The American Road to World Peace

By Alfred Zimmern | Go to book overview

Consider the effects of the Roman imperial tradition upon the political life of Europe. We will not dwell on the fact that it became a cause of perpetual rivalry and disorder during the Middle Age between the partisans of the revived empire and the papacy. What is important for these pages is that, when the medieval system eventually broke up, not through external conquest but through its own inner weakness, the local territorial rulers, who filled the vacuum of power, could not rid themselves of the imperial obsession. They saw themselves as emperors on a smaller scale and their kingdoms as portion of a world empire in the making; a curious illustration of this way of thinking occurred even in the present century, when the German Emperor, William II, styling himself "the Emperor of the Atlantic," designated the Czar of Russia as "the Emperor of the Pacific." And even the smaller states, to whom such hopes and dreams were denied, often followed the prevailing fashion of seeking aggrandizement, either by local adventures or as satellites of the great.


CHAPTER 18: The Concept of Sovereignty

THIS was the system--if system it can be called--which was prevailing in Europe when the people of the United States proclaimed their independence in 1776. It was one in which each state was bent on increasing its power and improving its position at the expense of its neighbors, near or far. It was, in fact, a system which was competitive through and through; only the rivalry was not a rivalry for wealth, as the name "competitive" suggests to our own minds today, but for power. The notion of co-operation, which was embodied in the medieval concept of a common Christendom, had receded completely into the background, even in the minds of thinkers.

These competing states were known as "sovereign" because, apart from a few exceptional cases, they Were governed by in-

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