The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

November 12, 2018

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The Diplomacy of Conservatism and the Conservatism of Diplomacy
David Clinton - 10/15/08

But what did “judicious conduct” in international relations consist of? A political contemporary like Tocqueville, who might, in his hope for the survival of the Orleanist regime and in his stand on several other specific issues, be thought to be a natural ally of Guizot, refused his cooperation on this very ground. He charged Guizot’s government with being “incurably pacific” and preferring to “retire [the people] from the contemplation of the general interest [and] to immure them in the contemplation of particular [material, individual] interests.” Guizot took precisely the opposite stand, contrasting “two opposing currents[,] one deep and regular, which carries us towards the definitive goal of our social state; the other superficial and disturbed, which throws us here and there in search of new [foreign] adventures and unknown lands.” Guizot found this “definitive goal of our social state” in “the progress of civilization and public reason” in contrast to “the spirit of conquest, of armed propagandism, and of system.” In other words,

The extent and activity of industry and commerce, the necessity of consulting the general good, the habit of frequent, easy, prompt, and regular intercourse between peoples, the invincible bias for free association, inquiry, discussion, and publicity,—these characteristic features of great modern society, already exercise, and will continue to exercise more and more, against the warlike or diplomatic fancies of foreign policy, a preponderating influence.

Moreover, these changes in attitudes and alterations in social practices produced their calming, beneficial effects in ways that impeded both of Guizot’s twin bêtes noires, revolution and war, through, “internally, progress by peace and liberty; and externally, patient influence through respect for rights and examples of sound policy, instead of the improvident intervention of force.”

At least as long as Peel and Aberdeen remained at the helm of British policy, Guizot’s primary partner in international cooperation was Britain. Once the obstreperous Palmerston had been replaced at the Foreign Office by the emollient Aberdeen in 1841, Guizot was happy to negotiate a new Anglo-French treaty granting British naval forces the “right of search” against vessels flying the French flag in certain zones on the high seas through which slave traders sailed (though the Chamber declined to ratify the replacement treaty, and Guizot, not for the last time, had to plead with Aberdeen not to make an issue of the defeat, on the grounds that doing so would put at risk the continuation in office of Guizot himself, who was the leader best disposed toward Britain that London could hope to have in power). He was more successful in persuading King and Chamber to agree to offer an indemnity to a British missionary detained by French officials in the South Pacific, a way of finding a diplomatic solution to an emotional dispute that had threatened to bring the two countries to war. Cooperation between the old rivals was symbolized by summit meetings—two visits to France by Queen Victoria and one to England by Louis Philippe. Furthermore, Guizot consistently portrayed himself as a loyal member of the Concert of Europe, abjuring all thought of challenging the Vienna settlement, and seeking concurrence among all five Great Powers on collaborative actions that would tamp down revolution wherever it stirred in Europe.

Conservatism and Diplomacy

What is striking is that among all the variety in the conservatism of these three statesmen, and in the presence of all the dangers that a self-help international system raises for its members, the mode of conduct to which all three were led was that of diplomacy. Each saw in the patient negotiation of differences and in respect for the rules of diplomatic behavior the safest way of warding off the dangers that he feared. Diplomacy, unlike costly and passionate war, would not necessitate the expansion of federal and executive power that, Calhoun was convinced, would derange the domestic constitutional order. Nor would it distract the officers of state from pushing through the domestic reforms through which, Peel believed, lay the sole road to social peace and the conservation of the larger political and social order. Nor yet would it agitate the popular mind and rouse dormant revolutionary impulses, which haunted Guizot’s mind. War and the threat of war could do all these things, which urged these conservatives in the direction of peaceful bargaining rather than martial defiance.

Of the three, Calhoun had the most instrumental view of diplomacy. It was for him an expedient, to be employed as the situation required, for reasons primarily internal. Its value was negative, in the perils that it avoided. In Guizot’s eyes, diplomacy formed one of many sinews that bound together a field of forces and a social network that were both domestic and international. In a fashion similar to the constitution of the Orleanist regime, it recognized pluralism and set bounds to the appetite of any single holder of power, while it calmed the passions that might, if unleashed, carry international society into war and revolution.

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