in the near future, more than at any time in the recent past, the decisive factor is not what governments are likely to do, but what the people will do.


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