The Empire and the century/Introduction
'As it was in the beginning … it shall be … '
If there is any truth in Schiller's saying, 'Men rise by their higher purposes,' it is as applicable to nations as to individuals. In no period in history has it fallen to the lot of mankind to witness a greater Empire than the British Empire of to-day, and it follows as a logical conclusion that the administration of such an Empire must needs imply a heavy weight of responsibility. Are we conscious of these responsibilities, and is the nation rising to meet them? Surely, on no occasion is the question of its future more vital, is, in fact, the duty of reflection and examination more in keeping with national rejoicing, than on the centenary of the great naval battle which determined the future of the Empire and laid the foundations of modern Europe. To serious men Trafalgar should be considered in the light of a national sacrament. The lessons of the past are weighed, our vows for the future renewed. Rejoicing must be combined with national self-examination, and the conditions of our success in the past used as a guide to our conduct in the future.
As in the realm of thought and of matter, organic and inorganic, forms and conditions show an evolutionary progress, so with the forces and ideals which create and maintain Empire. It is our first business to consider the many and various ideals which together produce the modern Imperial ideal in order to understand the true nature of a creed which to many of us is the one living creed in current politics. Montesquieu truly remarked that three qualities above others distinguished the English from any other nation—the qualities of Liberty, Piety, and Industrial Ambition. One great feature in England's history is that her political and social conflicts were never barren of results. In France the Wars of Religion left only a bankrupt society and an effete autocracy. The Imperial ambitions of Spain left only a wearied and reactionary State. The Thirty Years' War in Germany took its toll of bloodshed without bequeathing as a recompense any real political or moral blessing. In England, on the other hand, it is hard to point to any struggle in which the soul of the nation was engaged which did not end in a vast and far-reaching reform. This is true of our religious strife, and it is equally true of our political and social revolutions. The three great qualities which Montesquieu noted, and which may be taken as the different forms of the national ideal, complementary to each other, and each forming in its special way the ideal most needed by its age, were developed in three separate and distinct epochs.
Political liberty, the first of these ideals, was won in an early stage of our history, at a time when England took small part in international affairs. While the rest of the world was groaning under the tyranny of absolute rulers, the spirit of individual liberty had already permeated our masses, certain substantive rights had been won as against autocratic power, and when the ultimate crisis arose, and the fleet of the greatest nation of the day threatened her coasts, the country armed as a whole in its defence. The defeat of the Armada was not the work of a mercenary levy, but of the spirit of the people in arms. From Gravelines onward England lost her insularity, and became a factor of deep importance in the affairs, not only of Europe, but of that wider world which was already dawning upon the horizon of her settlers and pioneers.
One part of the battle having been won, the war is carried to another sphere. England accepted a Reformation that, for logical completeness, can be paralleled nowhere else in Europe. Her spiritual conflict, bitter as it was, did not rage round the débris of the Church: it sought the essential principle of spiritual liberty and inner reformation. After a short destructive period the nation produced a man who, while vindicating that liberty of conscience which England has never since lost, at the same time refused to seek a barren liberty, but joined a moral reformation to patriotic ends, and welded the whole into one national ideal.
With Oliver Cromwell we come to the third of Montesquieu's characteristics—Industrial Ambition. With the practical insight of an experienced statesman he recognised the fact that England's future must be based upon a solid economic foundation. Puritanism at its best refused to allow the individual to live his moral life apart from the world of men. The medieval Church could not rise above a negation, and the formula, Deo placere non potest. It was a system of taboos and restrictions, and not of definite commands. True Puritanism urged that faith without works is dead, and that the glory of God was equally achieved in practical life as in the hermit's cell. The service of God in the world, and not out of it, in an active life of enterprise, and not in a passive mood of religious contemplation, became the standard of a new régime growing up under Cromwell's example and with the memory of Bunyan's hero, who was not a priest, but a pilgrim. Material well-being was regarded as an ideal to which the nation as a whole, and each man in it, might aspire—not only as something which was not wrong, but as something which opened up a wider range of virtue. On one side was the vice of asceticism, the life apart from the world; on the other, the vice of hedonism, the life in the world and only for the world. The true Puritanism steered the middle course, using the world as a gift of God wherein to work out the Divine purpose. Looking back over the course of history, we cannot avoid being struck with the fact that zeal for political liberty, religious freedom, and industrial ambition were coeval, and combined in all great epochs. The Elizabethans, the Puritans who founded the New England States and gave the first impulse to English industrialism, and, at a later date, the people of the North of England, who combined Methodism and a zeal for political reform with an unfailing practical instinct, seem to prove that Montesquieu's diagnosis is the correct one, and that the English racial ideal at its best, whether we call it Nationalism or Imperialism, combines these three attributes.
Our national ideal, then, properly considered, must combine all three aims. When it is shorn of its practicality it will become the creed of dreamers and doctrinaires; if it is bereft of its spiritual side it will become the dogma of a hard and narrow class of utilitarians, such as Bentham and Mill; if it is shorn again of its political aspect, we get the commercialism of the Manchester School in its decadence, where the individual was looked upon as apart from society, where money-making was regarded as per se a religious and moral act, quite apart from the ends for which money was sought. Ideals were sunk in the race for worldly goods, and their place was taken by a growing luxury, extravagance, and quest for pleasure. Even the elementary duty of the citizen in defence of his country was lost sight of, and our Colonies and the great deeds which had won them were forgotten. Hence arose the school of 'Little England'—a school which contained many diverse thinkers, from the serious philosophic insularism of those who disbelieved in oversea possessions to the vulgar self-satisfiaction of the class who were convinced that their own narrow view represented the last word in political development. Fortunately for England, leaders in the persons of Carlyle and Ruskin in the theoretical, and Beaconsfield in the practical, spheres arose, and preached a new doctrine, restated the old ideal, roused the nation from its sluggishness, and stimulated it towards a higher purpose. Once more the old doctrine was preached that works were valueless without faith, and that politics, unless inspired by a true social faith, were only a blind stumbling among precedents. Men began to realize that the nation could not shirk its responsibilities without the degradation of its moral life, and that the truest national well-being lay in great tasks and grave difficulties honestly and fearlessly faced. Such, with all its defects, was the creed which Imperialism attempted to expound. Taking as its axiom that it was desirable to maintain England as a great nation, it argued that no national life can develop without a material foundation. To use the jargon of philosophy, all qualitative development must have a quantitative basis. It sought this basis in the development of that oversea Empire which had been won by its forerunners. The rise of other nations, the growth of armies and navies, the dawn of colonizing ambition among other European Powers, might well make such a development a bare necessity in self-defence; but Imperialism sought to base it on higher grounds. It desired to make the Empire a united and self-subsistent whole, not merely on the ground of safety, but on the wider ground of the richer life which it would afford. Seeing in England an old, crowded, and complex society, with little room for internal development, it sought to open a wider horizon to its view, and to remedy some of the greater evils of the social organism by means of the wide, untried territories at its command. At the same time it transmitted to the daughter States those very principles which had contributed to England's undisputed naval and commercial hegemony in the world—the principles of religious and political liberty, the spirit of commercial enterprise based on the Puritan maxim of self-development and self-reliance to which she owed the foundation and growth of her Colonial possessions. The creed has found many detractors. Some have labelled it 'Jingoism,' and defined it as a hectoring and braggart attitude towards other peoples. Some have called it Chauvinism, and described it as an extreme self-satisfaction, the glorification of our own merits at the expense of all the world. But the truth is that such hostile definitions are irrelevant They have no relation to Imperialism, even on its least worthy side; indeed, they are far more descriptive of the vices of the opposite school For the true Imperialist, so far from seeking war, seeks a security for peace by remedying the weakness and isolation which are the primary causes of war; and so far from being a Chauvinist, he implores his people to believe that they have not necessarily said the last word on all things, and that it is their business to learn from and, if necessary, to follow the methods of other States. In a practical sense we have seen its working in the South African War. Far from producing evil qualities, it has brought to light the noblest and highest virtue of the nation—that of self-sacrifice. Imperialism, as defined by its opponents, contains no ideal worth speaking of; in the eyes of its votaries it embodies the ideal which, according to Montesquieu, has made England great. Political liberty—that is, a circle of autonomous nations, united by the bonds of race, and owing a universal allegiance to one Crown and one law; piety—that is, a national inspiration towards a fuller and richer life; a patriotism in which the nation takes the place of the old medieval Church; and, lastly, industrial ambition—that is, the desire of each man to develop the heritage which has been given him, and to put out his talents at. interest—these may be taken as the forms in which that Imperial ideal appears to-day.
The day of the individual and the small nation has gone for England with the advent of rivals. In any era of competition Providence is on the side of the bigger social battalions. As in commerce we see every day new trade combinations, so also in politics the future is for the State which can unite and consolidate. Happily, the conditions of such Imperial consolidation exist within the Empire to-day. A feeling of greater community between the Mother Country and her Colonies has emanated, as we have seen, from the conception of Greater Britain. It found its most powerful expression in the day of great national rejoicing at the celebration of the late Queen's Jubilee, no less than in the period of national depression during the South African War, and it is this strong sense of a community of interests based on mutual protection and security which must become a vital power in the history of the future. We find that the ideal of unity which prevailed in Italy and served Cavour in giving reality to Dante's and Rienzi's dreams occurred again as a great motive power in Bismarck's consummation of a United Germany; and seeing that the tendencies and forces of the present day are all converging towards the dream of a United British Empire, it is surely not too much to predict that means will be found to focus this impulse towards unity into a definite and practical form of Imperial union.
It may seem a long step from Cromwell to Rhodes, and yet the two men are spiritually akin. Both in their own way sought the glory of God and the glory of their people. Both were intolerant of the 'fugitive and cloistered' virtues, and believed that ideals were but dim lamps unless they were used to light the work-a-day world. Both earnestly sought the greatness of England, and sought that greatness over sea. Both were 'practical mystics'; in Lord Rosebery's words, that 'most formidable of combinations.' Their constructive imperialism widely differing in scope, was inspired with the same creed. The taunts levied at the earlier statesmen were blood-guiltiness and fanaticism. The latter-day statesman was similarly labelled a self-seeking capitalist. Strange as it may seem, the accusations were similar in kind. Both were practical men using the best weapons for achieving their ends, and if Cromwell is now remembered as the man who had to crush and stamp out great evils, and did so by methods which a weaker man would have feared to use, in the same way we may regard Rhodes as one who took the most prosaic and most suspected of all methods, and used it for the furtherance of an ideal. He will be regarded, we believe, in future ages as a living proof of that stage in which capital becomes transformed and loses all its vices—a potent instrument towards the dissemination of high and noble principles. He was the true child and product, and therefore the type of his age, just as Cromwell in his person summed up the diverse and conflicting strivings of an earlier England.
The present volume is intended to give, within the compass of a single book, the current views of representative men and women, upon those special departments of Imperial development with which they are severally qualified to deal. Its purpose is to give an authoritative account of the Empire, as it appeared to contemporaries at this particular moment of its history. It is in no sense a propagandist work. Full liberty has been given to every writer, and it is to be regarded as a collection of expert opinion rather than as a methodical treatise. Though the majority of the contributors are in favour of Mr. Chamberlain's policy, several are not, and there is the same divergence of views on non-Imperial questions. The one link of connection is that all are believers in constructive Imperialism. In their view of the Empire they represent the revolt from the old unfruitful attitude of apathy, ignorance, and vague sentimentality. They desire to see a self-conscious community rather than a collection of indeterminate atoms. They believe that the doctrine of laissez-faire, while it may be valuable as a conscious and reasoned policy, is extremely dangerous and futile as a temperamental attitude. They believe that the administration of an Empire is as much a science as any other branch of politics, and therefore demands exact knowledge and serious reflection.
The point of time is important, both to the future historian and to the present generation of British citizens, because it is recognised on all hands that we have reached a critical period of Imperial evolution. In the self-governing Colonies the work of the past century has been that of foundation-laying. This preliminary work may be said to have been formally closed in Canada by the recent inauguration of the new Provinces in the West Likewise in Australia, the arrival of the Commonwealth, implying the consciousness of a national as opposed to a colonial destiny, may be interpreted as the closing scene of the old colonial era. The articles, therefore, relating to the self-governing Colonies represent the Empire as it was in the beginning. The foundations have been laid, in some cases they are complete, and the distinctive work of the century before us will be the building of the superstructures, on the nature of which depends the future, not merely of the British Empire, but of British democracy and the world's civilization.
Similarly, in England there are not wanting indications that a national crisis is upon us. The fiscal controversy, with all its Imperial importance, is but one aspect of the larger situation. With the rapid rise of formidable European Powers the period of our insular predominance and 'splendid isolation' has been brought to an end. Once more Little England, intent on her national independence, returns to the tradition of an earlier age, and looks abroad for political combinations. The Japanese Treaty marks the momentous transition.
Yet the problem is not as it used to be. The Empire in its modern form is a factor with which earlier statesmen had no need to reckon, because it did not exist. To-day there is nothing visionary in the conception of a future Imperial organization which shall assure the independence of the several democracies and the safety of our Imperial administration more securely than any foreign alliance. For the time being, while only the foundations are in place, it has been found necessary by us to seek the buttress of a foreign support. But those who know the Empire cannot rest satisfied with that solution of the permanent problem. They apprehend the imminent questions which will be raised by the growth to maturity of the colonial nations, and they value the pride in British tradition which spreads even to peoples not of our own blood, but living under the flag. It would be strange indeed if the men who have developed the administration of our great Dependencies could readily reconcile themselves to a new order of the world, in which the perpetuation of their life-work would depend upon the support of allies to whom the British tradition would be a mere exotic, possessing only a certain market value in diplomacy.
I cannot conclude without thanking the many distinguished men and women who have collaborated with me in this work.
That so many busy experts in different provinces should have been ready to give their knowledge for the instruction of their country is surely a signal proof of public spirit I wish especially to thank my friends Mr. John Buchan and Mr. J. L. Garvin for the advice they have given me throughout.
It ought to be said that no attempt has been made to secure uniformity of tone or structure in the articles. Any lack of cohesion which the book may show on this account will, I believe, be more than recompensed for by the full liberty given to each writer to develop the subject according to his own views.
It may be added that the work originated with the idea of an Imperial supplement to the Outlook but the scheme soon grew so much beyond the bounds of such an arrangement, that I decided to make of it a separate volume.
C. S. GOLDMAN.
84, Queen Anne's Gate,