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THE CHANGE SINCE CASTLEREAGH

Now, it was this condition, essential to the maintenance of Castlereagh's Balance of Power, which completely

broke down during the course of the nineteenth century. Like most of the vital processes in history, the change

was gradual and unobtrusive, and its significance escaped the notice of politicians, journalists, and even

historians. Men went on repeating Castlereagh's phrases about the Balance of Power without perceiving that

the circumstances, which alone had given it reality, had entirely altered. The individual independence and

automatic action of the Great Powers in checking the growing ambitions and strength of particular States were

impaired, if not destroyed, by separate Alliances, which formed units into groups for the purposes of war and

foreign policy, and broke up the unity of the European system, just as a similar tendency threatens to break up

the League of Nations. There was a good deal of shifting about in temporary alliances which there is no need

to recount; but the ultimate upshot was the severance of Europe into the two great groups with which we are

all familiar, the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria, and Italy on one side, and the Triple Entente between

Russia, France, and Great Britain on the other. The multiple Balance of Power was thus changed into a simple

balance between two vast aggregations of force, and nothing remained outside to hold the balance, except the

United States, which had apparently forsworn by the Monroe Doctrine the function of keeping it even.

And yet men continued to speak of the Balance of Power as though there had been no change, and as though

Castlereagh's ideas were as applicable to the novel situation as they had been to the old! That illustrates the

tyranny of phrases. Cynics have said that language is used to conceal our thoughts. It is difficult to resist the

conclusion that phrases are used to save us the trouble of thinking. We are always giving things labels in order

to put them away in their appropriate pigeon−holes, and then we talk about the labels without thinking about

them, and often forgetting (if we ever knew) the things for which they stand. So we Pelmanised the Balance of

Power, and continued to use the phrase without in the least troubling to ask what it means. When I asked at

the Foreign Office whether diplomatists meant by the Balance of Power the sort of simple balance between

two great alliances like the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente, I was told "yes"; and there was some

surprise−−since the tradition of Castlereagh is strong in the service−−when I pointed out that that was an

entirely different balance from that of which Castlereagh had approved as a guarantee of peace. You

remember the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland−−an excellent text−book for students of politics−−and

how the cat gradually faded away leaving only its grin behind it to perplex and puzzle the observer. So the

body and the substance of Castlereagh's Balance of Power passed away, and still men talk of the grin and look

to the phrase to save them from war. Whether to call them visionaries or the blind, I do not know.