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John Middleton Murry: Non-intervention versus the universal peace of universal destruction


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

British writers on peace and war

John Middleton Murry: Selections on peace and war


John Middleton Murry
From The Basis of Internationalism

As the medieval clerics in assenting to the edicts of the temporal powers interposed a saving clause – salvo ordine meo: “without prejudice to the rights of my order,” or some equivalent phrase – so the nations, ever since they became nations, have always explicitly or implicitly made a reservation of their “vital interests” from the domination of International Law. Since each nation was the judge of its own vital interests, the reign of International Law was a decorous facade, concealing a condition of international anarchy.

The principle of “non-intervention,” for example, of which we hear so much today, never was a principle which governed the actions of the British Government. We intervened to the tune of 100 millions, and a few thousand lives, in Soviet Russia as late as 1921; not long before that we intervened, in company with France, most tyrannically in the internal affairs of Greece. We forget these little episodes. The simple truth is that the moment we feel that our “vital interests” are involved, the principle of non-intervention goes into the lumber-room as a prejudice, only to be hauled out and re-varnished as a principle when we feel that it is against our “vital interests” to allow other nations to intervene.


The point I am trying to make will be clearer if we try to imagine a real and effective super-national authority, engaged in promulgating and enforcing the Law….It was possible to conceive, possible almost to realize, such a super-national authority in the far-off days of the Hildebrandine Popes. They could compel the subjects of a temporal prince to abandon their allegiance; they had the power to make plain to the simplest man, by excommunication and interdict, that if he obeyed his prince he was putting his immortal soul in peril.


From Fascism and Nationalism

It follows, unfortunately, that fascism is happening in England too.. The difference is that our own is a negative Fascism, whereas the German and Italian kinds are positive: ours is unconscious, theirs is conscious: ours is the Fascism of “defence against Fascism.” To the average man, and to the politician, the difference seems great. In fact it is very small. Of the Fascist countries there is one thing, and one thing only, for the Englishman to say: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” And he had better hurry up finding the grace of God.

Take the name away and look at the reality of Fascism. It is only Nationalism: the nationalism of the countries that were the last to become nationalist. The real difference between English Nationalism and German Nationalism is that English Nationalism is satisfied with what is has got, and German Nationalism is not. And if German Nationalism or Italian Nationalism were to get enough to satisfy themselves, English Nationalism would at once cease to be satisfied. And the final equilibrium would be reached in the universal peace of universal destruction.


From Material or Spiritual?

It is a noteworthy fact that of all European peoples the German and the Italians are probably, as individuals, the most pacific, the least nationalistic. That is, at least in part, because they submitted longest to the anti-national authority of the Holy Roman Empire. It is only during the last century that Germany and Italy have become conscious of themselves as “nations”: that they are seeking feverishly to make up for their backwardness in the general evolution towards national consciousness. As belated “nations” they suffer from a deep-rooted sense of inferiority: hence their extravagant aggressiveness.

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