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From International Law to Global Oligarchy

1,941 words

Translated by George F. Held

globalization [1]Editor’s Note:

The following excerpt from Maurice Bardèche’s Nuremberg ou la Terre promise (Nuremberg, or The Promised Land) (Paris: Les Sept Couleurs, 1948) argues that the ideology of international law and the destruction of national sovereignty enshrined by Nuremberg would in fact cement the rule of a global capitalist oligarchy by making it impossible for sovereign states to pursue economic independence and social justice. The title is editorial. Long paragraphs have been broken up for readability.

This reduction of the states to the condition of private individuals has as its first result to consecrate the present distribution of the world’s wealth. Social inequality is reproduced on the level of states, and the same relationship exists with regard to legal institutions. That is, the citizen is named guardian of the inequality which oppresses him. However, in cities this static situation is constantly modified by political struggles. Periodically the citizen lets it be known, and often with a certain violence, that he agrees to continue his role of guardian only if the initial inequality is amended to his profit. The social contract is thus continuously revised. Political action confers on citizens a means of revision; what corresponding means is there on the level of states? Any political struggle at this level is war or a prelude to war, and war, in the new system, can no longer be anything but a world war.

You are free, they tell us, but free with the proviso that you accept your lot. You have rights equal to those of the others, but it should be precisely known that the others gave up the right to call the essentials in question. This is an underhand way to reintroduce Malthusianism. The Charter of the United Nations consolidates pauperism as Kellogg-Briand consolidated Versailles. There is not even need of more annexations; there is no need of more coercion; it is enough to make the democratic spirit accepted; for it renders the same service as do all coercions. The rich shout “Hosannah.” They give thanks after having sung hymns on the Potomac, and they proclaim that their triumph is the triumph of justice and peace. It is admirable. There is no longer even need to talk of monsters. The monsters have disappeared; it is finished. One does not need to take away their colonies in order to be able to exploit them in their place, or to take away their navy in order to be able to rent them some boats (they have no more boats), or to take away their industry in order to be able to make them buy very expensive pans manufactured in Detroit or manufactured in Essen by the capitalists of Detroit (they have no more factories). It is enough to persuade them to find excellent the present state of things, to look at it as a product of fate against which one can do nothing. The Charter of the United Nations spares the need for a diktat. Versailles is child’s play since we have Kellogg-Briand. Democracy and immobility, that’s our motto; in consideration of which, since all is for the best in the best of worlds, the fleeced are invited to stand guard in front of the inheritance of the just.

Thus, two realms meet and overlap which appeared initially foreign to each other, the moral and the economic. It is peace which Nuremberg claims to guarantee. It so happens that peace and the universal conscience, although they sit in the empyrean, are like kings, about whom Montaigne said that, although they were seated on thrones, they still sat on their asses. Thus, the pure ideas, the impalpable ideas, being incarnated in the place of sovereigns, must use their hands for the impure tasks of the art of the prince. Their administration, in the end, consists in distributing wealth. One cannot take on the administration of the spiritual without jutting out onto the administration of the temporal. One cannot dispossess sovereigns of the spiritual without also dispossessing them of part of the temporal, and that comes with attachments, as the ground comes with roots. So we can say to them: “Pure ideas, impalpable ideas, who then are your ministers? To which attendants, to which chancellors, to which aides did you give the administration of the temporal with which you yourselves do not wish to be bothered? Which congregation reigns on us? If you ask us to stand guard, please let us know in front of what we should stand guard. If you ask us to greet at the door, we would like to know who is seated in your coaches.” But the court, in this second section of the Bill of Indictment, does not yet answer this question. It is content to lay down the principles that we described above and through which we seek to read our future.

[. . .]

This world that we felt presently to be so fluid, to elude all definition, all certitude, has then at last become somewhat stable, final, irrevocable: it is the laws which render us dependents. In our own places, in our cities, there is no more anything sure, no more certain limits between good and evil, no more ground where to put our feet down: but, above us, what vigorous architecture starts to take shape. A French, German, Spanish, or Italian citizen does not very well know what fate awaits him, but the citizen of the world knows that the harmonious scaffolding of the pacts rises for him. His person is sacred; his goods are sacred; his cost prices are sacred; his profit margins are sacred. The universal republic is the republic of merchants.

The lottery of history is stopped once and for all. Now there is only one law, that which allows the keeping of what one has gained. All is allowed, except changing places with those on top. The distribution of lots is final. You are a salesman for perpetuity or purchaser for perpetuity, rich or poor forever, master or dependent until the end of times. Where national sovereignties are snuffed out, the global economic dictatorship starts to shine. A people can do nothing any more against the merchants once it has given up the right to say: here the contracts are such and such, the traditions are such and such, and to sit down here you pay such and such a tithe.

The United States of the World is only seemingly a political conception: it is actually an economic conception. This motionless world will be nothing more than an enormous commodity exchange: Winnipeg sets the price of wheat, New York that of copper, Pretoria that of gold, Amsterdam that of diamonds. What recourse do we have if we do not agree? A discussion between rich and poor . . . we know where that leads. A bad mood, the closing of ports? There are thousands of ways to make us regret it.

He who gives up the right to tax foreigners, to escort him out of the city with his goods, to close one’s ports to missionaries, gives up freedom also and all its benefits. What good is a strike, what good is a social conquest in a country which is forced to align its prices to those of foreigners? This question gives us the key to our present difficulties: one assures the life of his own people only by being master in his own land and by expelling foreigners.

But the new “constitution of the world,” as President Truman says, invites us to do the very opposite. This policy has a name: for three quarters of a century one called it politely “the open-door policy.” We have become China. The election of the president of the United States is more important for us than our own cabinet crises.

But we have one consolation: the universal conscience which governs us. Perfectly competent lawyers bring us fully made laws. They are the guards of the vestal virgin Democracy. Similar to fat eunuchs who supervise the avenues of the harem, they have an unknown face and speak a language which we do not understand. They are the interpreters of the clouds. Their function consists in putting within our reach the invaluable mysteries of freedom, peace, truth: they explain to us what patriotism is, what treason, courage, civic duty consist of. They explain to us our new honor and the face of our new fatherland.

O laws of the town, laws of our city, laws full and thick, laws which felt like our flesh and smelled with our odor, laws of our ground! O laws of the prince which the herald shouted out in the boroughs, ordinances about which the counselors voiced their opinions, hat in hand! O old kingdom, time of the corsairs, where are you? O warlike laws, murderous laws, we know it now, you were laws of peace and love! O unjust laws, you were laws of justice! O laws of proscription, you were laws of greeting! O laws of spoliation, you were laws of supervision! O laws, you were our very life and our very breathing.

You were the measure of our force, and even in evil our spirit was retained. You were our own blood and you were our soul. You were our face. And we recognized you. Yes, we recognized you: and even the most brutal, even those which we call today unjust, even this revocation of the Edict of Nantes[1] which they teach us to curse, how they appear to us as laws of moderation and wisdom in comparison with the laws of foreigners!

Now has come the time of law without a face, the time of falsifications and of murder called law. Today, a machine to manufacture the world has replaced our counselors. From time to time, it puts in circulation a monstrous, dry, hygienic, inhuman product, that we look at with stupor as at a meteorite. And our new legal experts explain to us that one could have hung all the German soldiers like ordinary murderers and have shot all French civilians for cooperating with the enemy, but that one showed indulgence.

O cruel laws of the 13th century, Custom of Poitou,[2] duel with sticks, congrès,[3] judgment of God[4]: today justice and leniency radiate on your faces! Invisible engineers trace out our universe with chalk lines. We had a house; we will have in its place a beautiful sketch. An eye in the middle of a triangle, as on the cover of the catechism, governs the new political creation. The idealists are unchained. All that has given birth to monsters has the right to speak. Our universe will be white like a clinic, silent like a mortuary. This is the century of nightmares. Idealisms, I hate you.


1. Edict of Nantes the edict of King Henry IV in 1598 which granted certain rights to French Protestants known as Huguenots. It also served to keep Roman Catholicism as the established religion of France. It provided no religious rights to non-Christians: hence one is taught to “curse” it today. — Trans.

2. Custom of Poitou (Coutume du Poitou) an edict by Charles VII in 1454 ordering the codification of French law. It was later revised several times. — Trans.

 3. congrès “congress,” “sexual union,” and by extension (as here) “legal test made in the presence of witnesses (surgeons or matrons) to establish the potency or impotence of the husband when his wife demands for this reason the annulment of the marriage” (Trésor de la Langue Française informatisé). — Trans.

4. judgment of God the euphemistic name for the use of torture, ordeals, forced duels, etc., for the purpose of determining guilt or innocence. — Trans.