The Duma is Dead, Long Live the Duma
The majority of you have not come here—and I think you will wish this to be understood—as the accredited delegates of your respective parliaments. This gathering is unofficial. But you are here, if I read the times aright, in the fullest sense as the accredited representatives of your fellow countrymen and women, and in this capacity you are entitled to express, with an authority attaching to no other assembly in the world, the conscience, the reason, and the sentiments of a large and not the least influential portion of the human race. In addressing you I feel that I am not so much speaking to the representatives of diverse States of Europe and America as to the exponents of principles and hopes that are common to us all, and without which our life on earth would be a life without horizon or prospect.
With the purpose of your mission, let me say at once, his majesty’s government desire unreservedly to associate themselves. It is their hope that your deliberations will do much to promote a closer understanding between the nations.
You have indeed done much since the new century began to give shape and substance to the growing, the insistent desire that war may be banished from the earth. All of us, I suppose, can remember a time when such a gathering as this would have evoked the derision of those who call themselves practical men. You would have been called dreamers, and your plans for substituting equitable arrangement for the license and ferocity of war would have been denounced as dangerous quixotry. Gentlemen, let us be charitable in our judgment of those misguided men and those dark ages. We are all creatures of habit. And by habituating the world to the idea that peaceful arbitrament can adjust such differences as diplomacy has failed to solve, you have opened men’s eyes; you have cleared their minds.
Gentlemen, it must be a cause of delight and encouragement to you to feel that a great step has been taken toward the realization of an ideal. I believe that there are now in existence at present thirty-eight arbitration agreements between the different Powers. These instruments have all been framed since October, 1903. Thanks to Lord Lansdowne, Great Britain has entered into agreements with ten Powers, by virtue of which all legal questions arising between the two contracting Powers and all questions relating to the interpretation of treaties which diplomacy has failed to settle are to be referred to the Permanent Court of Arbitration established at The Hague. Notwithstanding the proviso which debars a reference to arbitration of matters affecting the vital interests, the independence, or the honor of the two contracting States, we may claim that the conclusion of these agreements is a solid and, I think it is not too much to say, a splendid achievement. In these proceedings I may be permitted to repeat that Great Britain has borne a leading part. For we owe to the government of the late Lord Salisbury and to our delegates at the first Hague Congress the initiation of the Permanent Tribunal of Arbitration.
Gentlemen, I fervently trust that before long the principle of arbitration may win such confidence as to justify its extension to a wider field of international differences. We have already seen how questions arousing passion and excitement have attained a solution, not necessarily by means of arbitration in the strict sense of the word, but by referring them to such a tribunal as that which reported on the North Sea incident; and I would ask you whether it may not be worth while carefully to consider, before the next Congress meets at The Hague, the various forms in which differences might be submitted, with a view to opening the door as wide as possible to every means which might in any degree contribute to moderate or compose such differences.
But, gentlemen, there is a dark side to the shield. We have to admit that, notwithstanding all the efforts in which governments and peoples have participated, no corresponding change has been wrought in the aspect of the world’s armaments. Such change as there has been is for the worse. Judging by the budgets of the great naval and military Powers, we might be living in a world where resort to force was the only known method of settling our differences, and the words “arbitration” and “conciliation” were devoid of meaning.
On the one hand we find the reasoned opinion of Europe declaring itself more and more strongly for peace, and, on the other hand, preparations for war which in their extent and effectiveness suggest that a lust for blood is the actuating principle of modern society. It is this sinister paradox which baffles the will and lowers the self-respect of the Western world, and when we ask ourselves, as we are bound to do, whether the object of these preparations is attained, we encounter another paradox. The other day I observed that Lord Lansdowne, in discussing the growth of armaments, made use of a striking phrase. He said: “The moment may come when the people of this country will prefer to eat their daily bread in fear rather than starve in security.”
But, gentlemen, can any of us say that as a result of such overwhelming sacrifices of money, of men, of ideals, and of civil dignity the sense of security has indeed been attained? Is it not evident that a process of simultaneous and progressive arming defeats its own purpose? Scare answers to scare, and force begets force, until at length it comes to be seen that we are racing one against another after a phantom security which continually vanishes as we approach. If we hold with the late Mr. Hay that war is the most futile and ferocious of human follies, what are we to say of the surpassing futility of expending the strength and substance of nations on preparations for war, possessing no finality, amenable to no alliances that statesmanship can devise, and for ever consuming the reserves on which a State must ultimately rely when the time of trial comes, if come it must—I mean the well-being and vitality of its people?
Do not imagine that I wish to discourage you by contrasting the hard facts of the situation with the aspirations which we all share. That is the last thing that I have in my mind. I am not despondent about the future.
In the first place, it is only a few short years since peace was a wanderer on the face of the earth, liable at any moment to be trampled upon and despitefully used; and if wars and preparations for wars have not ceased since she found a rest for the sole of her foot at The Hague, remember that time is needed for the growth of confidence in the new order of things, and that allowance must be made for the momentum of the past which thrusts the old régime forward upon the new.
Remember, too, that the people are on your side. I know it is said that democracy is as prone to war as any other form of government. But democracy, as we know it, is a late comer on the world’s stage, where it has barely had time to become conscious of its characteristic powers, still less to exert them effectively in its external relations.
The bonds of mutual understanding and esteem are strengthening between the peoples, and the time is approaching when nothing can hold back from them the knowledge that it is they who are the victims of war and militarism; that war in its tawdry triumphs scatters the fruits of their labor, breaks down the paths of progress, and turns the fire of constructive energy into a destroying force.
In this connection I can not refrain from saying for myself, and I am sure for every one in this great and historic assembly, how glad we are to welcome among us to-day the representatives of the youngest of parliaments—the Russian Duma. We deeply appreciate the circumstances of their appearance in our midst. It is, I venture to think, of good augury for your movement and for the future of Europe that the first official act of the Russian Parliament in regard to affairs outside the Russian Empire has been to authorize its delegates to come here to Westminster and to join hands with us in the assertion of those great principles of peace and good will which were so incalculably advanced by the head of the Russian State, the author and convener of the first Hague Congress.
I make no comment on the news which has reached us this morning; this is neither the place nor the moment for that. We have not a sufficient acquaintance with the facts to be in a position to justify or criticize.
But this at least we can say, we who base our confidence and our hopes on the parliamentary system: New institutions have often a disturbed, if not a stormy youth. The Duma will revive in one form or another. We can say with all sincerity, “The Duma is dead: long live the Duma.”
The time is approaching to which we are all looking forward with intense interest and anxious hope when the delegates of your various nationalities find themselves once again at The Hague, there to renew their labors in the cause of peace. I can only end as I began by wishing success to your deliberations. May they pave the way to far-reaching and beneficent action.
Tell your governments when you return home—what the members of the British Parliament, whom I see before me, are never tired of telling me—that example is better than precept, that actions speak louder than words; and urge them in the name of humanity to go into The Hague Congress, as we ourselves hope to go, pledged to diminished charges in respect of armaments. Entreat them to go there with a belief in the good disposition of nations to one another, such as animates you, the members of a score of parliaments, and may it be your great reward, when you next assemble a year hence, to know that as a result of your labors the light of peace burns with a steadier and a more radiant flame.