The Corner

League of Democracies

The “league of democracies” idea that John McCain seems to favor is far from new. It was promoted back in the 1930s by journalist Clarence K. Streit in a book that sold well and was much discussed. George Orwell worked it over in a long essay. Streit’s idea of an Atlantic Union got him on the cover of Time, postwar. From Orwell’s essay:

Briefly, what Mr Streit suggests is that the democratic nations, starting with fifteen which he names, should voluntarily form themselves into a union — not a league or an alliance, but a union similar to the United States, with a common government, common money and complete internal free trade. The initial fifteen states are, of course, the USA, France, Great Britain, the self-governing dominions of the British Empire, and the smaller European democracies, not including Czechoslovakia, which still existed when the book was written. Later, other states could be admitted to the Union when and if they ‘proved themselves worthy’. It is implied all along that the state of peace and prosperity existing within the Union would be so enviable that everyone else would soon be pining to join it.

It is worth noticing that this scheme is not so visionary as it sounds. Of course it is not going to happen, nothing advocated by well-meaning literary men ever happens …

Orwell goes on to rail against they hypocrisy of Britain and France, with their huge coolie empires, being regarded as democratic. Channeling Orwell, I once made a similar point in regard to WW1:

Woodrow Wilson’s assertion that it was a war for “democracy” was preposterous: Both Germany and Austria were more democratic than Russia; and in fact, the German and Austrian empires, taken as a whole, were more democratic than the British and French empires, taken as a whole.

Orwell’s objection to the union-of-democracies idea (expressed pithily, if eyebrow-raisingly in today’s “prevailing structure of taboos”) no longer has force. I am afraid, though, that his assertion that “nothing advocated by well-meaning literary men ever happens” is true in all times and places.

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