A Short History of English Liberalism/X

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The condition of Ireland was now forced upon the attention of both parties. The Irish Nationalist party had demanded Home Rule since Parnell assumed the leadership in 1879. The General Election of 1885 gave this demand a force which it had never possessed before. The extension of the franchise by the Act of 1884 gave a much larger representation to agricultural Ireland, and agricultural Ireland was wholly Nationalist. Out of eighty-nine contests Parnell's party won eighty-five. All the fourteen Liberal Irish members were thrown out. The Protestant half of Ulster remained Tory and returned seventeen members. But the general sense of the country was made clear. Parnell, so long denounced by both English parties as the head of a faction, was now manifestly what he had always claimed to be, the leader of a nation. Strong and resolute English government had hopelessly failed. Crime was suppressed. But no Nationalist had been converted by punishment into a good citizen. Egoistic government by England could not succeed. Altruistic government by England could not succeed. The only alternative was the government of Ireland by Ireland.

Both English parties showed signs of a change of temper. Gladstone had hinted in his first Midlothian Speeches at a general devolution of local control upon England, Scotland, and Ireland,[332] and in his election address in 1885 he declared that, subject to the unity of the Empire being preserved, grants of such control [ 295 ] to portions of the country averted danger and increased strength. Mr. Chamberlain denounced government by officials at Dublin Castle as heartily as any Nationalist could have wished. Mr. Childers pronounced definitely for Home Rule. The other side hinted at a complete change of policy. They appointed, in Lord Carnarvon, a Lord-Lieutenant who was known to be in sympathy with Home Rule, and he actually entered into informal negotiations with Parnell. They declined to renew the last Coercion Act, and Lord Salisbury at Newport, Lord Carnarvon in the Lords, and Sir Michael Hicks-Beach and Lord Randolph Churchill in the Commons denounced coercion with different degrees of vigour.[333] So far as the political leaders were concerned, the most definite opposition to Home Rule came from the Liberal Lord Hartington. But everything pointed to the abandonment of government by force and the substitution for it of government by sympathy. Parnell actually instructed Irish Nationalists in all constituencies to vote against the Liberals.

The election gave the Parliament into the hands of the Nationalists. The Liberals had a majority of eighty-five over the Conservatives, and Parnell commanded exactly eighty-five votes. The Government were beaten on an amendment to the Address, and the Liberals came into office dependent on the Nationalist vote. If they had had any reluctance to introduce a Home Rule Bill, they must have been beaten in their turn. But Gladstone's line of action had been sketched with sufficient definition to make it clear that he would introduce some measure for the better government of Ireland, and Lord Hartington, Goschen, Bright, and Sir Henry James refused on that ground to join the Ministry. Before the Bill was introduced Mr. Chamberlain and Mr. Trevelyan resigned, and the disruption of the Liberal party began. The Bill was laid before the House on the 8th April, 1886. It proposed to establish an Irish [ 296 ] Parliament and an Irish Executive responsible to it. Law and police were included in their powers, but the establishment and endowment of religion were not, nor were the Customs. Ireland was to levy taxes and to pay one-twelfth of the British revenue to the Imperial Treasury. This Bill was accompanied by a Land Purchase Bill, under which the landlords might be bought out on the security of British credit.

The spirit of the Home Rule proposals was that of Liberal policy since 1868. The attempt to govern Ireland from England was to be given up, and the right of the Irish people to have an Irish Government was to be recognized, in the only possible way, by putting the government under the control of Irish representatives. "The fault of the administrative system of Ireland," said Gladstone, "is simply this—that its spring and source of action is English, and not Irish.... Without having an Irish Parliament, I want to know how you will bring about this result, that your administrative system shall be Irish and not English?"[334] Recognition of the principle of local independence would, it was hoped, be followed by a union between the two peoples stronger than the union of mere form. "British force," said Thomas Burt, one of the three working men in the Commons, "could do a great deal; but it could not make a real and genuine union between one people and another. That was only possible on a moral basis."[335] Home Rule, with all its possible risks, was the Liberal substitute for government which was alien, and consequently costly, obnoxious, and unsuccessful. It was not that Englishmen and Irishmen were by nature so discordant that they could not manage their joint affairs in harmony. As a problem of race differences the Irish problem need never have existed. But artificial means had been employed to produce a divergence of character almost as complete as the divergence of East and West, of Europe and Asia. Successive English Governments had first imagined and then in fact produced such an incompatibility of temper as generally arises between nationalities so distinct as Turk and Slav, or German [ 297 ] and Magyar, or Russian and Finn. As Mr. Balfour has recently put it, "The difficulty is not that when England went to Ireland it had to face nationality. The difficulty is that the behaviour of England in Ireland has produced nationality."[336] With this creation of her own selfish folly England had now to deal. Gladstone proposed to fuse the ancestral antipathies in the common management of common affairs.

The Tories had several mighty weapons. They appealed to Conservatives to defend the Union. They appealed to Nonconformists against the threat of Catholic domination in Ireland. They appealed to law-abiding citizens against concession to violence, and against the gift of supremacy to a political party which had not condemned, if it had not encouraged, intimidation and murder. They appealed to the less worthy motives of Liberals against whom Parnell had thrown the weight of his authority at the election. They appealed to the timid persons who listened to the threats of Ulster rebellion. They hinted at the development of municipal government. But they did nothing to solve what Mr. John Morley told them was the immediate problem of the hour, "How are you to govern Ireland?"[337] They insisted, as usual, upon forms. They spoke of the greatness of the Empire and the wickedness of severance, of the cost to the taxpayer and of possible difficulties in case of foreign war. Much of the criticism of detail was just, and there was emphasis of mechanical difficulties which was sound enough. But nothing was expressed, in or out of Parliament, which showed that the Opposition could contrive any system which should satisfy the first condition of good government, that it should be acceptable to the governed. The most powerful Tory argument was the shocking history of agrarian crime. The sole argument which had moral force behind it was the argument that the Ulster Protestants would be persecuted by the Catholic Nationalists. Those who had used every engine of oppression to degrade and demoralize their religious enemies had a very [ 298 ] genuine fear that the hour of retaliation had arrived. If there had been any real chance for the Nationalists, at the very gates of England, to avenge all the wrongs that their race had suffered at the hands of Ulster, this risk would have been enough to deter even Gladstone from Home Rule.

The Tory alternative was announced by Lord Salisbury to the Union of Conservative Associations on the 15th May. In a passage which contained a reference to Hottentots and Hindus, he declared that the Irish were incapable of self-government. His policy was "that Parliament should enable the Government of England to govern Ireland. Apply that recipe honestly and resolutely for twenty years, and at the end of that time you will find that Ireland will be fit to accept any gifts in the way of local government or repeal of coercion laws that you may wish to give her. What she wants is government—government that does not flinch, that does not vary." In plain English, government by consent was to come to an end. The Irish were not to control their own political affairs. They were to be kept in subjection to a people whom they had every reason to regard as alien, and such force was to be applied as should be necessary. The temper of Roman ascendancy, applied by Palmerston to weak States like Greece, and by Disraeli to uncivilized tribes like the Afghans, was thus to be exerted over a people who, in all parts of the Empire, had shown themselves as capable of managing political affairs as any nation in Europe. Disraeli had preached the gospel of "Empire and Liberty." His successor preached the gospel of "Empire before Liberty."

On the 8th June the Bill was defeated on the second reading. No less than ninety-three Liberals voted with the Opposition, and the party broke into pieces. The General Election completed its ruin. Before Parliament was dissolved, a violent outbreak of Protestant savagery in Belfast was suppressed by force of arms, and all the devils of racial and religious ascendancy were awake. Egoism was reinforced by the ordinary reluctance of Conservatism, by a very honest hatred of agrarian crime, and by an equally honest if less reasonable fear of religious persecution. The Liberals were [ 299 ] driven from the field in headlong rout, and the majority against Home Rule was more than 120. Gladstone came into office again in 1892. But he was without the essentials of power. The main current of political thought remained Tory for twenty years.

This general political temper was Tory and not Conservative. It was more positively reactionary than at any time since the Reform Act of 1832. Peel's so-called Tory administration of 1841 contained many Liberal elements. The Tory Ministries, which filled in the gaps in the subsequent period of Whig ascendancy, were too short-lived to make any definite expression of principles of government. The Toryism of the Disraeli Cabinet was most marked in foreign policy, and at home made little display. But between 1885 and 1905 the temper of the dominant party was definitely and consistently Tory, and there was hardly any problem that it touched which it did not stamp with the brand of Toryism. The prime cause of this reaction was the dispute about Home Rule. The victory of Toryism in the controversy of 1886 had much the same effect upon general politics as a victory in the American War a hundred years earlier would have had. It could only be gained by arguments which applied universally, and not only in the particular case. The temper of the government of Ireland must be the temper of the government of Great Britain and the Empire.

Even among Conservatives this Irish policy was sometimes described in language which it deserved. No Liberal could put the case against Mr. Balfour's system more concisely than Sir Michael Hicks-Beach when he warned his constituents against "our favourite English habit of measuring everything by the English rule, of bringing English prejudice to bear upon the settlement of Irish affairs, and of looking upon Irishmen as our inferiors rather than our equals."[338] This was the very temper of Mr. Balfour, who believed that all the law and all the civilization in Ireland are the work of England.[339] No Liberal ever [ 300 ] suggested that the difficulties of Irish government had nothing to do with the character of the Irish people. But no Liberal ever had any doubt that the character of the Irish people, as it appeared in 1886, was very largely due to deliberately vicious and demoralizing abuse of them by their English conquerors. Mr. Balfour preferred to deal with them in the manner of a statesman who wished them well, but was convinced that they could do no good with themselves. Every manifestation of Irish discontent was thus attributed to a natural incapacity for good behaviour under government. Outrage and violence never attained in this Tory period to the proportions with which the last Liberal Government had had to deal. But coercion was applied as unsparingly as ever, and almost with cheerfulness. A Crimes Act, a permanent Coercion Act, was passed in 1887, and under its powers the Irish Executive might, by proclamation, apply it to any part of the country whenever it pleased. Under this Act not only were agrarian crimes punished and the armed forces of the Crown employed to collect rents and evict tenants, but Irish newspapers were suppressed, and Irish members who made speeches no more criminal than those of innumerable English, Scottish, and Welsh Liberals were imprisoned with all the degrading incidents of cells, clothing, and discipline which were forced upon common felons. Ireland was governed as Egypt and India were governed, and a race which had shown itself in other countries perfectly competent to sustain freedom of discussion and representative institutions was treated in that despotic temper which was elsewhere reserved for people of colour. Two incidents displayed this Toryism at its very worst. The first was the affair of Mitchelstown. The second was the Parnell Commission.

But before either of these events illustrated the mental habit of Toryism, another had displayed its complete futility. Under the land Act of 1881 rents all over Ireland had been fixed for fifteen years. Immediately afterwards the prices of agricultural produce began to fall, and the rents which had been thought fair became unfair. Good landlords reduced their demands of their own free [ 301 ] will. The type of landlord which was more common in Ireland than anywhere else in the world spoke of "the sacredness of judicial rents," and exacted the last penny of their dues. The usual process of eviction, starvation, and riot began. The Plan of Campaign was formed by the more determined Nationalists. Tenants who paid more than they thought fit were to meet and agree what rents they should offer to their landlord. If these were refused, the money was paid to a central fund, which was used to resist evictions. This was a criminal conspiracy. But criminal conspiracies are common in countries whose economic history resembles that of Ireland, and this had at least the merit of being free from violence and outrage. A Royal Commission inquired into the working of the Act of 1881, and reported in favour of a revision of judicial rents. Lord Salisbury, Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, and Mr. Balfour declared emphatically that they would never interfere with the rents.[340] They introduced a Land Bill in March, 1887. This Bill allowed leaseholders, who had been excluded from the Act of 1881, to obtain the benefits of its provisions. The Bill said nothing about revision. But Nature knew nothing of racial and religious distinctions. The fall in prices had been universal, and the tenants of Ulster complained as loudly as the tenants of Connaught. The Government gave way, and amended the Bill. Then the landlords set up an outcry, and the amendment was withdrawn. The tenants again raised their voices, and seeing that to hold out meant that Ulster and Nationalist Ireland might agree to subordinate their jealousies to their common grievance, the Government again surrendered. When passed, the Act provided for the revision of judicial rents. The first of the twenty years of resolute government had ended in a fresh triumph for agrarian agitation.

Concession involved no change in temper. On the 9th September, 1887, a meeting was held at Mitchelstown, at which English Members of Parliament and English ladies were present. It was not illegal, and no attempt was made to suppress [ 302 ] it. But the police wished to have a shorthand note of the speeches, and with gross and unpardonable folly endeavoured to force a reporter through the crowd. A squabble began, the police were hustled and beaten with sticks, they retreated to their barracks and fired upon the people who followed them, and three men were killed. All the facts except one were obscure. There was no question that the police should have applied for accommodation on or near the platform, instead of using force to introduce their reporter. What happened afterwards required thorough investigation. A coroner's jury returned a verdict of wilful murder against six officers, but this was quashed on technical grounds by the High Court. No other inquiry ever took place, though every means was used to put pressure on the Government. Their duty was plain. Even if no policeman had been technically guilty of crime, it was clear that there had been an atrocious blunder. The Government was bound to make a strict investigation, and to punish by censure, reduction of rank, or dismissal from the force the officers who were responsible. Mr. Balfour did nothing of the kind. He treated the affair of Mitchelstown as the Tories of 1819 had treated the affair of Peterloo. Before any thorough inquiry could have been made, he declared that the police were free from blame, and he never made any attempt to do justice between them and the public. Only one meaning was to be attached to his action. His policy was crudely egoistic. The English Government was to decide at its pleasure by what rules of conduct it was to be bound in its dealings with Ireland, and considerations of morality were to be subordinated to the convenience of the executive. Gladstone appealed to the British people to "remember Mitchelstown," and the affair became a potent weapon in the hands of the Liberals. To refuse inquiry where injury has been done to the person is the most unfortunate thing that an English statesman can do. Not even the memories of agrarian crime could prevent sober people from being alienated by this refusal of the opportunity of justice.

The Parnell Commission was equally ugly. During April, [ 303 ] 1887, the Times newspaper published a series of articles which endeavoured to prove that the Nationalist party were responsible for agrarian outrages of the worst kind. On the 18th of the month it printed what professed to be a letter from Parnell. If genuine, the letter showed that Parnell, while publicly disapproving of the Phœnix Park murders, privately defended them. As a matter of fact, it had been forged by a man named Pigott, and the proprietor of the Times had bought it with such credulity as showed that he was completely reckless in his eagerness to injure Parnell. In November an action was brought against the Times by another Nationalist, and the Attorney-General, who acted for the defendants, produced in court a number of other letters of the same kind. Parnell then took action. He had been advised by English Liberals that the verdict of a London jury would be cast, from political motives, against him. He had known that a verdict on the other side from a Dublin jury would get no credit out of Ireland. He had therefore declined to issue a writ for libel. He now demanded an inquiry by a Select Committee of the House of Commons. The Tories, who believed the letter to be genuine, refused the Committee, but promised to establish a Commission of three judges "to inquire into the allegations and charges made against Members of Parliament by the defendants in the recent action." This was accepted by Parnell instead of a Select Committee. But the Government, without his consent, inserted the words "and other persons" after the word "Parliament," and thus turned a particular inquiry into the conduct of members into a roving investigation into Irish politics of the last ten years. Members of Parliament, boycotters, defaulting tenants, moonlighters, murderers, and maimers of cattle were all lumped together for examination by a body which was incapable by its nature of giving weight to the historical and economic condition of Ireland. Whether Parnell had expressed approval of murder or not was a question of fact which could be settled by a court of law better than by any one else. The rights and wrongs of England and Ireland could not be tried by [ 304 ] any tribunal upon earth, and Parnell's case was huddled up with the rest simply in the hope that general prejudice against proved outrage might outweigh the effect of an acquittal on the particular charge. Nothing would be settled by proving that the National League had promoted outrage. The case for the League was that it was the only means of obtaining justice for the Irish peasant. No judge, however impartial, could try such an issue. The Bill establishing the Commission was forced through the House, without the excuse of urgency, by the use of the closure. Parnell was thus compelled to accept a tribunal for which he had not asked, in order that the Tory party might find judicial support for their case against Ireland. The facts revealed by the inquiry were of no particular value. The forger shot himself, and the letters were declared to be fabrications. The Irish members were acquitted on the charge of encouraging crime, and condemned for not being more ready to disapprove it. This was nothing new. The demoralization of respectable Irishmen has been the worst result of English misgovernment of Ireland. When worthy means of obtaining redress are exhausted it requires almost a supernatural virtue not to acquiesce in unworthy means. The moral and political defence of the Nationalists could not be heard by the Commission, and the judgment did not affect it. So far as the affair influenced independent opinion at all, it influenced it against the Government. The eagerness with which the Tories had assumed the truth of the Parnell letters, and the indecency with which they had confounded irrelevant issues in order to present an indictment against a whole people were as vivid illustrations as the Mitchelstown incident of Tory disregard of equity and fair dealing. From this moment the Liberal party began to recover strength, and the union between English Liberalism and Irish Nationalism became indissoluble. But for the O'Shea divorce case, which discredited Parnell and distracted the Nationalist party, the strength of the united forces might have been sufficient to carry Home Rule in the next Parliament. In the actual event, the Liberal victory at the election of 1892 was [ 305 ] little more than nominal, and in 1895 Toryism asserted itself more emphatically than before.

It was impossible for Toryism to govern Ireland in this spirit without the contagion spreading to other quarters. Those who refused liberty to others came near to losing their own, and those who claimed arbitrarily to dispose of the fortunes of the Irish people found it an easy task to assert their egoism elsewhere. During the twenty years which followed the rejection of the first Home Rule Bill, every principle which Liberalism had inherited from the Whigs, the Radicals, and the Manchester School was violated in turn. The powers of hereditary aristocracy were increased,[341] the status of woman was lowered, the Established Church was aggrandized, an attempt was made to revive Protection, a sinister trade monopoly was allowed to dictate the policy of the State in its own interest, a system of labour was established under the British flag which was not distinguishable from some ancient forms of slavery, the powers of Trade Unions were limited by judicial decisions, a foreign State was invaded because it mismanaged its internal affairs, large tracts, including the territories of two self-governing races of white men, were annexed to the Empire by force, morality was frankly struck out of the list of national virtues, and in its favourite cant word "efficiency" Imperialism coined an exact equivalent for the vertu of Macchiavelli. Even women suffered a loss of status. The agitation for Woman Suffrage dwindled away. By the Education Act of 1902, which abolished the old School Boards, they were deprived of one of their opportunities of being elected to a public body, and were given in exchange the inferior dignity of co-option to a committee of men. In 1897 they received a worse blow, when the regulation of vice was re-established, in a modified form, in India. These positive wrongs were accompanied by a serious neglect to improve the conditions of common life, and the consequences of neglect were made worse by the [ 306 ] burden of debt and the increased expenditure on armaments which the prevailing policy involved. At the end of the Tory period, when the excitement of the Boer War left the people once more free to contemplate their own condition, economic reforms were overdue, and attempts to grapple with the modern industrial problems jostled with attempts to undo the work of positive reaction, and to assert once more the Liberal principles of the previous generation.

It is of course not suggested that the Liberal Government of 1906 had to begin again from the beginning. The practical reaction was not, and could not have been, so complete as the moral. But the tide rose high and some landmarks were covered. The full term of reaction was not reached until the end of the century, and especially in the early years of Tory domination more than one useful and Liberal measure was passed. Some of these were due to Liberal Unionist influence. Others were in the line of previous Tory action. Bradlaugh carried his Oaths Bill into law in 1888. In the same year the Local Government Act abolished the old system of county administration, and substituted councils elected by the ratepayers for the justices of the peace who were appointed by the Lord Chancellor. In London a County Council took the place of a Metropolitan Board of Works. This Act gave to all the inhabitants of counties and of London that control of their own government which had been enjoyed by the inhabitants of all other large towns since the Whig Ministry of 1832. One blemish of importance was left in the Act, a curious proof that this, like other Tory reforms in political machinery, was due to a desire rather for efficient working than for the assertion of any principle of popular freedom. Two women were elected to the first London County Council, and a court of law decided that their election was void. No attempt was made to remove the disability, which remained until the revival of Liberalism in the twentieth century. Liberal Unionism remained male. In Ireland more than one useful change was made. A private Members' County Councils Bill was rejected in 1888. But in the same year a [ 307 ] Land Act advanced £5,000,000 to assist land purchase, and in 1891 a second Act provided for advances up to £30,000,000 for buying out the landlords. Grants to relieve the distress caused by failure of the potato crop were made in the usual spirit of Tory benevolence, and accompanied the most relentless application of coercion. They prevented starvation, and they did nothing to alter the popular enthusiasm for Home Rule. No amount of indulgence from an acknowledged superior will satisfy the man who wants only freedom to look after himself. Ireland took what she could get, and asked for more. A last domestic reform was made in 1891, when education was made free, as well as compulsory.

The Liberals came into office again in 1892. The most important result of their brief triumph was perhaps the illustration which it afforded of the power of the new party machinery in the country. The National Liberal Federation met at Newcastle, immediately before the election, and succeeded in imposing its will upon the Liberal party with questionable effect. It seemed to be animated by the logical temper of the early Radicals rather than by the practical, managing temper which is so essential to political action. It advocated, among more orthodox things, the Disestablishment of the Churches of Scotland and Wales, and a local veto on the sale of alcoholic liquors. Both these proposals carried Liberal principles to logical and unreasonable extremes. Disestablishment in Wales was a right application of the principle of religious equality. To invest with public privileges the members of a sect which contained a minority of the population, and had been for more than a century alien in spirit as well as in the nationality of its official heads, was one of those artificial appreciations which are abhorrent to all Liberals. The Scottish case was entirely different. The Established Church Of Scotland differed only in unimportant details of constitution and government from the other Churches. No social privileges were claimed or enjoyed by its members, and there was no national demand for the abolition of its formal privileges. An aristocratic Church with a form of service alien to the natural disposition of the people was [ 308 ] an institution which the Welsh could reasonably denounce. A Church which was as plain and sober in its habit as the humblest chapel in the land was accepted by the Scotch because it never claimed to be more than it was worth.

Local veto was as dangerous an application of logic as the Disestablishment of the Church of Scotland. It meant that the majority of the inhabitants of a district could prevent any one of them from obtaining a particular form of refreshment. It was not a question of protecting weak men against temptation by reducing the number of public-houses. Nor was it a question of the inhabitants preventing a public-house being placed in a district where none had been before. Either of these applications of a popular vote would be legitimate. Every public-house above a certain number in proportion to the population is a public nuisance, and if a man has gone to reside in a neighbourhood where he cannot get a drink, it is quite reasonable to argue that he has no real need of the opportunity. But local veto means that the neighbours of an honest and sober citizen can impose on him against his will total abstinence, a form of life of which he does not approve. Modern forms of interference with economic freedom can generally be justified on the ground that while they diminish the apparent liberty of a few they increase the real liberty of many. Local veto is an attempt rather to diminish the liberty of many in order to increase that of a few. If the extreme view of it is accepted, that total abstinence must be enforced because it is better than even moderate indulgence, it is not distinguishable from the crudest Toryism, which forces upon some individuals what others believe to be in their best interest. Hard lines can never be drawn in politics. But local veto appears to be one of those interferences with private conduct which are intolerable, even if they are applicable.

One or two Government measures were passed into law. District and Parish Councils were established by an Act of 1893 to do the less important work of rural government under the County Councils, and this Act was more Liberal than that of 1888 in that it permitted the election of women. The Budget [ 309 ] of 1894 greatly increased the death duties on landed property and at last put an end to the advantages which it enjoyed in comparison with other forms of wealth. The same Budget emphasized and extended the principle of taxation according to ability to pay. Where money was required by the State for public purposes, it was reasonable that those who had large accumulations should pay at a higher rate than those who had small. Equality of rate was not equality of taxation. The estates of deceased persons were thus directly taxed upon a graduated scale, and the first step was taken in the process of shifting fiscal burdens from the poorer to the richer classes, which is so marked a feature of modern Liberal policy. This reform, the House of Lords not having yet the boldness to interfere with taxation, was carried without much difficulty. A more direct attempt to improve economic conditions failed. The Employers' Liability Bill, compensating workmen for injuries caused by the neglect of fellow-workmen under the rank of foreman, was so amended by the Lords that it had to be dropped. The second Home Rule Bill passed the Commons, but was beaten in the Lords by ten to one. Gladstone resigned in March, 1894, and his place was taken by Lord Rosebery, a splendid orator, who could never lead the people because he could never understand them. Welsh Disestablishment and Local Veto Bills were introduced and dropped, because even the House of Commons would not pass them. The party collapsed in a few months, and the Tories came back to office and to power. The tide had been but little checked, and it now resumed its steady course away from Liberal ideals. The examination of the current of events requires some preliminary investigation of prevailing modes of thought.


It is impossible to understand the present methods of English political thinking without some consideration of the theory of evolution. Both habits of mind, the Liberal and the Tory, have been able to employ it for their own purposes, and its influence upon Socialism at one extreme and Imperialism at the other [ 310 ] has been equally marked. Darwin's book, The Origin of Species, was published in 1859, and produced instantly a turmoil in science and religion. Its bearing upon politics was less obvious, and there are no traces of it in the speculations of such a philosophical Liberal as Mill. The man who did most to bring the theory to bear upon things other than biology was Herbert Spencer, who was anything but a politician. But the channels by which its influence was poured into the general mind had become, by the end of the century, too numerous for discrimination, and the pulpit, the Press, the stage, the platform, and popular literature of every kind were full of references to the struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest. For good and evil the idea of evolution had become part of the national stock.

Stated in plain terms, Darwin's theory was that the old conception of man, as having been specially created by God in a state of blessedness from which he fell by his own sin, was false, and that he had in fact been gradually developed out of an inferior state to his present degree of perfection. Humanity, like every other living thing, had been developed, whether mechanically or by divine order was not important, by a constant struggle with environment. Individuals, varying among themselves, were placed under certain conditions of life, for which some were better suited than others. Those who were fittest for the particular environment survived, and transmitted their particular variations to their offspring. When a sufficient number of generations had lived and died, these variations or characters were permanently fixed in the stock, and a class or species had appeared on the earth, which was distinct from others, who in different environments had similarly developed different forms. This theory was connected, not only with experiments and observations in the field of biology, but with geological investigation and the system of historical examination of constitutions, systems of law, and social structure, which was becoming increasingly common in Darwin's day. All united to emphasize the idea of growth. The eighteenth century appeared to conceive of everything as stationary. The later [ 311 ] nineteenth century conceived of everything as in motion. The organisms which were healthy and vigorous were those which adapted themselves most successfully to their environment, fixed new characters in their stocks, and rose from a lower condition to a higher.

The immediate application of this theory to politics is obvious. If true, it gives a scientific explanation and justification of change and development. It is impossible at the present day for any political thinkers to do what Sir Henry Maine did at the beginning of the Imperialist reaction, and speak of change as a phenomenon peculiar to Western Europe and of a stationary condition as the general rule.[342] Events of recent years in Japan, China, India, Persia, Turkey, and Egypt have exposed the false basis of his reasoning. But even without this experience, a post-Darwinian politician would point to the changelessness of the East as in itself a sign of degeneracy, and the restlessness of the West as a proof of its superiority. Life is identified with change. Movement is normal, activity the universal rule of health. The peoples who stagnate, decay; and the one test of vitality is the capacity to receive and to apply new ideas. The primeval mollusc indeed saved itself from injury by its protective shell, and its descendants are molluscs to this day. The organisms which, consciously or unconsciously, preferred mobility and risk to immobility and perfect safety, have evolved, through countless intervening steps, to man. The modern outburst of reforming zeal is thus not spasmodic, but only an acceleration of an eternal process of development. The old Toryism is dead and damned. The maintenance of the old, without inquiry and without readjustment, is the upsetting of the natural order. The prospect of change has lost its terrors. What we fear to-day is not change, but permanence; or rather, we seek for permanence in a line of change.

The evolutionary philosophy has thus come directly to the aid of Liberalism, and some reformers, particularly a certain school of Socialists, apply it mechanically to the growth of [ 312 ] society, as from home industry to factory industry, from factory industry to the Trust, and from the Trust to the national organization of production. But most advocates of change are more cautious, and are content to find in it a defence of the need or the harmlessness of change. On the other hand, it has moderated the reforming temper. No Liberal of any capacity of mind can now rush to the cutting and carving of society with the cheerful zeal of Paine or Bentham. There can be for him no cutting off and beginning afresh. The historical caution which distinguishes Mill from Bentham must now be emphasized in his successors. Reform must be a process of training and adaptation, not of destruction and substitution. Logic must be applied with circumspection, and if the statesman has now a more certain hope that the people will ultimately achieve happiness, he is no less sure that they can never be dragged into it by the hair of the head.

While the idea of evolution has thus operated both to encourage and to discipline the Liberal temper, it has also operated to give license to the Tory. The most brutal egoism is supported by pseudo-scientific applications of the theory of the survival of the fittest. Some thinkers find in the mere existence of a governing class a proof that its members were the fittest for their position. Capacity for government has been bred into our aristocracy, as beef is bred into a bullock, or speed into a racehorse, and the poor members of other classes represent the unfit stocks, who have fallen, by the operation of natural laws, into the position best suited to them. Neglect of social reform is justified, in a similar way, on the ground that the economic struggle eliminates unfit types, and that to make life easier for the masses of the people is to preserve undesirable stocks in the race. It is useless, and even positively dangerous, to interfere between landlord and tenant, and master and workman, or to put an end to slums and sweating. These things should be left to themselves. In the apparently dreadful conflict between individuals and their environment, beneficent laws are at work. The fittest men will survive out of this as the fittest [ 313 ] organisms survive in the animal kingdom. Good sense and common humanity have generally prevailed over these two applications of the theory. But in foreign policy it has unquestionably dominated modern Toryism. As among primitive invertebrates, so among civilized races of mankind, it is only in struggle that any one can be developed to its highest capacity. International politics should therefore be a system of perpetual antagonism. It is only in war that we can develop those vigorous qualities which are essential to human as to animal progress. Humanity and consideration for others are fatal to that success in the internecine strife, which is necessary for the survival of the fittest among nations. The consideration of evolutionary Toryism in domestic affairs is postponed to the next chapter. It is here necessary only to deal with its connection with what is called Imperialism. At the end of the last century it unquestionably combined with the apparent success of Bismarck to revive and aggravate egoism in foreign policy.

The first serious suggestion of Imperialism was made by Disraeli in 1872. Speaking at the Crystal Palace, he said that "self-government, when it was conceded, ought to have been conceded as part of a great policy of Imperial consolidation. It ought to have been accompanied by an Imperial tariff ... and by a military code which should have precisely defined the means and the responsibilities by which the Colonies should have been defended, and by which, if necessary, this country should call for aid from the Colonies themselves. It ought further to have been accompanied by the institution of some representative council in the metropolis which would have brought the Colonies into constant and continuous relations with the Home Government.... In my judgment, no Minister in this country will do his duty who neglects any opportunity of reconstructing as much as possible our colonial Empire, and of responding to those distant sympathies which may become the source of incalculable strength and happiness to this land." He exhorted his hearers to choose between national and cosmopolitan principles, and to fight "against Liberalism on the continental system." Nothing was [ 314 ] done by his Ministry to carry out the plan of Imperial consolidation, except the addition of the Imperial title to the dignity of the Crown and the abortive attempt to federate South Africa. The fight against cosmopolitanism was not avoided, and the demonstrations against Russia in Turkey and Afghanistan showed the fatal ease with which large conceptions of national importance degenerate into vulgarity. The new idea of Empire was thus early identified with national insolence and immorality.

The federation of self-governing dominions has not been the most striking feature of Imperialist policy since Disraeli. In the last thirty years of the nineteenth century four and three-quarter millions of square miles of land and eighty-eight millions of human beings were added to the Empire, and of the latter only two millions were white people.[343] The primary object of all these extensions was not the incorporation of free peoples in a federal union, but the subjugation of weak peoples for the purposes of private profit. The British trader and the British capitalist who wanted security for his foreign investments were the pioneers of Empire, and in South Africa they succeeded, not only in incorporating, by methods often worse than dubious, races of barbarians, but in dragging the whole British people into a costly war for the annexation of two civilized Republics. Imperialism has not of set purpose extended liberty in any part of the globe. It has introduced order and justice into some unsettled tracks, it has provided capital for the development of neglected natural resources, and in South Africa it showed how readily it would subordinate the moral to the material interests of Empire. The only conspicuous extensions of liberty during the period of expansion have been made by Liberals, and in South Africa they acted in the face of almost unanimous protest from the Imperialist party. The successes of Imperialism have been material.

The steady deterioration which has taken place in the ideals of Imperialism has already been indicated. Its moral failure [ 315 ] is due simply to the fact that the object of expansion was never in any case moral. Incidentally, as in India, Egypt, and Nigeria, an enlightened bureaucracy has avoided the blunders of exploitation and oppression. But for the most part, the best that can be said of our rule is that it is disinterested. Little has been done, even in India, to train and develop the higher faculties of the natives, and it is only in the Liberal reforms of Lord Morley that definite steps towards self-government have been taken. We are in these countries frankly to maintain order and to produce wealth, and for the most part we attempt nothing else. Benefits to the natives are only incidental and not primary. Unquestionably the growth of the Empire has extended the advantages of civilization to backward and uncultivated districts. But it has been promoted by the zeal of the investor rather than of the missionary. The enormous growth of wealth required new fields for investment. Visions of national grandeur were employed to direct the common people from the social reforms which would have reduced this wealth. The Press, the pulpit, and the platform united to represent the material pursuit of gain as a disinterested labour on behalf of humanity. A mist of moral enthusiasm was wrapped about the crude realities of commercial enterprise, and the acquisition of wealth by private persons was disguised in the trappings of national magnificence. Much honest enthusiasm was thus generated which commercial and financial magnates turned to their advantage. But in the face of temptation the artificial structure collapsed. National egoism and cupidity have now converted the organization for the distribution of blessings into an organization for the monopolizing of profits. The Empire is to-day regarded by Imperialists as essentially national, and not as essentially international. It is to be surrounded by a tariff for the exclusion of the foreign trader, and it is to be organized as a gigantic weapon against those nations with which, for the time being, we happen to be at variance.

This conception of Empire has grown with those false applications of evolutionary theory to which reference has been previously [ 316 ] made. The objects of the organization of the State having ceased to be moral, it has ceased to be moral in its methods of working. International morality is flung away with the other rules of conduct, and material success becomes the sole justification of public action. "As a nation we are brought up to feel it a disgrace to succeed by falsehood; the word 'spy' conveys in it something as repulsive as slave. We will keep hammering away with the conviction that honesty is the best policy, and that truth always wins in the long run. These pretty little sentences do well enough for a child's pocket-book, but the man who acts upon them in war had better sheathe his sword for ever."[344] Out of success, by whatever methods it may be achieved, this school proposes to acquire the desirable human qualities. By warfare, and warfare only, whether it be military or diplomatic, is it possible for a people to develop and to retain strength, courage, and resource. Those nations which survive in this perpetual conflict are presumed, in the Darwinian phrase, to be the "fittest." Survival justifies itself. Success is the test of virtue, and the steps by which it is obtained may be safely ignored. The gross fallacies of this process of argument have been sufficiently dealt with by other hands.[345] It is only necessary here to suggest the Liberal answer. A State is not an individual. It is simply an expression of the ideas of a human society, or aggregation of human beings. The morals of a State are nothing but the morals of its individual members. To say that morality must be observed by those members in their dealings with each other, but not in their collective dealings with the members of other States, is to weaken private and not public morality. Public morality is not distinguishable from private. The man who abstains from stealing his neighbour's goods cannot, without personal deterioration, join his neighbours in appropriating the territory of another [ 317 ] nation. Morality has gradually spread from organizations within the State till it includes all persons within the State. In the remote past, morality was observed only in dealings between members of the same family. Strangers took their chance. At a later date it was extended to the tribe, or the village, or the Church, and finally to all subjects of the same central government. There is no reason for stopping the operation of moral rules at the Straits of Dover, that would not prevent an Englishman from dealing honourably with a Scotchman, or a Churchman from dealing honourably with a Dissenter. Morality must be universal, or it ceases to be morality. The argument thus outlined must be fatal to evolutionary Imperialism. Qualities cannot be developed in nations. They can only be developed in the individuals who compose those nations. To speak of a strong and virile State is to obscure the issue. Strong and virile States can only be those which are maintained by strong and virile human beings. States which "survive" by the exercise of force and fraud can only be those whose subjects have ceased to dislike force and fraud. In other words, the evolution of the individual and the evolution of the State cannot proceed upon different lines. Man has now reached a point of development where mere brute strength has ceased to be a desirable quality. The test of a man is always a moral test. We have evolved morality. If we formally reject morality in our use of the State, for the express purpose, as it were, of "breeding it out," we deliberately turn back the course of human evolution. The State will react upon the individual, and the individual will suffer. We cannot select certain qualities for individuals, and certain others for States, and suppose that evolution can be directed towards the development of both together.

British Imperialism, thus strengthening its natural tendency to egoism by the assimilation of scientific theory, has been only a local manifestation of an almost universal tendency. The career of Bismarck in Germany formed an excellent example of the operation of the same principles. Germany consolidated, France and Austria humiliated, and territory snatched from France and [ 318 ] Denmark have invested the gospel of "State might is State right" with a lustre which conceals the deterioration of private morals, the distresses of the common people, and the profound social unrest, which this costly parade has brought in its train. Men and women as individuals may sometimes escape the Nemesis which waits on immorality. Nations can never die, and the debt incurred by one generation must always be paid by its successor. Only a short view of German history can fail to see the dangers which the policy of Bismarck has brought upon his country. The reaction of Russian policy upon the internal state of Russia is more obvious, and the case of Great Britain is hardly less clear. But for the moment, Imperialism is the fashion at home and abroad. The earth is parcelled out among the Powers. England, Germany, and France share Africa between them. Austria covets and by instalments obtains territory in the Balkans. Russia is thrust out of Manchuria, and compensates herself in Mongolia and Persia. All join in wresting concessions of territory and financial opportunities from China, and even the United States takes her colonies from Spain. In all parts of the earth the Powers are thus brought into new competition. The Balance of Power is revived, but for investors and not for dynasties. The struggle is for opportunities for the private acquisition of wealth, rather than opportunities for the public control of territory. But the result is the same. Obligations are indefinitely extended. The risks of conflict are indefinitely increased. The burden of armaments grows larger every year. The common people are more and more removed from the decision of the most far-reaching public questions, and know little more of the things which may decide their fate than is forced upon them by the weight of their taxes and the advice which they receive from their governors for the direction of their national antipathies.

British Imperialism came to a head in the South African War. Since the troubles of 1880 the condition of the Transvaal had greatly changed. The discovery of gold had caused an enormous flow of immigrants, mostly of British descent. The [ 319 ] government remained in the hands of more primitive men, who resented the intrusion of this foreign and industrial population. Paul Kruger, the last President, was a stubborn member of the old school, and while he possessed the confidence of his own countrymen, he was incapable of appreciating the necessity for new ideas and new institutions which the new economic conditions had produced. The older men, who had not forgotten how they had wrested their independence out of the unwilling hands of England, were being steadily overtaken by men of wider views, who saw clearly enough that independence could not be maintained for ever on the basis of racial distinctions. Government could not be kept for ever in the hands of Dutch agriculturists, when the most vigorous, the best educated, and almost the most numerous section of the community were British industrialists. The existing system was the system which produced our Irish problem. But in the Transvaal the problem was neither so old nor so acute as in Ireland, and there was no question that time would have remedied all the grievances of the Outlanders. The conflict of the two races would have died a natural death, and would have ended in the Transvaal, as it had ended long before in Cape Colony, in amicable adjustment. The disease would have run its course. But the folly of British Imperialism preferred a surgical operation. The Outlanders who agitated for reforms of the franchise, of taxation, and of the judicial system, were used for purposes other than their own. A group of South African politicians, headed by Cecil Rhodes, a genuine, if unscrupulous Imperialist, and including several financial magnates, whose interest in the Empire was pecuniary rather than hereditary, determined to use the legitimate grievances of the Outlanders as weapons for the destruction of the Transvaal Republic. Rhodes was determined, at all costs, to unite South Africa under the British flag. His less enthusiastic associates wanted to control the Transvaal Government in their own interest, and they knew that they could not control it unless it was made British. Therefore they took steps to provoke a war which should end in the annexation of the Republic. [ 320 ]

Case for armed interference by Great Britain there was none. The Convention of 1884, which reserved to her some rights in connection with foreign affairs, was intended to leave the Transvaal independent in domestic matters. Undoubtedly she might have interfered on behalf of her own subjects, if they had suffered gross oppression. But they had not. They had entered the country in pursuit of gain, and many of them had acquired enormous wealth. They were denied the franchise, which they ought to have possessed. But disfranchisement had not exposed them to peculiar hardships, and the current of opinion among the Dutch was setting steadily in their favour. Taxation, though heavy, was not ruinous. Justice, though generally slovenly and sometimes corrupt, was no worse than in many parts of the United States. The general condition of the Outlanders was infinitely superior to that of the vast majority of the English people before 1832, and no grievance was so intolerable as to make it impossible to wait until the old governing class of Dutch was replaced by the new. There was ample reason for political pressure from within. There was ample reason for diplomatic representations from without. There was no reason for armed force either within or without.[346]

Having no case for war on the merits, the Imperial and financial politicians proceeded to manufacture one for themselves. A systematic campaign of calumny against the Transvaal Government was begun in the African and British newspapers, every abuse was exaggerated, and every incident misinterpreted. The climax was reached at the end of 1895, when, with the connivance of Rhodes, Dr. Jameson led a small party of invaders into the Transvaal. This expedition, as wicked a violation of State rights as has ever been made, was designed expressly to provoke rebellion and intervention. It was invested with all the splendour of a war for liberty, and a forged invitation had been [ 321 ] prepared some weeks before, to be discharged at the critical moment, which represented that the honour of English women in Johannesburg was in danger from the Dutch. The Raid met with the fate which its vicious inspiration and the foul lie which accompanied it deserved. The final effect of it was to destroy all the moral authority of the British Government, and to convince even the Dutch Reformers that they could only maintain their independence by force of arms. When Mr. Chamberlain publicly declared that Rhodes had done nothing inconsistent with honour, and, in the course of further negotiations about the franchise, revived the obnoxious term "suzerainty," all chance of peace had gone. The Dutch were consolidated against the English as the French had been consolidated in 1793, reform was denounced as inconsistent with patriotism, and diplomatic language was received with suspicion as proceeding from a hopelessly corrupt and tainted source. War began in 1899, and ended, after a display of energy and resource by the enemy which none of our responsible statesmen had expected, in the annexation of both the Republics.

The events of the war are of little importance for this book. A Liberal, who witnessed this display of national egoism, with its boastful beginnings, its slovenly neglect of preparations for its own work, the bestial ferocity of language with which it assailed its enemy, and its hysterical exultation at its final triumph, can find no pleasure in the recollection of it. Posterity will pass its final judgment in its own time, and if it sees virtue in the conduct of our soldiers in the field and in the colonial zeal for the common interest of the Empire, it will doubtless see more in the stubbornness of the Dutch and in the devotion with which the people of the Orange Free State sacrificed life, property, and independence in a cause which was not their own. The actual event was probably more beneficial to us than either the thorough defeat which our vanity deserved, or the easy and overwhelming triumph which it anticipated, would have been. The one might have broken up the Empire. The other might have led us into further exploits of the same kind, which could only have ended in [ 322 ] our final overthrow. The chastisement was serious enough to reform without destroying. The violent emotions produced by the war, and the distress consequent on its waste of life and treasure, roused the common people, whose attention had been diverted by conceptions of Imperial magnificence to other parts of the world, once more to the contemplation of their own affairs. Even before the end of the fighting the reaction had begun, and when the Imperialists were driven out of office in 1905, it was the despised and discredited Pro-Boer, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who was at the head of their successors.

Before this change of Government, Toryism had completed its course of reaction. Its government of Ireland had finally broken down. The system of Local Government by County Councils, rejected in 1888, was established in 1898, and in 1904 British credit was pledged to secure the extinction of landlordism by purchase. But if Tory government of Ireland had become little more than the tardy application of Liberal principles, its government of England remained its own. In 1902 fresh vigour was given by the Education Act to the Established Church and its itch for instructing the children of Dissenters in its own dogmas. In 1904 the drink trade procured a Licensing Act, which gave it a new legal property in its opportunities for demoralizing the people, by making it impossible to abolish superfluous public-houses except on payment of compensation out of a limited fund. In 1903 Imperialism came to its natural end, by proposing to revive the old system of Protection, with a preference to the Colonies as against foreign countries. This was partly a Tory way of dealing with economic distress, and it has unquestionably appealed to honest as well as to corrupt sentiment. But its essential principles are national jealousy against foreign peoples, and the abuse of the common people by the plutocracy. To both these Liberalism found itself in 1903 in direct opposition. Tariff Reform involved a rise in the cost of living which would press most hardly on the poor, it involved the control of tariffs by vested interests of landlords and manufacturers, and, less certainly, of Trade Unionists. There was nothing in it which [ 323 ] distinguished it in essence from the old Protection, and Liberalism was, in this line of attack, reinforced by the Conservatism which had grown around Free Trade. A last provocation to the working classes had been given by judicial decisions, which construed the legislation of thirty years before to deprive the Trade Unions of their powers of peaceful picketing, and exposed their accumulated funds to actions for damages for wrongs done by their agents during trade disputes. Trade Union activity was thus stimulated. The new Labour Party came into existence, and joined with the opponents of Tory Imperialism, the Nonconformists alienated by the Education Act, the people of all classes who had been offended by the Licensing Act, the Conservative Free Traders, and those who were anxious to resume the work of economic reconstruction, to overwhelm the Tory Party at the General Election.

332 ^  Midlothian Campaign, 44.

333 ^  See Hansard, III. ccxcviii. 1659; ccxcix. 1085, 1098, 1119. Lord Salisbury spoke at Newport on the 7th October, 1885, three months after Lord Carnarvon had, with his knowledge, communicated with Parnell.

334 ^  Hansard, III. ccciv. 1050.

335 ^  Ibid., 1372.

336 ^  At Nottingham, 31st January, 1913.

337 ^  Hansard, III. ccciv. 1268.

338 ^  At Bristol, 17th January, 1888.

339 ^  Aspects of Home Rule (speech of 22nd April, 1893), 170. Mr. Balfour succeeded Sir Michael as Irish Secretary on the 7th March, 1887.

340 ^  Hansard, III. ccccix. 66, 1191; cccxii. 183; cccxiii. 1608.

341 ^  Lord Hugh Cecil, Lord St. Aldwyn, and Mr. Bonar Law have recently suggested that the Crown itself should once more take an active and open part in politics and veto legislation.

342 ^  See his Popular Government.

343 ^  J. A. Hobson's Imperialism, chap. i.; Meredith Townsend in Liberalism and the Empire, 341.

344 ^  Lord Wolseley's Soldier's Pocket Book. His lordship would probably not poison his enemy's wells, or burn him alive, or kill him with explosive bullets, or massacre his women and children. But why not?

345 ^  See, for instance, L. T. Hobhouse's Democracy and Reaction; J. A. Hobson's Imperialism; and Norman Angell's Great Illusion.

346 ^  See Fitzpatrick's Transvaal from Within; Sir E. T. Cook's Rights and Wrongs of the Transvaal War; Mr. Bryce's Impressions of South Africa; and Sir Francis Younghusband's South Africa of To-day (1897), 246, 250.