THE BALANCE OF POWER
and an authority raised above the different states which could decide between them. It fell ludicrously short of that ideal, but it was something that it kept it alive. The organisation of the Church, too, was inevitably international in aim and character. Feudalism, chivalry, trade organisations, universities had an international character greater than anything that we find in the modern world until the nineteenth century.
The passing of the mediaeval world was accompanied, both as cause and effect, by the rise of national feeling and the assertion of the independence of each state. This is plainer among the nations that broke away from communion with Rome, but it is, in truth, a feature common to all. Spain and France were hardly less independent of papal control than England or Germany. The international ideas of the Middle ages had been wearing very thin for some time: they now disappeared from the world even as an aspiration. From the end of the fifteenth to the end of the eighteenth century we have to look to solitary thinkers- to Sir Thomas More and Rabelais, to Sully and Leibnitz and Kant and Rousseau-to find even an echo an echo of ideas that had once, in whatever stranger form, been common-namely, that the Christian nations formed one whole and should have institutions to assert and to maintain their unity.
The nations of Europe, therefore, faced one another as armed and distrustful rivals, recognising no rule of conduct except their own advantage, and entering into transitory alliances on the promptings of fear or gain. These unstable and temporary relationships among the states of Europe have received the name of the Balance of Power. This has been idealised by some as a safeguard for European peace and the protection of the world against despotism: it has, in truth, neither the one nor the other. It is simply a convenient name for the way in which states act towards one another when there is no influence to persuade them to concord, nor force to coerce them, nor any court whose authority they are all prepared to recognise. The working of the system -though in-deed it was not a system-is seen at its clearest among the states of Greece in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. It provides the explanation for the kaleidoscopic politics of Italy in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries: and in the sixteenth century it passed from Italy to the larger state system of Europe, though during the Middle Ages the working of the same force had often been visible.
The most obvious feature of the state system of Europe under the influence of this idea is the recurring alliance of the weaker powers against any state that seemed to exercise or claim a supremacy in Europe. Thus in the sixteenth century the Spanish power was resisted by a combinaton of states of which England and France were the chief. The seventeenth century saw the rise of France to the leading position in Europe: it saw, too, the union of her overthrow, The union of forces which defeated the naval supremacy of Great Britain for a time in the eighteenth