Cyclopædia of Political Science, Political Economy, and the Political History of the United States

Edited by: Lalor, John J.
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New York: Maynard, Merrill, and Co.
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Includes articles by Frédéric Bastiat, Gustave de Molinari, Henry George, J. B. Say, Francis A. Walker, and more.
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DIPLOMACY. "This is the designation of the sum total of knowledge and principles necessary for the good and proper conduct of public business between states," says Klüber, in his treatise on International Law. This definition, however, does not exhaust the meaning which usage has given to the word diplomacy. Klüber, in his definition, had in view only the science of diplomacy; but the practice or the application of this science, if science it be, is diplomacy, too.


—The thing, diplomacy, is old; the name is modern. Relations have existed at all times between states. Even nomadic hordes and savage tribes do not always incline to attack and exterminate one another the moment they meet. Hence the necessity for every country or community to confide to representatives the business of looking after its interests with foreign states and tribes. The art of negotiation may be acquired to a certain extent, but the superior adroitness of the negotiator is as much a natural gift as is the talent of the painter or musician. So long as the relations between states were comparatively simple, and especially when they were not frequent, governments limited themselves to choosing, in each instance, the person who seemed peculiarly fitted for the mission. At a time when there was no tradition in diplomacy, no apprenticeship was needed. But as civilization spread over wider territory, states which recognized its laws increased in number, and there was established, if not a code of doctrine, at least a collection of rules and practices, purely conventional in part, but in part having their origin in the very nature of things—a collection of rules which it was necessary to know and to apply. Traces of these rules are found in antiquity, and still more in the middle ages; but it was in modern times that they were reduced to a real system. In modern times also, it was that some countries required of agents charged with international affairs certain preparatory studies.


—Diplomacy, and we include in this term both its theory and practice, has been of great service; it has contributed to soften international relations and to lessen the number of wars. The first negotiators were more frequently the conquered, who, on one side, appeared as pleaders in their own cause, and on the other, conquerors, often brutal, who did not think themselves bound to give any quarter, or obliged to show any consideration. Generally they never met again. Human respect, public opinion, and so many other restraints which moderate the expression of violent passions, either did not exist then, or had no influence. But when, especially after the peace of Westphalia, the custom of permanent missions became general, and the men sent on these missions were chosen either from the higher nobility or from persons frequenting the courts, customs of courtesy became established of necessity, the value and importance of which it would be wrong to under-estimate.


—One of the most direct results of these customs was to decrease the number of wars. The facility given the sovereign of a country easily to confer with the representative of a government with which he had had a dispute, was enough to smooth over many difficulties. The evils of war are so great that nations generally prefer to come to an amicable understanding rather than expose themselves to them. Besides, the more relations become intimate, or merely frequent, between two men, the more they feel a repugnance to commit injustice against each other. This restraint is of course not always strong enough; but, whatever may have been its action before the growth of public opinion, there was no power but that of the diplomatic body capable of putting a certain restraint on governments in their international relations. The intervention of this body was not caused solely by the solidarity existing between all civilized states, a solidarity close enough to cause to be felt, even in the farm lands of France and England, the effects of a civil war which raged on the banks of the Potomac and the Mississippi. This intervention is founded also on the principles of eternal morality, and sometimes even it has been able to limit itself to invoking social decorum. It was in this way that the diplomatic corps, led by the representative of France at Lisbon, Hyde de Neuville, prevented, in 1824, by common action, the insurrection of Dom Miguel against his father. And this is not the only act of this kind recorded by history. Diplomacy has more than once moderated the severities of war and religious persecution.


—Diplomacy thus has been an instrument of peace. Why, then, is it in such ill repute? Is not diplomacy often taken as a synonym of cunning and dissimulation? Is not a diplomate, who must be distinguished from the diplomatic agent, in the estimation of many persons, a deceitful man with a talent for "using language in such a way as to conceal his thought"? There was a time when this unfavorable opinion had a certain foundation. But it was not altogether the fault of the institution. We may say here, like master, like man. An ambassador, or minister plenipotentiary, is simply an agent; he is obliged to execute the orders of his government and of the sovereign, "his august master." At the time when all these sovereigns were absolute monarchs, and some of them despots in the strictest sense of the word, ideas of honor, of loyalty and good faith, were not so general as they are now, and society was not so exacting on this point as at present. It is easily understood why absolute and ambitious princes gave their agents tasks morally reprehensible, and why these agents, in order to succeed, had to employ deceit, falsehood, intrigue and other means, which arouse our indignation. Pursuing an end which frequently it would not do to acknowledge, and generally through means which were still less to be acknowledged, diplomates had also to shroud their actions in the most profound mystery, and their most highly valued power was that of knowing how to speak and say nothing.


—At present the diplomatic agent is more than ever the proxy of his government, but the telegraph and the rapidity of communication have almost entirely deprived him of all initiative. His task often consists in delivering to the minister of foreign affairs of the country to which he is accredited the paper containing the ideas of his superior, and in reading it, leaving with the minister a copy or not, according to the orders he has received; and it is not always he who is charged with transmitting the answer. Thus, the French ambassador at London is charged with making a communication to the chief of the foreign office, and the latter answers the French government through the English ambassador at Paris. With duties such as these the influence of diplomacy is reduced to very little. But people often attribute to diplomacy the moral action which governments exercise upon each other.


—The new political system introduced into most civilized states, and the usage which has become more or less frequent of publishing diplomatic correspondence, must cause the last traces of ill will against diplomacy to disappear. Cabinets subjected to graver responsibility weigh their instructions and their orders more seriously, and it rarely happens nowadays that the end in view can not be confessed, and still more rarely that dubious means are used. These means, moreover, in our time would have fewer chances of success than formerly. At present there exists a power which must be respected—the power of public opinion. Whoever counts this power among his allies can do what he likes. Many measures are taken, therefore, in order to win this favor; and, as formerly secrecy and dissimulation were the most usual, in our time publicity and frankness are applauded, and not without reason, as the best methods of reaching success. It is only to be desired that this publicity should always be complete, and this frankness always sincere.


—The difference between the mission of diplomatic agents in former centuries and that intrusted to them to-day, may be described as follows: formerly they were the organs of personal politics, the instruments of their sovereigns' ambition; at present they represent the general interest of their country, and are called upon, in a certain measure, to facilitate international relations, which is one of the conditions of the progress of humanity. Their present task is much more difficult than that of their predecessors. If they have less initiative, they need more extensive and varied knowledge in order to instruct their governments on the condition of the country to which they are accredited. They have no longer merely to follow its politics; they must also look at its economic movement, whose influence will at some time be felt everywhere, especially in free countries. This double task is considered so weighty that it has been divided; generally the ministers now have the political power, and the consuls the commercial.


—The special information needed by diplomatic agents are the law of nations and certain ideas found in various works. We shall only mention the following. l'Ambassadeur et ses fonctions, by Wicquefort (Paris, 1764, 2 vols.); Histoire générale et raisonnée de la diplomatie française, by Flassan, 2nd ed. (Paris, 1811, 7 vols.); Ueber den Begriff der diplomatie, by Liechtenstern (Vienna, 1814); Système de la diplomatie, by Winter (Berlin, 1830); Traité complet de diplomatie, par un ancien ministre (comte de Garden) (Paris, 1833, 3 vols.); Guide diplomatique, 4th ed. (Leipsig, 1851). (See AGENT, DIPLOMATIC; AMBASSADOR; CIPHER DISPATCHES.)


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