The Economic Consequences of the Peace
by John Maynard Keynes

Chapter 3: The Conference

     In chapters 4 and 5 I shall study in some detail the economic
 and financial provisions of the treaty of peace with Germany. But
 it will be easier to appreciate the true origin of many of these
 terms if we examine here some of the personal factors which
 influenced their preparation. In attempting this task I touch,
 inevitably, questions of motive, on which spectators are liable
 to error and are not entitled to take on themselves the
 responsibilities of final judgment. Yet, if I seem in this
 chapter to assume sometimes the liberties which are habitual to
 historians, but which, in spite of the greater knowledge with
 which we speak, we generally hesitate to assume towards
 contemporaries, let the reader excuse me when he remembers how
 greatly, if it is to understand its destiny, the world needs
 light, even if it is partial and uncertain, on the complex
 struggle of human will and purpose, not yet finished, which,
 concentrated in the persons of four individuals in a manner never
 paralleled, made them in the first months of 1919 the microcosm
 of mankind.
     In those parts of the treaty with which I am here concerned,
 the lead was taken by the French, in the sense that it was
 generally they who made in the first instance the most definite
 and the most extreme proposals. This was partly a matter of
 tactics. When the final result is expected to be a compromise, it
 is often prudent to start from an extreme position; and the
 French anticipated at the outset -- like most other persons -- a
 double process of compromise, first of all to suit the ideas of
 their allies and associates, and secondly in the course of the
 peace conference proper with the Germans themselves. These
 tactics were justified by the event. Clemenceau gained a
 reputation for moderation with his colleagues in council by
 sometimes throwing over with an air of intellectual impartiality
 the more extreme proposals of his ministers; and much went
 through where the American and British critics were naturally a
 little ignorant of the true point at issue, or where too
 persistent criticism by France's allies put them in a position
 which they felt as invidious, of always appearing to take the
 enemy's part and to argue his case. Where, therefore, British and
 American interests were not seriously involved their criticism
 grew slack, and some provisions were thus passed which the French
 themselves did not take very seriously, and for which the
 eleventh-hour decision to allow no discussion with the Germans
 removed the opportunity of remedy.
     But, apart from tactics, the French had a policy. Although
 Clemenceau might curtly abandon the claims of a Klotz or a
 Loucheur, or close his eyes with an air of fatigue when French
 interests were no longer involved in the discussion, he knew
 which points were vital, and these he abated little. In so far as
 the main economic lines of the treaty represent an intellectual
 idea, it is the idea of France and of Clemenceau.
     Clemenceau was by far the most eminent member of the Council
 of Four, and he had taken the measure of his colleagues. He alone
 both had an idea and had considered it in all its consequences.
 His age, his character, his wit, and his appearance joined to
 give him objectivity and a defined outline in an environment of
 confusion. One could not despise Clemenceau or dislike him, but
 only take a different view as to the nature of civilised man, or
 indulge, at least, a different hope.
     The figure and bearing of Clemenceau are universally
 familiar. At the Council of Four he wore a square-tailed coat of
 a very good, thick black broadcloth, and on his hands, which were
 never uncovered, grey suede gloves; his boots were of thick black
 leather, very good, but of a country style, and sometimes
 fastened in front, curiously, by a buckle instead of laces. His
 seat in the room in the President's house, where the regular
 meetings of the Council of Four were held (as distinguished from
 their private and unattended conferences in a smaller chamber
 below), was on a square brocaded chair in the middle of the
 semicircle facing the fire-place, with Signor Orlando on his
 left, the President next by the fire-place, and the Prime
 Minister opposite on the other side of the fire-place on his
 right. He carried no papers and no portfolio, and was unattended
 by any personal secretary, though several French ministers and
 officials appropriate to the particular matter in hand would be
 present round him. His walk, his hand, and his voice were not
 lacking in vigour, but he bore nevertheless, especially after the
 attempt upon him, the aspect of a very old man conserving his
 strength for important occasions. He spoke seldom, leaving the
 initial statement of the French case to his ministers or
 officials; he closed his eyes often and sat back in his chair
 with an impassive face of parchment, his grey-gloved hands
 clasped in front of him. A short sentence, decisive or cynical,
 was generally sufficient, a question, an unqualified abandonment
 of his ministers, whose face would not be saved, or a display of
 obstinacy reinforced by a few words in a piquantly delivered
 English.(1*) But speech and passion were not lacking when they
 were wanted, and the sudden outburst of words, often followed by
 a fit of deep coughing from the chest, produced their impression
 rather by force and surprise than by persuasion.
     Not infrequently Mr Lloyd George, after delivering a speech
 in English, would, during the period of its interpretation into
 French, cross the hearth-rug to the President to reinforce his
 case by some ad hominem argument in private conversation, or to
 sound the ground for a compromise -- and this would sometimes be
 the signal for a general upheaval and disorder. The President's
 advisers would press round him, a moment later the British
 experts would dribble across to learn the result or see that all
 was well, and next the French would be there, a little suspicious
 lest the others were arranging something behind them, until all
 the room were on their feet and conversation was general in both
 languages. My last and most vivid impression is of such a scene
 -- the President and the Prime Minister as the centre of a
 surging mob and a babel of sound, a welter of eager, impromptu
 compromises and counter-compromises, all sound and fury
 signifying nothing, on what was an unreal question anyhow, the
 great issues of the morning's meeting forgotten and neglected;
 and Clemenceau, silent and aloof on the outskirts -- for nothing
 which touched the security of France was forward -- throned, in
 his grey gloves, on the brocade chair, dry in soul and empty of
 hope, very old and tired, but surveying the scene with a cynical
 and almost impish air; and when at last silence was restored and
 the company had returned to their places, it was to discover that
 he had disappeared.
     He felt about France what Pericles felt of Athens -- unique
 value in her, nothing else mattering; but his theory of politics
 was Bismarck's. He had one illusion -- France; and one
 disillusion -- mankind, including Frenchmen, and his colleagues
 not least. His principles for the peace can be expressed simply.
 In the first place, he was a foremost believer in the view of
 German psychology that the German understands and can understand
 nothing but intimidation, that he is without generosity or
 remorse in negotiation, that there is no advantage he will not
 take of you, and no extent to which he will not demean himself
 for profit, that he is without honour, pride, or mercy. Therefore
 you must never negotiate with a German or conciliate him; you
 must dictate to him. On no other terms will he respect you, or
 will you prevent him from cheating you. But it is doubtful how
 far he thought these characteristics peculiar to Germany, or
 whether his candid view of some other nations was fundamentally
 different. His philosophy had, therefore, no place for
 'sentimentality' in international relations. Nations are real
 things, of whom you love one and feel for the rest indifference
 -- or hatred. The glory of the nation you love is a desirable end
 -- but generally to be obtained at your neighbour's expense. The
 politics of power are inevitable, and there is nothing very new
 to learn about this war or the end it was fought for; England had
 destroyed, as in each preceding century, a trade rival; a mighty
 chapter had been closed in the secular struggle between the
 glories of Germany and of France. Prudence required some measure
 of lip service to the 'ideals' of foolish Americans and
 hypocritical Englishmen; but it would be stupid to believe that
 there is much room in the world, as it really is, for such
 affairs as the League of Nations, or any sense in the principle
 of self-determination except as an ingenious formula for
 rearranging the balance of power in one's own interests.
     These, however, are generalities. In tracing the practical
 details of the peace which he thought necessary for the power and
 the security of France, we must go back to the historical causes
 which had operated during his lifetime. Before the Franco-German
 war the populations of France and Germany were approximately
 equal; but the coal and iron and shipping of Germany were in
 their infancy, and the wealth of France was greatly superior.
 Even after the loss of Alsace-Lorraine there was no great
 discrepancy between the real resources of the two countries. But
 in the intervening period the relative position had changed
 completely. By 1914 the population of Germany was nearly seventy
 per cent in excess of that of France; she had become one of the
 first manufacturing and trading nations of the world; her
 technical skill and her means for the production of future wealth
 were unequalled. France on the other hand had a stationary or
 declining population, and, relatively to others, had fallen
 seriously behind in wealth and in the power to produce it.
     In spite, therefore, of France's victorious issue from the
 present struggle (with the aid, this time, of England and
 America), her future position remained precarious in the eyes of
 one who took the view that European civil war is to be regarded
 as a normal, or at least a recurrent, state of affairs for the
 future, and that the sort of conflicts between organised Great
 Powers which have occupied the past hundred years will also
 engage the next. According to this vision of the future, European
 history is to be a perpetual prize-fight, of which France has won
 this round, but of which this round is certainly not the last.
 From the belief that essentially the old order does not change,
 being based on human nature which is always the same, and from a
 consequent scepticism of all that class of doctrine which the
 League of Nations stands for, the policy of France and of
 Clemenceau followed logically. For a peace of magnanimity or of
 fair and equal treatment, based on such 'ideology' as the
 Fourteen Points of the President, could only have the effect of
 shortening the interval of Germany's recovery and hastening the
 day when she will once again hurl at France her greater numbers
 and her superior resources and technical skill. Hence the
 necessity of 'guarantees'; and each guarantee that was taken, by
 increasing irritation and thus the probability of a subsequent
 revanche by Germany, made necessary yet further provisions to
 crush. Thus, as soon as this view of the world is adopted and the
 other discarded, a demand for a Carthaginian peace is inevitable,
 to the full extent of the momentary power to impose it. For
 Clemenceau made no pretence of considering himself bound by the
 Fourteen Points and left chiefly to others such concoctions as
 were necessary from time to time to save the scruples or the face
 of the President.
     So far as possible, therefore, it was the policy of France to
 set the clock back and to undo what, since 1870, the progress of
 Germany had accomplished. By loss of territory and other measures
 her population was to be curtailed; but chiefly the economic
 system, upon which she depended for her new strength, the vast
 fabric built upon iron, coal, and transport, must be destroyed.
 If France could seize, even in part, what Germany was compelled
 to drop, the inequality of strength between the two rivals for
 European hegemony might be remedied for many generations.
     Hence sprang those cumulative provisions for the destruction
 of highly organised economic life which we shall examine in the
 next chapter.
     This is the policy of an old man, whose most vivid
 impressions and most lively imagination are of the past and not
 of the future. He sees the issue in terms of France and Germany,
 not of humanity and of European civilisation struggling forwards
 to a new order. The war has bitten into his consciousness
 somewhat differently from ours, and he neither expects nor hopes
 that we are at the threshold of a new age.
     It happens, however, that it is not only an ideal question
 that is at issue. My purpose in this book is to show that the
 Carthaginian peace is not practically right or possible. Although
 the school of thought from which it springs is aware of the
 economic factor, it overlooks, nevertheless, the deeper economic
 tendencies which are to govern the future. The clock cannot be
 set back. You cannot restore Central Europe to 1870 without
 setting up such strains in the European structure and letting
 loose such human and spiritual forces as, pushing beyond
 frontiers and races, will overwhelm not only you and your
 'guarantees', but your institutions, and the existing order of
 your society.
     By what legerdemain was this policy substituted for the
 Fourteen Points, and how did the President come to accept it? The
 answer to these questions is difficult and depends on elements of
 character and psychology and on the subtle influence of
 surroundings, which are hard to detect and harder still to
 describe. But, if ever the action of a single individual matters,
 the collapse of the President has been one of the decisive moral
 events of history; and I must make an attempt to explain it. What
 a place the President held in the hearts and hopes of the world
 when he sailed to us in the George Washington! What a great man
 came to Europe in those early days of our victory!
     In November 1918 the armies of Foch and the words of Wilson
 had brought us sudden escape from what was swallowing up all we
 cared for. The conditions seemed favourable beyond any
 expectation. The victory was so complete that fear need play no
 part in the settlement. The enemy had laid down his arms in
 reliance on a solemn compact as to the general character of the
 peace, the terms of which seemed to assure a settlement of
 justice and magnanimity and a fair hope for a restoration of the
 broken current of life. To make assurance certain the President
 was coming himself to set the seal on his work.
     When President Wilson left Washington he enjoyed a prestige
 and a moral influence throughout the world unequalled in history.
 His bold and measured words carried to the peoples of Europe
 above and beyond the voices of their own politicians. The enemy
 peoples trusted him to carry out the compact he had made with
 them; and the Allied peoples acknowledged him not as a victor
 only but almost as a prophet. In addition to this moral influence
 the realities of power were in his hands. The American armies
 were at the height of their numbers, discipline, and equipment.
 Europe was in complete dependence on the food supplies of the
 United States; and financially she was even more absolutely at
 their mercy. Europe not only already owed the United States more
 than she could pay; but only a large measure of further
 assistance could save her from starvation and bankruptcy. Never
 had a philosopher held such weapons wherewith to bind the princes
 of this world. How the crowds of the European capitals pressed
 about the carriage of the President! With what curiosity,
 anxiety, and hope we sought a glimpse of the features and bearing
 of the man of destiny who, coming from the West, was to bring
 healing to the wounds of the ancient parent of his civilisation
 and lay for us the foundations of the future.
     The disillusion was so complete, that some of those who had
 trusted most hardly dared speak of it. Could it be true? they
 asked of those who returned from Paris. Was the treaty really as
 bad as it seemed? What had happened to the President? What
 weakness or what misfortune had led to so extraordinary, so
 unlooked-for a betrayal?
     Yet the causes were very ordinary and human. The President
 was not a hero or a prophet; he was not even a philosopher; but a
 generously intentioned man, with many of the weaknesses of other
 human beings, and lacking that dominating intellectual equipment
 which would have been necessary to cope with the subtle and
 dangerous spellbinders whom a tremendous clash of forces and
 personalities had brought to the top as triumphant masters in the
 swift game of give and take, face to face in council -- a game of
 which he had no experience at all.
     We had indeed quite a wrong idea of the President. We knew
 him to be solitary and aloof, and believed him very strong-willed
 and obstinate. We did not figure him as a man of detail, but the
 clearness with which he had taken hold of certain main ideas
 would, we thought, in combination with his tenacity, enable him
 to sweep through cobwebs. Besides these qualities he would have
 the objectivity, the cultivation, and the wide knowledge of the
 student. The great distinction of language which had marked his
 famous Notes seemed to indicate a man of lofty and powerful
 imagination. His portraits indicated a fine presence and a
 commanding delivery. With all this he had attained and held with
 increasing authority the first position in a country where the
 arts of the politician are not neglected. All of which, without
 expecting the impossible, seemed a fine combination of qualities
 for the matter in hand.
     The first impression of Mr Wilson at close quarters was to
 impair some but not all of these illusions. His head and features
 were finely cut and exactly like his photographs, and the muscles
 of his neck and the carriage of his head were distinguished. But,
 like Odysseus, the President looked wiser when he was seated; and
 his hands, though capable and fairly strong, were wanting in
 sensitiveness and finesse. The first glance at the President
 suggested not only that, whatever else he might be, his
 temperament was not primarily that of the student or the scholar,
 but that he had not much even of that culture of the world which
 marks M. Clemenceau and Mr Balfour as exquisitely cultivated
 gentlemen of their class and generation. But more serious than
 this, he was not only insensitive to his surroundings in the
 external sense, he was not sensitive to his environment at all.
 What chance could such a man have against Mr Lloyd George's
 unerring, almost medium-like, sensibility to everyone immediately
 round him? To see the British Prime Minister watching the
 company, with six or seven senses not available to ordinary men,
 judging character, motive, and subconscious impulse, perceiving
 what each was thinking and even what each was going to say next,
 and compounding with telepathic instinct the argument or appeal
 best suited to the vanity, weakness, or self-interest of his
 immediate auditor, was to realise that the poor President would
 be playing blind man's buff in that party. Never could a man have
 stepped into the parlour a more perfect and predestined victim to
 the finished accomplishments of the Prime the Minister. The Old
 World was tough in wickedness anyhow; the Old World's heart of
 stone might blunt the sharpest blade of the bravest
 knight-errant. But this blind and deaf Don Quixote was entering a
 cavern where the swift and glittering blade was in the hands of
 the adversary.
     But if the President was not the philosopher-king, what was
 he? After all he was a man who had spent much of his life at a
 university. He was by no means a business man or an ordinary
 party politician, but a man of force, personality, and
 importance. What, then, was his temperament?
     The clue once found was illuminating. The President was like
 a nonconformist minister, perhaps a Presbyterian. His thought and
 his temperament were essentially theological not intellectual,
 with all the strength and the weakness of that manner of thought,
 feeling, and expression. It is a type of which there are not now
 in England and Scotland such magnificent specimens as formerly;
 but this description, nevertheless, will give the ordinary
 Englishman the distinctest impression of the President.
     With this picture of him in mind, we can return to the actual
 course of events. The President's programme for the world, as set
 forth in his speeches and his Notes, had displayed a spirit and a
 purpose so admirable that the last desire of his sympathisers was
 to criticise details-the details, they felt, were quite rightly
 not filled in at present, but would be in due course. It was
 commonly believed at the commencement of the Paris conference
 that the President had thought out, with the aid of a large body
 of advisers, a comprehensive scheme not only for the League of
 Nations, but for the embodiment of the Fourteen Points in an
 actual treaty of peace. But in fact the President had thought out
 nothing; when it came to practice his ideas were nebulous and
 incomplete. He had no plan, no scheme, no constructive ideas
 whatever for clothing with the flesh of life the commandments
 which he had thundered from the White House. He could have
 preached a sermon on any of them or have addressed a stately
 prayer to the Almighty for their fulfilment; but he could not
 frame their concrete application to the actual state of Europe.
     He not only had no proposals in detail, but he was in many
 respects, perhaps inevitably, ill-informed as to European
 conditions. And not only was he ill-informed -- that was true of
 Mr Lloyd George also -- but his mind was slow and unadaptable.
 The President's slowness amongst the Europeans was noteworthy. He
 could not, all in a minute, take in what the rest were saying,
 size up the situation with a glance, frame a reply, and meet the
 case by a slight change of ground; and he was liable, therefore,
 to defeat by the mere swiftness, apprehension, and agility of a
 Lloyd George. There can seldom have been a statesman of the first
 rank more incompetent than the President in the agilities of the
 council chamber. A moment often arrives when substantial victory
 is yours if by some slight appearance of a concession you can
 save the face of the opposition or conciliate them by a
 restatement of your proposal helpful to them and not injurious to
 anything essential to yourself. The President was not equipped
 with this simple and usual artfulness. His mind was too slow and
 unresourceful to be ready with any alternatives. The President
 was capable of digging his toes in and refusing to budge, as he
 did over Fiume. But he had no other mode of defence, and it
 needed as a rule but little manoeuvring by his opponents to
 prevent matters from coming to such a head until it was too late.
 By pleasantness and an appearance of conciliation, the President
 would be manoeuvred off his ground, would miss the moment for
 digging his toes in and, before he knew where he had been got to,
 it was too late. Besides, it is impossible month after month, in
 intimate and ostensibly friendly converse between close
 associates, to be digging the toes in all the time. Victory would
 only have been possible to one who had always a sufficiently
 lively apprehension of the position as a whole to reserve his
 fire and know for certain the rare exact moments for decisive
 action. And for that the President was far too slow-minded and
     He did not remedy these defects by seeking aid from the
 collective wisdom of his lieutenants. He had gathered round him
 for the economic chapters of the treaty a very able group of
 businessmen; but they were inexperienced in public affairs, and
 knew (with one or two exceptions) as little of Europe as he did,
 and they were only called in irregularly as he might need them
 for a particular purpose. Thus the aloofness which had been found
 effective in Washington was maintained, and the abnormal reserve
 of his nature did not allow near him anyone who aspired to moral
 equality or the continuous exercise of influence. His
 fellow-plenipotentiaries were dummies; and even the trusted
 Colonel House, with vastly more knowledge of men and of Europe
 than the President, from whose sensitiveness the President's
 dullness had gained so much, fell into the background as time
 went on. All this was encouraged by his colleagues on the Council
 of Four, who, by the break-up of the Council of Ten, completed
 the isolation which the President's own temperament had
 initiated. Thus day after day and week after week he allowed
 himself to be closeted, unsupported, unadvised, and alone, with
 men much sharper than himself, in situations of supreme
 difficulty, where he needed for success every description of
 resource, fertility, and knowledge. He allowed himself to be
 drugged by their atmosphere, to discuss on the basis of their
 plans and of their data, and to be led along their paths.
     These and other various causes combined to produce the
 following situation. The reader must remember that the processes
 which are here compressed into a few pages took place slowly,
 gradually, insidiously, over a period of about five months.
     As the President had thought nothing out, the Council was
 generally working on the basis of a French or British draft. He
 had to take up, therefore, a persistent attitude of obstruction,
 criticism, and negation, if the draft was to become at all in
 line with his own ideas and purpose. If he was met on some points
 with apparent generosity (for there was always a safe margin of
 quite preposterous suggestions which no one took seriously), it
 was difficult for him not to yield on others. Compromise was
 inevitable, and never to compromise on the essential, very
 difficult. Besides, he was soon made to appear to be taking the
 German part, and laid himself open to the suggestion (to which he
 was foolishly and unfortunately sensitive) of being 'pro-German'.
     After a display of much principle and dignity in the early
 days of the Council of Ten, he discovered that there were certain
 very important points in the programme of his French, British or
 Italian colleague, as the case might be, of which he was
 incapable of securing the surrender by the methods of secret
 diplomacy. What then was he to do in the last resort? He could
 let the conference drag on an endless length by the exercise of
 sheer obstinacy. He could break it up and return to America in a
 rage with nothing settled. Or he could attempt an appeal to the
 world over the heads of the conference. These were wretched
 alternatives, against each of which a great deal could be said.
 They were also very risky, especially for a politician. The
 President's mistaken policy over the congressional election had
 weakened his personal position in his own country, and it was by
 no means certain that the American public would support him in a
 position of intransigency. It would mean a campaign in which the
 issues would be clouded by every sort of personal and party
 consideration, and who could say if right would triumph in a
 struggle which would certainly not be decided on its merits.
 Besides, any open rupture with his colleagues would certainly
 bring upon his head the blind passions of 'anti-German'
 resentment with which the public of all Allied countries were
 still inspired. They would not listen to his arguments. They
 would not be cool enough to treat the issue as one of
 international morality or of the right governance of Europe. The
 cry would simply be that for various sinister and selfish reasons
 the President wished 'to let the Hun off'. The almost unanimous
 voice of the French and British Press could be anticipated. Thus,
 if he threw down the gage publicly he might be defeated. And if
 he were defeated, would not the final peace be far worse than if
 he were to retain his prestige and endeavour to make it as good
 as the limiting conditions of European politics would allow him?
 But above all, if he were defeated, would he not lose the League
 of Nations? And was not this, after all, by far the most
 important issue for the future happiness of the world? The treaty
 would be altered and softened by time. Much in it which now
 seemed so vital would become trifling, and much which was
 impracticable would for that very reason never happen. But the
 League, even in an imperfect form, was permanent; it was the
 first commencement of a new principle in the government of the
 world; truth and justice in international relations could not be
 established in a few months -- they must be born in due course by
 the slow gestation of the League. Clemenceau had been clever
 enough to let it be seen that he would swallow the League at a
     At the crisis of his fortunes the President was a lonely man.
 Caught up in the toils of the Old World, he stood in great need
 of sympathy, of moral support, of the enthusiasm of masses. But
 buried in the conference, stifled in the hot and poisoned
 atmosphere of Paris, no echo reached him from the outer world,
 and no throb of passion, sympathy, or encouragement from his
 silent constituents in all countries. He felt that the blaze of
 popularity which had greeted his arrival in Europe was already
 dimmed; the Paris Press jeered at him openly; his political
 opponents at home were taking advantage of his absence to create
 an atmosphere against him; England was cold, critical, and
 unresponsive. He had so formed his entourage that he did not
 receive through private channels the current of faith and
 enthusiasm of which the public sources seemed dammed up. He
 needed, but lacked, the added strength of collective faith. The
 German terror still overhung us, and even the sympathetic public
 was very cautious; the enemy must not be encouraged, our friends
 must be supported, this was not the time for discord or
 agitations, the President must be trusted to do his best. And in
 this drought the flower of the President's faith withered and
 dried up.
     Thus it came to pass that the President countermanded the
 George Washington, which, in a moment of well-founded rage, he
 had ordered to be in readiness to carry him from the treacherous
 halls of Paris back to the seat of his authority, where he could
 have felt himself again. But as soon, alas, as he had taken the
 road of compromise, the defects, already indicated, of his
 temperament and of his equipment, were fatally apparent. He could
 take the high line; he could practise obstinacy; he could write
 Notes from Sinai or Olympus; he could remain unapproachable in
 the White House or even in the Council of Ten and be safe. But if
 he once stepped down to the intimate equality of the Four, the
 game was evidently up.
     Now it was that what I have called his theological or
 Presbyterian temperament became dangerous. Having decided that
 some concessions were unavoidable, he might have sought by
 firmness and address and the use of the financial power of the
 United States to secure as much as he could of the substance,
 even at some sacrifice of the letter. But the President was not
 capable of so clear an understanding with himself as this
 implied. He was too conscientious. Although compromises were now
 necessary, he remained a man of principle and the Fourteen Points
 a contract absolutely binding upon him. He would do nothing that
 was not honourable; he would do nothing that was not just and
 right; he would do nothing that was contrary to his great
 profession of faith. Thus, without any abatement of the verbal
 inspiration of the Fourteen Points, they became a document for
 gloss and interpretation and for all the intellectual apparatus
 of self-deception by which, I daresay, the President's
 forefathers had persuaded themselves that the course they thought
 it necessary to take was consistent with every syllable of the
     The President's attitude to his colleagues had now become: I
 want to meet you so far as I can; I see your difficulties and I
 should like to be able to agree to what you propose; but I can do
 nothing that is not just and right, and you must first of all
 show me that what you want does really fall within the words of
 the pronouncements which are binding on me. Then began the
 weaving of that web of sophistry and Jesuitical exegesis that was
 finally to clothe with insincerity the language and substance of
 the whole treaty. The word was issued to the witches of all

             Fair is foul, and foul is fair,
             Hover through the fog and filthy air.

     The subtlest sophisters and most hypocritical draftsmen were
 set to work, and produced many ingenious exercises which might
 have deceived for more than an hour a cleverer man than the
     Thus instead of saying that German Austria is prohibited from
 uniting with Germany except by leave of France (which would be
 inconsistent with the principle of self-determination), the
 treaty, with delicate draftsmanship, states that 'Germany
 acknowledges and will respect strictly the independence of
 Austria, within the frontiers which may be fixed in a treaty
 between that state and the principal Allied and Associated
 Powers; she agrees that this independence shall be inalienable,
 except with the consent of the council of the League of Nations',
 which sounds, but is not, quite different. And who knows but that
 the President forgot that another part of the treaty provides
 that for this purpose the council of the League must be
     Instead of giving Danzig to Poland, the treaty establishes
 Danzig as a 'free' city, but includes this 'free' city within the
 Polish customs frontier, entrusts to Poland the control of the
 river and railway system, and provides that 'the Polish
 government shall undertake the conduct of the foreign relations
 of the free city of Danzig as well as the diplomatic protection
 of citizens of that city when abroad.'
     In placing the river system of Germany under foreign control,
 the treaty speaks of declaring international those 'river systems
 which naturally provide more than one state with access to the
 sea, with or without transhipment from one vessel to another'.
     Such instances could be multiplied. The honest and
 intelligible purpose of French policy, to limit the population of
 Germany and weaken her economic system, is clothed, for the
 President's sake, in the august language of freedom and
 international equality.
     But perhaps the most decisive moment in the disintegration of
 the President's moral position and the clouding of his mind was
 when at last, to the dismay of his advisers, he allowed himself
 to be persuaded that the expenditure of the Allied governments on
 pensions and separation allowances could be fairly regarded as
 'damage done to the civilian population of the Allied and
 Associated Powers by German aggression by land, by sea, and from
 the air', in a sense in which the other expenses of the war could
 not be so regarded. It was a long theological struggle in which,
 after the rejection of many different arguments, the President
 finally capitulated before a masterpiece of the sophist's art.
     At last the work was finished; and the President's conscience
 was still intact. In spite of everything, I believe that his
 temperament allowed him to leave Paris a really sincere man; and
 it is probable that to this day he is genuinely convinced that
 the treaty contains practically nothing inconsistent with his
 former professions.
     But the work was too complete, and to this was due the last
 tragic episode of the drama. The reply of Brockdorff-Rantzau
 inevitably took the line that Germany had laid down her arms on
 the basis of certain assurances, and that the treaty in many
 particulars was not consistent with these assurances. But this
 was exactly what the President could not admit; in the sweat of
 solitary contemplation and with prayers to God he had done
 nothing that was not just and right; for the President to admit
 that the German reply had force in it was to destroy his
 self-respect and to disrupt the inner equipoise of his soul; and
 every instinct of his stubborn nature rose in self-protection. In
 the language of medical psychology, to suggest to the President
 that the treaty was an abandonment of his professions was to
 touch on the raw a Freudian complex. It was a subject intolerable
 to discuss, and every subconscious instinct plotted to defeat its
 further exploration.
     Thus it was that Clemenceau brought to success what had
 seemed to be, a few months before, the extraordinary and
 impossible proposal that the Germans should not be heard. If only
 the President had not been so conscientious, if only he had not
 concealed from himself what he had been doing, even at the last
 moment he was in a position to have recovered lost ground and to
 have achieved some very considerable successes. But the President
 was set. His arms and legs had been spliced by the surgeons to a
 certain posture, and they must be broken again before they could
 be altered. To his horror, Mr Lloyd George, desiring at the last
 moment all the moderation he dared, discovered that he could not
 in five days persuade the President of error in what it had taken
 five months to prove to him to be just and right. After all, it
 was harder to de-bamboozle this old Presbyterian than it had been
 to bamboozle him; for the former involved his belief in and
 respect for himself.
     Thus in the last act the President stood for stubbornness and
 a refusal of conciliations.


 1. He alone amongst the Four could speak and understand both
 languages, Orlando knowing only French and the Prime Minister and
 President only English; and it is of historical importance that
 Orlando and the President had no direct means of communication.


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