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The Society of Nations

ISSUE:  Winter 1933

The Society of Nations: Its Organisation and Constitutional Development, By Felix Morley. Washington: The Brookings Institution. $3.50.

Behind the backs of the American people Mr. Hoover and Mr. Stimson have been co-operating with the League of Nations. Even the present leaders of that new realism in politics which triumphed in 1920 cannot forget the images which they created in the minds of the American public. If the League, partially eclipsed though it is, be regarded from any American observatory, there will stretch across it the gigantic shadow of Woodrow Wilson.

American thinking and writing about the League, no less than American action, has been pulled from the normal by our tendency to see in all discussions of the League the question, what should be the relation to the League of the United States? Numerous, able, and sympathetic as have been the books which Americans have written, they have seldom treated of the League as a cold existing fact. Mr. Morley achieves the hitherto unaccomplished: his “The Society of Nations” is a book on the League, not on questions about the League. And it is perhaps the best book on the League that has been written, certainly the best in the English language. He does no wishful thinking about the League’s success or lack of it. He does not raise the question of “belief in the League”—a question which seems ridiculous in any capital but ours, and most of all in that drab city on the Rhone where enthusiasms would surely die if there were no reality behind them. He simply tells, with the calm touch of the thoroughly competent, what the League of Nations is.

To say that the League as it has come to be is quite different from the League that American adhesion might have created, is to restate a platitude. But for Americans that platitude must be colored with the knowledge that if the League is different it is not necessarily less real or less competent. If the League, a feeble child, nearly died in infancy, it has grown stronger rather than weaker in the years since its birth. Exposure to inclement nature, the Greek answer to the problem of unwanted children, resulted sometimes in death and sometimes, as Greek legend tells us, in the fostering of a hero. And if to-day, in the midst of difficulties over disarmament and Manchukuo, the League wears a sickly countenance, it is a momentary shadow on the variable complexion of adolescence, rather than the bloodless mask of senility.

Mr. Morley divides his book into two parts. In the first part, “The League in Preparation,” he describes and examines the plans, first vague and then more and more definite, for the construction of a governmental machine for the society of nations. His careful presentation reveals the constitutional ideas behind the organization that arose, and the origin of each important provision in the covenant of the League. It is a constitutional history of the League before the League’s actual creation.

In the second part of his book, “The League in Being,” Mr. Morley gives a large-scale constitutional analysis of the League machinery as it now exists. Facts which lie hidden in the mass of League publications are here arranged in orderly and comprehensible array. Secrets of League politics are unravelled and knit into the patterned web. Like Lord Bryce, Mr. Morley has listened as well as read, to find out the truth about institutions. But unlike Bryce, who sometimes seemed to consider the most casual conversation with a government clerk more valuable than a whole blue book, Mr. Morley has that careful reverence for documents which is essential to the author of any treatise that breaks new ground. The whole structure and working of the League are described clearly, completely, and with a refreshing up-to-dateness; the book contains a constitutional analysis of the League’s relation to the Sino-Japanese difficulties through the special assembly of last spring.

Inevitably the reader is impressed by the part that the technical organizations and the secretariat play in Mr. Mor-ley’s analysis. It is here that popular thought most needed what he has to give. The popular view emphasizes the part played by council and assembly, for in old-fashioned governmental organization executive and legislature have the great prestige. But it is clear that the League, which is a government, is a new kind of government, and one which (in harmony with all contemporary tendencies) finds its most unfailing motive power in anonymous administration.

There is a depth of point of view and maturity of touch about the book which seem to guarantee it a position of permanence in the literature of the League of Nations. Perhaps they are only to be expected of a writer with Mr. Morley’s excellent and varied education and his long and observant sojourn in Geneva.


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