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The return to power of Pierre Laval in France, with a cabinet in which he is foreign minister as well as premier, marks the passing of one of the most significant figures in contemporary politics. Whether Aristide Briand will ever again take part in world affairs is doubtful, due to his great age and to political hostility. Moreover the atmosphere at present is obviously hostile to the program for which he stands. In any case he has left a mark on his times which will not quickly disappear.
His constant advocacy of a United Europe has given him a unique eminence. No other European statesman of equal stature has dared to labor avowedly for that goal. It is true that the wholeheartedness of his zeal for that goal may reasonably be doubted, for M. Briand was first of all a Frenchman. He seemed at times, with the intense nationalism of his race, ready to discard his great conception to preserve the temporary dominance of France. His attitude to Germany was a curious oscillation between friendship and an involuntary suspicion. But it must be remembered that he had always to account for the traditional French distrust of German motives. And he was bitterly attacked by a press which is possibly the most narrowly nationalistic in the world.
The strife of political life is notoriously fatal to ideals and idealists. In no other life is the prophot so much without honor, not only in his own country but abroad. If the possibility of a United States of Europe is in any way less remote now than it was a decade ago, the chief credit, among contemporary statesmen, probably goes to Aristide Briand. No matter what deviations the exigencies of politics produced, his career as a whole may justly command the gratitude of Europe.
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