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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INTERVENTION. By intervention, in politics, is meant the influence exercised by one or several governments over another or several other governments regarding internal or external affairs, of a nature to compromise the general peace. Taken in its etymological sense, the word intervention should signify arbitration; but as the duty of an arbiter supposes absolute disinterestedness on the part of the one who takes this character, the term certainly can never be rigorously applied in politics, for the interference of a nation in the affairs of a strange state rarely possesses and still more rarely preserves this noble character. Still, the principle on which the right of intervention is based, is theoretically the recognition of a human right, the affirmation of the unity of human reason, the attestation of the moral and material solidarity of all nations and all individuals, independent of and superior to the constitutions and particular laws that govern them.


Nil humani a me alienum puto: I esteem nothing human foreign to me; such is the profession of faith of every man of progress, no matter what his nationality. Surely, nothing can be nobler than this. In France the right to interfere in the internal and foreign debates of other countries is considered almost as of divine investiture, and this generous passion has often made the French forget even the care of their own independence.


—Can it be said that there is a human law, fixed and invariable, accepted by all, and calculated to serve as a rule for all relations of people to the government, and of state to state? We need but cast a glance at contemporaneous events and recall the history of past times to recognize how far we still are from such a realization. However, the right of intervention is exercised every day, either openly or covertly, to the detriment of universal morality. It has served and may still serve as a pretext for every species of usurpation, iniquity and spoliation. Instead of preventing war, it most frequently leads to a general conflagration; from a circumscribed debate, colored with some show of justice, it leads to the most audacious attempts against the independence of nations and the liberty of individuals.


—There are several kinds of intervention-intervention simply by means of notes called verbal, delivered by the ambassador of the intervening power; official intervention by notes publicly delivered; pacific intervention, which nearly always has for result a congress or international conference, and armed intervention, preceded by an ultimatum, accompanied by military demonstrations and followed by a declaration of war.


—The principal authors who have treated of the law of nations have vainly endeavored to circumscribe the right of intervention, but they have not succeeded in giving a positive definition of it, or defining its limitations. Vattel, Wheaton, de Martens, Pinheiro Ferreira, admit that it should apply only to the purely external acts of nations, and that the circumstances in which a foreign government may intervene in the internal affairs of a state are very special and restricted; but these authors have taken care not to specify the particular cases in which intervention appears to them legitimate, and thus the way is left open to all interpretations.


—Some modern publicists have professed the principle of non-intervention in opposition to the principle of intervention; endeavoring (so lacking in precision is political language) to give a positive value to a negation. Instead of considering in itself the right of nations to dispose of themselves, to form their institutions, to contract alliances, and to conclude treaties of commerce, they have reduced the declaration of independence of nations to this lamentable formula: Each one for himself, and at home.


—In 1820 at the time of the meeting of the congress of Troppeau and Laybach, the English government endeavored to establish more definite limits to the exercise of the right of intervention: the question arose apropos of the Neapolitan nation, which, in the course of an uprising, had wrested from its sovereign certain guarantees against arbitrary power. The popular movement had been successful, the king abdicated in favor of the duke of Calabria, and granted a constitution. The emperors of Russia and Austria, and the king of Prussia, interested themselves in the matter, and convoked a congress of the powers that signed the treaty of 1815, to take counsel, in their common interest, as to the revocation of the concessions granted; England declined to attend, and her declaration deserves mention here, for it inaugurated the policy of non-intervention which secured to Europe so long a period of peace.


—While acknowledging that a government might have the right to interfere seriously and directly in the affairs of another state, the English government deemed this right justifiable only by the most urgent necessity; it did not admit that this right could receive a general and unrestricted application in all cases of popular movements, and it believed especially that it should not be employed as a prudential measure, nor form the basis of an alliance. This right, it said, should be an exception to the most essential principles; it could be allowed only in special circumstances. The liberal attitude of England, at this period, is not to be attributed to a respect for the independence and autonomy of nations; policy proceeds from interest, more or less correctly understood, and not from principle.


—The most curious result of the congress of Laybach, was the pretension (a pretension made by the intervening powers) to prevent a sovereign from granting, or, to speak more accurately, from restoring to his people the liberties which had been taken from them. Its decision was to the effect that the absolute principle should be re-established at Naples, that the former king should resume his crown, and that, if necessary, force should be employed to obtain this end. Austria was charged with the execution of the decree; her armies invaded the kingdom of the Two Sicilies, and during several years occupied, at the expense of that country, the principal cities of the kingdom.


—One year later Piedmont rebelled, and proclaimed a constitution copied after the Spanish constitution of 1812. Again there was a new intervention, a condemnation of the insurrectionary action of the Piedmontese people, and a restoration of absolutism; and again it was Austria that had the honor of the repression. The allied governments thus justified their intervention: "It was a right which, in this special case, became an urgent necessity to unite in common measures of security against the states in which the overthrow of the government effected by revolt could be considered but as a dangerous example, which would result in an attitude hostile to legitimate constitutions and governments."


—Two years passed, and Spain in turn demanded the constitution of 1812; this time France was the executor of the decrees of the holy alliance; her arms overthrew the national compact of Spain and restored absolutism beyond the Pyrenees.


—Upon the revolt of the Spanish colonies, the desire to intervene was again manifested, but here the United States upheld the revolted provinces, and England declared herself ready to recognize the independent governments that had been formed, and the holy alliance was obliged to withdraw before the consequences of its own principle.


—In 1825 the death of John VI. called to the throne of Portugal his eldest son, Dom Pedro, then emperor of Brazil. The constitution of the latter country being opposed to the reunion of the two crowns, Dom Pedro abdicated in favor of his eldest daughter, Donna Maria, who inaugurated her new reign by according a constitution to Portugal. A competitor arose to oppose her, under the auspices of the great powers. France supported Dom Miguel, but England declared openly for the constitutional power of Donna Maria, and disembarked a body of troops in Portugal; this effective intervention a second time foiled the retrograde action of the French, Russian and Austrian governments.


—In 1826 a new coalition was formed, in which England participated in the intervention demanded by France and Russia in favor of the Greek insurrection. The united powers burned the Turkish fleet at Navarino. Fourteen years later, France intervened in favor of the Turkish government, and all Europe was prepared to take up-arms in defense of an empire which it had so terribly ill treated but a few years before.


—Since 1848 interventions have followed one another pretty steadily: the intervention at Rome to re-establish the temporal power of the pope; the intervention in the Crimea to insure the integrity of the Turkish empire; the intervention in Italy for the re-establishment of Italian nationality; the intervention in Syria for the protection of the Christians of Libanus; the intervention in China and Cochin China, under pretext of suppressing acts of cruelty committed upon the missionaries, and in reality to enlarge the circle of the commercial relations of France and England; and French intervention in Mexico, the sad results of which are well known.


—To sum up, intervention is war, and war is the subordination of civil to military genius, and as a talented author has very forcibly expressed it: "As dangers accumulate, war opens the era of saviours. Scipio makes us forget the Gracchi, and prepares the way for the Cæsars. The austerity of public morals gradually disappears before the corruption of ill-acquired riches; the glory of the great generals eclipses all social virtue. War is as disastrous to morals as to the public finances." It was in the name of the right of intervention that Catharine II. prepared the way for the division of Poland; it was by an appeal to the same right that Prussia and Austria sanctioned this usurpation by taking part in the spoliation of the Polish nation; it is under color of intervention that England even successively dispossessed the native princes of Hindostan. It was under the pretext of intervention that Brunswick addressed to revolutionary France the insulting manifesto to which she replied by so many victories. However, the French revolution was an entirely internal matter; when it broke out it had not the character of propagandism which it assumed later. We may say that the intervening powers violated the autonomy of nations, and that the principle of intervention which they wished to legitimatize by a series of manifestoes, proved, in the absence of a well-defined human right, applicable to all peoples, whatever degree of civilization they may have reached, solemnly and directly accepted by them without the compulsion of their respective governments, to be nothing more than a modern disguise of the right of force.


—It is this so-called right that legalizes those military establishments which absorb so many useful arras, and so much fruitful capital; appealing by turn to the right of nations and the interest of sovereigns, the right of conscience and the interest of religion, it will destroy to-morrow what it erected yesterday; it changes arbitrarily the balance of international relations, and under pretext of establishing between nations one common law of justice and civilization, fosters their mutual enmities.


—What would be said of a tribunal passing judgment under pressure of the interests and passions of the moment; applying a law which has neither been defined nor confirmed, and executing its own sentences? Such, however, is the power exercised to-day by the right of intervention. Does this mean that the juridical idea, the thought essentially human whence intervention proceeds, shall never be satisfied? I do not think so; the question ought to be put thus: Above the arbitrary conventions of politics, above treaties, above governments, above nationalities themselves, so frequently appealed to in our day, does a human law exist? Can it be established upon a serious, durable, respectable basis? What international convention could draw up this code of civilized nations? How should the members of this convention be chosen? What sanction should the constitution which might result from these deliberations, have? What tribunal would take cognizance of offenses against this new code? What would be the means of enforcing obedience to it, and the manner of executing the decisions of this international tribunal when it would have summoned before it a dispute between two nations, or the protestations of a nation against the despotism of its rulers? It is thus the question should be put, if we would give a respectable foundation to the right of intervention; if we would substitute reason for force, right for brutality, peace for war, a stable equilibrium for an insecure one, and economy for prodigality. Until it be resolved in this manner, we must condemn intervention, under whatever disguise it may conceal itself; for, springing from force, it can lead to nothing but arbitrary power.


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