Front Page Titles (by Subject) 4.: Peace in Eastern Europe - Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War
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4.: Peace in Eastern Europe - Ludwig von Mises, Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War 
Omnipotent Government: The Rise of the Total State and Total War, edited with a Foreword by Bettina Bien Greaves (Indianapolis: Indiana, 2011).
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Peace in Eastern Europe
The attempts to settle the political problems of Eastern Europe by the application of the principle of nationality have met with complete failure. In that corner of the world it is impossible to draw boundaries which would clearly and neatly separate the various linguistic groups. A great part of this territory is linguistically mixed, that is, inhabited by people of different languages. The rivalries and the mutual hatreds of these nations make them an easy prey for the “dynamism” of the three big adjacent powers, Germany, Russia, and Italy. If left alone they will sooner or later lose their independence unless they cease from discord.
Both world wars originated in this area. Twice the Western democracies have drawn the sword to defend the threatened independence of these nations. Yet the West has no real material interest in preserving the integrity of these peoples. If the Western democracies succeed in establishing an order that safeguards them against new aggressions, it will make no difference to them whether Warsaw is the capital of an independent Polish state or a provincial town of Russia or Germany, or whether Athens is a Greek or an Italian city. Neither the military nor the economic power of the Western democracies would be seriously imperiled if Russia, Germany, and Italy were to partition these lands among them. Nor will it matter for them whether a Lithuanian language and literature persist or whether they disappear.
The interest of the Western democracies in East European affairs is altruistic and unselfish. It is the outcome of a disinterested sympathy, of an enthusiasm for freedom, and of a sense of justice. These feelings have been grossly exploited by all these Eastern nations. Their friends in the West did not want to help them oppress minorities or make inroads upon their weaker neighbors. When the Western democrats hailed Kossuth,3 it did not occur to them that they favored ruthless oppression of Slovaks, Croats, Serbs, Ukrainians, and Rumanians. When they expressed their sympathies for Poland, they did not mean to approve the methods applied by the Poles against Ukrainians, Lithuanians, and Germans. They sought to promote liberalism and democracy, not nationalistic tyranny.
It is probable that the political leaders of the East European linguistic groups have not yet become aware of the change going on in the attitudes of the Western nations. They are right in expecting that their nations will be restored to political independence after the victorious end of the war. But they are badly mistaken if they assume that the Western nations will fight a third world war for them. They themselves will have to establish a political order which enables them to live in peace with their immediate neighbors, and to defend their independence against future aggression on the part of the great powers Russia, Germany, and Italy.
All the plans suggested in the past for the formation of an East European or Danubian customs union or federation, or for a simple restoration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, were doomed to fail because they were based on erroneous assumptions. Their authors did not recognize that a customs union, in this age of government interference with business, is incompatible with maintaining the sovereignty of the member nations. They did not grasp the fact that under present conditions a federation means that virtually all power is vested in the supernational federal government, and the national governments are reduced to the status of provinces. The only way to substitute peace and coöperation for the existing disunion in Eastern Europe, or in any other part of the world, is the establishment of a unitary government—unless the nations will return to laissez faire.
Unitary government is the more adequate and indispensable in Eastern Europe in that it also provides the only solution for the peculiar problem of boundaries and linguistic minorities. A federation could never succeed in this respect. Under a federative system the constitution assigns some governmental powers to the federal government and others to the local governments of the member states. As long as the constitution remains unchanged the federal government does not have the power to interfere in questions which are under the jurisdiction of the member states. Such a system can work and has worked only with homogeneous peoples, where there exists a strong feeling of national unity and where no linguistic, religious, or racial differences divide the population.
Let us assume that the constitution of a supposed East European federation grants to every linguistic minority group the right to establish schools where its own language is taught. Then it would be illegal for a member state to hinder the establishment of such schools directly or openly. But if the building code or the administration of public health and fire fighting are in the exclusive jurisdiction of the member states, a local government could use its powers to close the school on the ground that the building did not comply with the requirements fixed by these regulations. The federal authorities would be helpless. They would not have the right to interfere even if the grounds given proved to be only a subterfuge. Every kind of constitutional prerogative granted to the member states could be abused by a local government.
If we want to abolish all discrimination against minority groups, if we want to give to all citizens actual and not merely formal freedom and equality, we must vest all powers in the central government alone. This would not cripple the rights of a loyal local government eager to use its powers in a fair way. But it would hinder the return to methods whereby the whole administrative apparatus of the government is used to harm minorities.
A federation in Eastern Europe could never abolish the political implications of the frontiers. In every member state there would remain the problem of minorities. There would be oppression of minorities, hatred, and Irredentism. The government of every member state would continue to consider its neighbors as adversaries. The diplomatic and consular agents of the three great neighboring powers would try to profit from these quarrels and rivalries, and might succeed in disrupting the whole system.
The main objectives of the new political order which has to be established in Eastern Europe must be:
1. To grant every citizen full opportunity to live and to work freely without being molested by any linguistic group within the boundaries of Eastern Europe. Nobody should be persecuted or disqualified on account of his mother tongue or his creed. Every linguistic group should have the right to use its own language. No discrimination should be tolerated against minority groups or their members. Every citizen should be treated in such a way that he will call the country without any reservation “my country” and the government “our government.”
2. Not to lead any linguistic group to expect improvement in its political status by a change in territorial organization. The difference between a ruling linguistic group and oppressed linguistic minorities must disappear. There must be no “Irredenta.”
3. To develop a system strong enough to defend its independence against aggression on the part of its neighbors. Its armed forces must be able to repel, without foreign assistance, an isolated act of aggression on the part of Germany or Italy or Russia. It should rely on the help of the Western democracies only against a common aggression by at least two of these neighbors.
The whole territory of Eastern Europe must therefore be organized as a political unit under a strictly unitary democratic government. Within this area every individual should have the right to choose where he wishes to live and to work. The laws and the authorities should treat all natives—i.e., all citizens of East Europe—alike, without privileges or discrimination for or against individuals or groups.
Let us call this new political structure the “Eastern Democratic Union” (edu). Within its framework the old political units may continue to function. A dislocation of the historically developed entities is not required. Once the problem of borders has been deprived of its disastrous political implications, most of the existing national bodies can remain intact. Having lost their power to inflict harm upon their neighbors and upon their minorities, they may prove very useful for the progress of civilization and human welfare. Of course, these former independent sovereign states will in the framework of the edu be nothing more than provinces. Retaining all their honorary forms, their kings or presidents, their flags, anthems, state holidays, and parades, they will have to comply strictly with the laws and administrative provisions of the edu. But so long as they do not try to violate these laws and regulations, they will be free. The loyal and law-abiding government of each state will not be hindered but strongly supported by the central government.
Special commissioners of the edu will have to oversee the functioning of the local governments. Against all administrative acts of the local authorities injured parties will have the right to appeal to this commissioner and to the central government, provided that such acts do not come under the jurisdiction of a law court. All disagreements between local governments or between the commissioner and the local government will be ultimately adjudicated by the central government, which is responsible only to the central parliament. The supremacy of the central government should not be limited by any constitutional prerogatives of local authorities. Disagreements should be settled by the central government and by the central parliament, which should judge and decide every problem in the light of its implications for the smooth working of the total system. If, for instance, a dispute arises concerning the City of Wilno—one of the innumerable neuralgic points of the East—the solution will be sought not only between the Polish and Lithuanian local governments, or between the Polish and Lithuanian members of the central parliament; the central government and the central parliament will try to find a solution which may also be applied with justice to similar cases arising in Budweis, in Temesvár, or in Salonika.
In this way it may be possible to have a unitary government with a practically satisfactory degree of administrative decentralization.
The edu would have to include all the territories between the eastern borders of Germany, Switzerland, and Italy and the western borders of Russia, including all Balkan countries. It would have to take in the area which in 1933 formed the sovereign states of Albania, Austria, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Danzig, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Rumania, and Yugoslavia. It would have to include the territory that in 1913 comprised the Prussian provinces of East Prussia, West Prussia, Posen, and Silesia. The first three of these provinces belonged neither to the Holy Empire nor to the German Confederation. Silesia was a part of the Holy Empire only as an adjunct of the Kingdom of Bohemia. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries it was ruled by dukes who belonged to a branch of the Piasts, the old royal family of Poland. When Frederick the Great in 1740 embarked on the conquest of Silesia, he tried to justify his claims by pointing out that he was the legitimate heir of the Piast family. All four of these provinces are inhabited by a linguistically mixed population.
Italy must cede to the edu all the European countries which it has occupied since 1913, including the Dodecanese Islands, and furthermore the eastern part of the province of Venice, Friuli, a district inhabited by people speaking a Rhaeto-Romanic idiom.
Thus the edu will include about 700,000 square miles with some 120,000,000 people using 17 different languages. Such a country when united will be strong enough to defend its independence against one of the three mighty neighbors, Russia, Germany, and Italy.
The most delicate problem of the edu will be the linguistic problem.
All seventeen languages need, of course, to be treated equally. In every district, county, or community the tribunals, government agencies, and municipalities would have to use every language which in that district, county, or community was spoken by more than 20 per cent of the population.
English ought to be used as an international subsidiary language for dealings among members of the different linguistic groups. All laws would be published in English and in all seventeen national idioms. This system may seem strange and complicated. But we have to remember that it worked rather satisfactorily in old Austria with its eight languages. Contrary to a widespread and erroneous notion, the German language had no constitutional preëminence in imperial Austria.
The governments of Eastern Europe abused the system of compulsory education in order to force minorities to give up their own languages and to adopt the language of the majority. The edu would have to be strictly neutral in this respect. There would be private schools only. Any citizen or group of citizens would have the right to run an educational institution. If these schools complied with standards fixed by the central government, they would be subsidized by a lump sum for every pupil. The local governments would have the right to take over the administration of some schools, but even in these cases the school budgets would be kept independent of the general budget of the local government; no public funds but those allocated by the central government as subsidies for these schools should be used.
The politicians and statesmen of these Eastern nations are united today on only one point: the rejection of such a proposal. They do not see that the only alternative is permanent unrest and war among them, and perhaps partition of their territories among Germany, Russia, and Italy. They do not see it because they rely on the invincibility of the British and American forces. They cannot imagine the Americans and British having any task in this world but to fight an endless sequence of world wars for their benefit.
It would be merely an evasion of reality for the refugee representatives of these nations to try to convince us that they intend to dispose peacefully of their mutual claims in the future. It is true that Polish and Czech refugees, before Germany invaded Russia, made an agreement concerning the delimitation of their boundaries and future political coöperation. But this scheme will not work when actually put into practice. We have ample experience that all agreements of this type fail because the radical nationalists never accept them. All endeavors at an understanding between Germans and Czechs in old Austria met with disaster because the fanatical youth rejected what the more realistic older leaders had proposed. Refugees are, of course, more ready to compromise than men in power. During the first World War the Czechs and Slovaks, as well as the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes, came to an understanding in exile. Later events proved the futility of their agreements.
In addition, we must remember that the area which is claimed by both the Czechs and the Poles is comparatively small and of minor importance for each group. There is no hope that a similar agreement ever could be effected between the Poles on the one hand and the Germans, Lithuanians, Russians, or Ukrainians on the other hand; or between the Czechs on the one hand and the Germans or Hungarians or Slovaks on the other. What is needed is not delimitation of specific border lines between two groups but a system where the drawing of border lines no longer creates disaffection, unrest, and irredentism among minorities. Democracy can be maintained in the East only by an impartial government. Within the proposed edu no single linguistic group would be sufficiently numerous to dominate the rest. The most numerous would be the Poles and they would comprise about 20 per cent of its whole population.
One could object that the territory assigned to the edu is too large, and that the different linguistic groups involved have nothing in common. It may indeed seem strange that the Lithuanians should coöperate with the Greeks, although they never before have had any other mutual relations than the ordinary diplomatic ones. But we have to realize that the very function of the edu would be to create peace in a part of the world ridden by age-old struggles among linguistic groups. Within the whole area assigned to the edu it is impossible to discover a single undisputed border line. If the edu has to include both Lithuanians and Poles, because there is a large area in which Poles and Lithuanians live inextricably mixed and to which both nations vigorously lay claim, it must include the Czechs too because the same conditions prevail between the Poles and the Czechs as subsist between the Poles and Lithuanians. The Hungarians, again, must be included for the same reasons, and so must the Serbs, and consequently the other nations which claim parts of the territory known as Macedonia, i.e., the Bulgarians, Albanians, and Greeks.
For the smooth functioning of the edu it is not necessary that the Greeks should consider the Lithuanians as friends and brothers (although it seems probable that they would have more friendly feelings for them than for their immediate neighbors). What is needed is nothing else than the conviction of the politicians of all these peoples that it is no longer possible to oppress men who happen to speak another language. They do not have to love one another. They merely have to stop inflicting harm upon one another.
The edu would include many millions of German-speaking citizens, and more than a hundred thousand Italian-speaking citizens. It cannot be denied that the hatred engendered by the methods used by the Nazis and the Fascists during the present war will not disappear at once. It will be difficult for Poles and Czechs to meet for collaboration with Germans, and for Serbs and Slovenes to coöperate with Italians.
But none of these objections can be considered valid. There is no other solution of the East European problem. There is no other solution that could give these nations a life of peace and political independence.
[3. ][Lajos Kossuth (1802–1894), Hungarian patriot and statesman, imprisoned on political charges by the Austrian government (1837–40). He led the Hungarian insurrection of 1848–49. In 1848 he was appointed governor of Hungary with dictatorial powers. When in the following year the insurrection was crushed, he resigned and fled into exile.—Ed.]