The Empire and the century/The Imperial Ideal

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Among the many remarkable changes of the last generation none is more remarkable than the change in the political ideas uppermost in the minds of men, and in the political aspirations to which these ideas give direction and impetus—a change which is perhaps most perceptible in our own country and among our own kindred, but which can also be traced among every other people with any claims to civilization. Thirty or forty years ago the word 'Nation' and its derivatives were on the lips of all. Political enthusiasm was concentrated on the redemption of subject nationalities, or in the bringing together of dissevered national fragments; or, where national unity had already been attained, in the development of political freedom and the extension of political privilege from the few to the many. The national ideal, in fact, was the great formative influence in political thought, the guiding principle of diplomacy, the inspiration of political parties. To-day the words 'Empire' and 'Imperialism' fill the place in everyday speech that was once filled by 'Nation' and 'Nationality.' In the never-ending struggle of political principles authority rather than liberty seems for the moment to have the upper hand; power and dominion rather than freedom and independence are the ideas that appeal to the imagination of the masses; men's thoughts are turned outward rather than inward; the national ideal has given place to the Imperial.

To analyze and explain the fall significance of this remarkable change would be a task far beyond the scope of the present essay—a task requiring for its adequate fulfilment a long historical retrospect, a wide and careful survey of existing conditions, and, it might almost be added, a prophetic insight into future history for many generations to come. But on a lower level of ambition something may perhaps be done; and, as our own political fixture is so deeply involved in the elucidation of the matter, it is worth while at all hazards to make the attempt.

Now, first of all, what do the words 'National' and 'Imperial' respectively imply? When we speak of a nation, we all know sufficiently well for practical purposes what is meant, though we may not find it very easy to give any precise definition of the term, and historically, as a matter of fact, the conception is comparatively new, and the national State a comparatively modern political phenomenon. The words 'Empire' and 'Imperial' are far more difficult to analyze. They are at once older and newer, less familiar to our modern minds, and at the same time with a longer history behind them and a larger burden of associations to carry. Historically, if not logically, they take precedence, and it may be as well to begin with such a brief survey of the past as may be necessary to their elucidation.


Roman in its origin, the word 'Empire' has retained more than a flavour of association from its original use. The Roman Empire was not only the first in history to bear the name, but also the first to which with any fitness the name can be applied. What we vaguely describe as the Ancient Empires of the East were little more than mechanical aggregates of territory and population with no principle of union or assimilative power, and with no real vitality or possibility of endurance. The Roman Empire was on a far higher plane, and had a far higher mission. Bound together not only by a common ruler, but by a highly organized and uniform though elastic system of administration, and as time went on by a common system of law and a common citizenship, it became the most powerful engine of assimilation that the world has ever seen. In the first instance, indeed, Roman Imperialism was little more than an Imperialism of conquest; but it was a conquest that ultimately justified itself as a furtherance to civilization. Historically, the Roman dominion served the purpose of breaking down the barriers of tribe, and race, and city, that separated the various peoples round the shores of the Mediterranean; in widening their horizons, hitherto restricted in a degree which it is difficult for us to realize or understand; in drawing to a focus all the scattered elements of civilization in the ancient world; in evolving for mankind a universal system of jurisprudence; in preparing their minds for the acceptance of a universal religion. In the sense that it united so many diverse elements under the shelter of a common Government, and that it transcended so many forms of polity with its all-embracing organization, the Roman Empire was universal It was not merely one mighty State surrounded by others similar in kind, though towering above them, but the one and only civilized State beyond whose bounds there was a mere welter of barbarism. In this way the idea of universality, of catholicity, came to be associated with the word Empire, and for more than a thousand years remained inseparable from its meaning; and, though in our own days the word has sometimes been put to strange and degraded uses, there is more than a suggestion of that idea clinging to it still.


As a mere island of civilization, however, amid an ocean of barbarism, the Roman Empire was only universal in a relative sense. It was limited externally by arbitrary boundaries, and such universality as it achieved it achieved only at the expense of internal vitality. The heavy hand of despotism rested upon it and crushed out freedom, both in the individual and in the community. With freedom went energy and resisting power, as was seen when the wave of conquest had spent itself, and the returning tide of barbarism began to press inwards from without. But for the spread of Christianity, the Empire would have fallen to pieces much sooner than it did; but the triumph of the new faith infused into it fresh vitality, gave it a living principle of cohesion, and for a time promised to consolidate its population into one great Christian nationality on the basis of the Græco-Roman civilization. In the East, indeed, some such result was achieved, and the Empire lingered on for a thousand years, largely through the energy it developed as a Greek national State. But in the West, where the barbarians were too strong or the resisting power too weak, the fabric crumbled away, and centuries of confusion followed, during which civilization seemed often in danger of complete submersion.

But in the West the brief experience of the Roman peace—brief as compared with the aeons of strife that ad preceded, or the long period of confusion that followed—was not forgotten. The idea of the Empire as the central and regulating polity of the Christian world lingered in men's minds, or, rather, became more definite, and gathered fresh significance as time went on. It found embodiment for a moment in the great, if short-lived, creation of Charlemagne; and later again it took visible shape in the Holy Roman Empire of the true Middle Ages, which for three centuries was the leading power in Christendom, and which gave to the world, in its famous line of German monarchs from Otto the Great to Frederick II., the most splendid procession of kings in all recorded history.

It is, however, through the ideal that inspired its achievements rather than through the achievements themselves that the mediæval Empire appeals to our imaginations. The vision of the Imperator Pacificus which haunted the mind of the Middle Ages was never realized in practice, but the attempt to realize it, hopeless as it may have been, was the most splendid effort of political idealism that has yet been seen. The dream of political unity, the majestic theory of the Universal Empire corresponding to the Universal Church, with its head, the Emperor, the crown of the feudal system and the earthly King of kings, was only perhaps a dream, a theory, an aspiration; but it remains in many ways the noblest, the most coherent, and the most satisfying political ideal yet conceived by the mind of man, and it as invested the Middle Ages with a grandeur to which our modern world, with all its manifest gains and advantages, has not yet attained. No single work of human genius that has since been produced—none, perhaps, that has ever been produced—is to be compared in unity and scale and sustained greatness to the Divine Comedy; and Dante's poem is the epic of the Middle Ages, is based upon its system, is coloured throughout by its aspirations, and inspired by its ideals.


The mediæval Empire maintained itself for a time in defiance of the national feeling that was now asserting itself in various parts of Western Europe. But in the end national feeling proved too strong for it, and in the middle of the thirteenth century it ceased to exist as, in any real sense, an international State. Meanwhile, however, the national unity of both Germany and Italy had been sacrificed, and before long the primacy passed to the great national States, like France and Spain and England, that had been consolidating themselves outside the bounds of the Empire. From one point of view the history of Europe ever since the downfall of the Empire may be regarded as one great revolutionary movement, one prolonged carnival of destruction. To the sublime system of the Middle Ages there had succeeded a chaos of warring nationalities and warring religions, amid which all hope of unity speedily disappeared. The very ideals of the Middle Ages perished or ceased to be intelligible. With the Reformation the Universal Church was shattered into fragments, and it soon began to be forgotten that the Universal Empire had ever claimed to be universal. When the religious wars were ended, and an appearance of stability had been restored, statesmen were content to aim at a mere balance of power, and during the wars of the French Revolution the small vestiges of the mediæval Empire that still remained were finally swept away.

Yet through all the ineradicable desire for unity survived in the minds of men, and from time to time asserted itself, if only by way of futile protest against the excesses of the destructive movement When the Reformation seemed to be leading through license to anarchy the Spanish Empire of Philip II. came upon the scene, the product in the secular sphere of the same movement of thought that produced the Tridentine Church in the religious, and threatened the civilized world with subjection. And when in a similar manner the French Revolution had shaken the whole edifice of political order to its foundations, the Empire of Napoleon sprang into being—short-lived, indeed, yet a splendid if premature and ill-directed effort towards the attainment of that political unity which is the essence of the Imperial ideal, and of which mankind has never wholly lost sight since the days of Julius Cæsar.

But though in the aspect we have been considering, that is to say as against the mediæval order and the much grander ideals of which it was such a hopelessly inadequate reflection, the six centuries that followed the downfall of the mediæval Empire may be regarded as destructive, it would be shallow paradox to pretend that they have not, in a far deeper and more vital sense, been constructive. The reality of the Middle Ages fell far short of its idealism; and, though a system of competing nationalities may be inferior in theory to a universal State, it is a great advance in practice on feudal anarchy. While the old order was being overthrown, or its remains being cleared away, the foundations of a new and fairer and more enduring order were being silently prepared. Only in the fulness of time will the new edifice be revealed in its true lines and proportions, but it is beginning now to be possible to discern, as through a mist, the outlines of its structure.

But that we may be better able to comprehend the point at which we stand in the world's history, and to escry the ideals which are to be our guides for the future, let us look more closely at the political changes and activities that have occupied the four or five centuries since the Middle Ages came to an end. They can be summed up, I think, under two great movements: one intensive in its energy and significance, the other extensive; one affecting the internal organization of the State, or of the European system of States, the other concerned rather with the position and influence of Europe in the world at large, both running throughout the period, and between them exhausting nearly all the political significance of this modern time.


The former movement is in one of its aspects—what we may call, perhaps, the negative or destructive aspect—the great movement of liberation which, beginning as early as the fourteenth century, reached a culminating point in its progress in the religious revolution of the sixteenth century, and yet another in the political revolution of the eighteenth. In its positive or constructive aspect it is the national movement which reached its full development only in the last century. For our present purpose no attempt need be made to separate these two tendencies into different currents. The rise of nationality and the progress of human enfranchisement may be taken to be but different phases of the same thing, and it is, in fact, impossible to disentangle their history. Nationality has been at once the product and the instrument of the revolution—if we may use the latter word as a name for the whole great movement of revolt against the mediaeval order, and not in its conventional sense as the name for one phase of this movement, the political revolution that began in the eighteenth century. With almost equal truth it might be said that the revolution has been at once the product and the instrument of nationality. As we have seen already, the modern nation State is a comparatively new political phenomenon. It is only with the first beginning of the revolt against the mediæval order that national feeling in its modern sense first appears on the scene. It is only towards the close of the Middle Ages that anything that can really be called a nation begins to emerge; only at the end of the fifteenth century that the newly-formed national Powers distinctly take the lead in Europe, and only much later that national patriotism can be matched against religion as a political force. Indeed, it was only during the nineteenth century, after the storms of the French Revolution had awoke the peoples of Europe to a consciousness of their corporate existence, that the principle of nationality gained that complete ascendancy which has put an end for ever to the dream that one nation State can really absorb another or any essential portion of another.

We are now, accordingly, in a better position to understand the meaning of the national ideal. With the progress of the long revolution it has gone on growing in power and depth and significance. Each step of enfranchisement has increased the facilities for the formation and expression of the national will, and given clearness and intensity to its volitions, till, in its modern form, the nation State is a moral and intellectual whole, whose unifying principle has something of the force of personality. And, just as the metaphysicians have found that, though personality is one of the least ambiguous of words, its conception defies analysis, so, though we all know what we mean by nationality, none of us can define it. It is enough here to say that, in its completed form, the nation State seems to imply three main requirements. In the first place, a continuous territory, substantial in size, though the size may vary from that of Belgium to that of the United States; secondly, that territory inhabited by a people conscious of a certain common tradition, and a certain moral, social, and intellectual unity, which, in its origin, may be derived mainly from race, from language, or from religion, though nearly always in practice transcending the bounds marked out by any one of these three principles; and, lastly, political unity, embodied in a common Government, a common allegiance, and common institutions. Generally, the common Government has preceded and helped in no small degree to foster the sentiment of nationhood, by which the Government is, in its turn, supported; but occasionally, as in the classic instances of Germany and Italy, the sentiment of nationhood has historically preceded and helped to create the common Government.


Parallel, however, with the process by which Europe has reorganized herself into national States, and with the movement of enfranchisement which has carried us to democracy, another great movement has been in progress, which is rather extensive than intensive in its significance, and which, though it has attracted far less attention than the former, is hardly less important in its bearing on the general political and international conditions of the time, and even more important in its bearing on the phenomenon with which we are primarily concerned—the British Empire. From the time of the Crusades, or, if you choose to regard the Crusades as religious rather than political in their significance, from the time of Henry the Navigator, Europe has, from small beginnings and, at first, by tentative steps, been overrunning the world: she has been stretching out her hands over the remainder of the globe, and been drawing it under her control or within the orbit of her civilization. In some cases, of which the United States is at once the typical and the most splendid instance, she has planted new nationalities of European origin in what were once waste or thinly-peopled regions of the earth. In others, as in the case of the Russian Empire, she has extended an existing European nationality far beyond the bounds of Europe, In one recent and memorable instance she has, by her influence and example, quickened into vigorous life an old but almost dormant nationality that had long remained stagnant on a lower plane of civilization. Yet, again—and here India is the typical and crowning illustration—where no question of nationality was involved or could for ages arise, she has reduced to a condition of independence an immense population incapable of providing a civilized Government for itself; has established the reign of justice and order, which is the first condition of progress in civilization; supplied the initiative and momentum that could not be found among the governed; and entered on the tremendous task of raising them to her own plane of civilization by an effort which, to be successful, must last for ages.

Now, it might seem that the great change which has come over men's thoughts in the present generation, and which was alluded to in the opening sentences of this paper—the change that was there summed up in the phrase 'the national ideal has given place to the Imperial'-is nothing more than the transference to the movement of expansion of the political interest and attention that had previously been concentrated on the movement of national reorganization. It is that in a very great degree. In the unification of Germany and Italy the national principle obtained its most signal and dramatic triumphs. Much remains for it, no doubt, to do, but nothing that in interest or importance can rival those achievements; and from the moment that Germany and Italy attained to unity, nationality gradually ceased to be the real dynamic force of European politics. The great European wars of 1859, 1866, and 1870 turned exclusively upon it. The next in order, the Russo-Turkish War of 1877, was ambiguous, being partly an affair of the Balkan nationalities, partly an assault by a European Power on an Asiatic Empire. But since then there has been no ambiguity at all. The three great conflicts of the last seven years—the American War with Spain, our own war in South Africa, and the war just concluded between Russia and Japan—have none of them been fought in Europe, and have been wholly concerned with questions of dominion far beyond the bounds of Europe.

It is not, perhaps, an accident that one of the new Powers which owe their existence to the national enthusiasm of the last century should have been a main instrument of the change. No sooner had Germany achieved internal unity than she began to look about in the outside world for fresh fields of activity. The movement of European expansion had by no means been arrested, but it had passed for the time being out of notice; but when Germany threw herself into it, the competition for territory and dominion in the outside world soon became the dominant motive of international politics. The action of Germany led to the scramble for Africa. Asia has succeeded to Africa as the chief field of ambition; all the greater nation States of Europe have joined in the race, and even the United States, the greatest nation of European origin outside the bounds of Europe, has abandoned her traditional policy of isolation, gone outside her natural limits of expansion, and eagerly seized a share of the 'white mans burden.' During the last quarter of a century the absorption of the unoccupied or weakly-held portions of the earth, and the reduction of the uncivilized or semi-civilized States to a dependent position, have proceeded at such a pace that the end is almost within sight. The partition of Africa is almost complete. Eastern Asia is emerging from the melting-pot, and it is beginning to be possible to foresee the lines on which it will be reconstructed; and it is only in the case of Turkey and the other Mohammedan countries of Western Asia that the future is still wholly dark, and that great conflicts must too probably precede the final solution.


Now, the Imperialism of the hour is in one sense only the expression of this shifting of interest from the internal problems of Europe to the outward expansion of her influence; and if we are to believe its enemies, who will admit the possibility of no Imperialism but the Imperialism of conquest, it is that in its worst form, and nothing more. But if the Imperial ideal were only an appeal to the lust of conquest, it would not possess the immense attraction it now possesses for the best minds of our generation. It is not the mere glorification of conquest and dominion as compared with internal improvement; it is not the mere preference of power to freedom; it is not the enemy of nationality and liberty. It is not the mere assertion of one of the great principles that have underlain the history of the last five hundred years against the other; it is their combination and fulfilment. In political history, unlike geometry, there are no parallel lines that, being produced, only meet at infinity; and the two great currents which, as we have seen, have flowed through history since the end of the Middle Ages are now joining to form a nobler stream, which may bear us to the promised land of a fairer and larger political order than the world has yet seen.

Taken by itself, the national ideal was limited and partial. At its best it gave us in the international system only an organized disunion, an ameliorated anarchy; at its worst it tended towards a sort of Chinese isolation. The impulse to expansion, on the other hand, has saved Europe from the stagnancy of isolation; it has brought the civilization she has evolved by a long process of self-discipline within the reach of humanity at large, and has broadened her own horizon till it includes the world in its sweep. This impulse, indeed, has had a certain affinity to the Roman Imperialism of conquest, which, if unchecked, would have led us back to Roman despotism. Yet in their several ways both the expansive impulse and the movement of national enfranchisement have been leading us to a larger atmosphere; both have been preparing our minds for the reception of a broader ideal; both have been clearing the ground for a reconstruction of society on ampler lines than any that were possible in the past. By drawing all classes into a share in the life or the civilized State on the one hand, and drawing all races and countries into the orbit of civilization on the other, they have, at all events, given to the problem of reconstruction a universal statement, and provided us with the broadest foundations for the edifice which future generations will erect. The State is no longer the organ of a privileged few, still less of an intrusive alien element. The system of States is no longer merely European, but cosmopolitan; the field of diplomacy has now become as wide as the world, and problems have acquired a world-wide range and significance.


Now let us try if we can discover in existing political conditions any germs of the new and more comprehensive order, any faint suggestions of the larger ideal of the future. We see a world practically divided between a few great States—the six so-called great Powers of Europe, the American Republic, and Japan, the Asiatic Power which has sprung like Pallas Athene in the full panoply of war, and in the foil vigour of mature nationality, into the circle of the European nations. We see these eight great Powers endeavouring to group themselves by alliances into a smaller number of systems, so that at the present moment they may be reckoned as four, and not as eight—the United States, England and Japan, the Dual Alliance, and the Triple Alliance. These alliances, though important as indicating a tendency, are too fluctuating perhaps for a serious argument to be based upon them; but if we look more closely we shall see the same tendency to reduction of numbers taking another shape. There are some of these great Powers which as world States are even now great only by convention, and have little chance of maintaining their present rank and position; there are others, again, whose hold on the future is anything but assured; and there are only three great Empire States which, unless they fall to pieces, as we have no reason to expect they will, are, by their population, their resources, and their possibilities of development, secured from the danger of sinking into a secondary place. The three are the British Empire, Russia, and the United States. Time may add to their number. China may awake from her lethargy and take the place beside them to which her population would entitle her, or less probably, if China proves to be not asleep but dead, Japan may become the head of a vast Empire in Eastern Asia, which would add her to the list; Germany, so strong as a national power in Europe, may succeed in winning a place among the world Powers of the future; and in South America a great Latin organization may arise to confront the United States on her own continent. But these things are matters of speculation. The great fixture awaiting the three world Empires we have named is a matter almost of certainty.

We are trying to discover the germ of a new political organism, to arrive at a new political conception wider than nationality yet capable of finding a place for nationality, to discern a new political ideal. Now, the very breadth of these Empire States lifts them in a sense above mere nationalism, and gives them a certain universality. In all three there is present, in a greater or less degree, the element of nationality; while, on the other hand, all three owe their present breadth and greatness to the movement of conquest or expansion. Thus in all there is a reflection of both the great political tendencies of the last four or five centuries, though here it is necessary to distinguish. Russia is the one-sided product and expression of the movement of conquest in its most Cæsarian form. She claims to be the heir of Byzantine traditions, and her Empire represents no great advance upon Byzantine Imperialism. She has a certain basis of nationality indeed, out is at best only a nationality in the making; while in her form of government she is a semi-Asiatic despotism, from which there is little probability of mankind being able to draw fresh hopes of progress or new political ideals. In the United States, on the other hand, we can equally see a one-sided product of nationality and democracy. As a nation State on a scale such as the world has never yet beheld, the Great Republic is immensely interesting, and her recent acceptance of a share of the white man's burden is not only interesting in itself, but of immense importance as the recognition of a principle. In practice, however, the share is too small, as compared with the huge and growing mass of the nation itself, to modify in any vital sense the political organism as a whole; and except in scale the United States remains merely a nation State of the older type, supplies us with no new political conception of the kind we are in search of, and contains no suggestion of the new Imperial ideal.


There remains the third and last of the three great world States—the British Empire. England has played a leading part in both the great political movements of the last five centuries. She was one of the earliest Powers to stand out before Europe in the full strength of nationality; she anticipated, if she did not inaugurate, the religious revolution; and she not only inaugurated the political revolution, but carried it far on its way to completion. Since the decadence of Spain in the seventeenth century, she has also led the movement of expansion, and at times almost monopolized its energy. In the Empire which has grown up around her we shall expect, then, to find the highest product of all these activities; there, if anywhere, we ought to find implicit the Imperial ideal.

At the very outset we meet with a fact of nomenclature that is not without its suggestiveness and promise. The whole vast and complex political system is known to the world as the British Empire, yet we find that one of the political units which compose it is known, and with better legal claims to the title, as the Indian Empire. The latter is a true Empire in the Roman sense; and we are therefore led to suspect that the Imperialism of the larger organization is something higher, more flexible, and more inclusive than Roman Imperialism, and we are not disappointed.

In area and population alike the Empire holds the first place, not only among the political combinations of the world to-day, but also among the political combinations of the world as known to history. That in itself, perhaps, supplies only a base and mechanical claim to greatness. But the fact has more importance when we think of the immeasurable range of interests it implies, of the immeasurable variety of the parts of which the Empire is composed, of the immeasurable complexity of its government and institutions. It includes, besides several free and self-governing nations, a vast and populous Empire in India, islands in every sea, territory on every continent; among its subjects representatives of every race on the face of the earth, and in its political institutions, in the relations between Government and governed, nearly every mode known to man. This variety alone gives it an unrivalled breadth and spaciousness, and makes it the truly representative State of the modern world, a very microcosm of the world at large.

At the centre, to pursue our examination, we have the nation to whose political genius the Empire owes its existence—a nation renowned, apart from its other achievements, as the parent of free government wherever it exists, and as having carried it in her own case to perhaps its highest pitch of perfection. Yet at the very opposite pole of political development we have in India despotism organized by this same nation with an amplitude and, on the whole, an excellence such as the world has hardly seen before, and providing a shelter from anarchy for hundreds of millions of human beings to whom self-government would be an unthinkable absurdity. Then we have the two great self-governing federations of Canada and Australia, nation States second in possibilities of growth to the United States alone. In the same category there is New Zealand, the island counterpart in the Southern Seas of Britain in the North Atlantic. In another category there is South Africa, the middle term between Canada and India, perplexed by divisions between her two white races, who will one day unite to form a new nationality, and all the sooner because they are only a governing caste surrounded by millions of coloured dependents. Lastly, there are the Crown Colonies, Protectorates, and spheres of influence in every continent, containing the raw materials of many Indias and many Canadas, great and small, and perhaps still more of many South Africas of every intermediate shade between those two extremes.

Now, the most notable fact in this enumeration is the presence, in addition to the parent nation at the centre of the Empire, of daughter nations at the circumference; and it is this fact above all others that gives a unique interest and character to the strange political organism we are considering. For everything else in the relations between the parts of the Empire we may find perhaps a parallel elsewhere; the existence of a number of national centres and national governments within one political system is an entirely new phenomenon. The younger nations, it is true, if we ignore such minor qualifications as are rendered necessary by the presence of the French-Canadians in Quebec and the Dutch in South Africa, are linked to their parent by ties of blood and speech and moral and social affinity which, though they did not avail in the case of the United States to avert separation, have nevertheless an immense cohesive value and importance. Yet these younger nations have developed or are developing each a true nationality of its own. They are virtually independent in their Governments. The supremacy of the Imperial Parliament has lost all practical importance in the present, and does not even appear to contain the germ of any useful development in the future. Their allegiance is not to the parent Parliament, nor even to the parent nation, but to the common throne and Empire in which, indeed, they have a common citizenship of profound significance and value—a significance and value that, with our eyes fixed on the mere machinery of government, we are sometimes too apt to forget.

This Empire, then, is obviously a middle term between the two other great Empire States that are its contemporaries, holding the balance between them, free alike from the exaggerated nationalism of the one and the exaggerated Imperialism of the other. It contains nations in the making, but it is not a nation in the making as a whole, for the welding of the manifold races within its bounds into a homogeneous nationality is as little probable in any time that we need consider as the assimilation of all the races of the world to one uniform type. Thus, by its whole genius, composition. and character, the Empire is safeguarded from the danger alike of developing national exclusiveness on the one hand, or of degenerating into a Cæesarian despotism on the other. It stands there before us as the living embodiment of a new political conception which transcends nationality without dwarfing or disabling it, which preserves all that is good in it, leaves it all its rights, but makes it subservient to a higher and more comprehensive ideal.


Will the Empire, however, last? Does it rest on permanent foundations, or is it only a political organism in a certain stage of decomposition? Will the younger nations as they grow to maturity be content to remain within it, or will they ultimately go the way of the American Colonies before them, as was thought to be inevitable a generation ago? Obviously the Empire is in a state of transition, and if it is to endure, its constitution must undergo great modifications. The political ties between the 'five free nations' resolve themselves at present, as we have already seen, into little more than a common throne and a common citizenship; but they have also certain great common interests that must be provided for. They have, in the first place, a common interest in their own defence, and especially in the retention of the command of the sea, and in the safety of their maritime communications. At present, however, the burden of furnishing the fleets by which the command of the sea is held falls almost exclusively upon the shoulders of the Mother Country, and one of the problems before us is how best to enlist the energies and resources of the daughter States in the performance of what should be a common duty. A common policy of defence, moreover, implies a common front towards the outside world, and that, in turn, requires a foreign policy, which, not directed by one of the partners to the exclusion of the others, shall be the reflection of the interests, and the resultant of the influence, of all in their due measure and proportion. Once more, the free nations of the Empire have ally or if they have not, ought to have, a common interest in the protection and good government of the great dependencies. At present, however, these dependencies, both in Asia and in Africa, are dependencies of the Mother Country alone, and on her shoulders falls practically the whole weight of the white man's burden. Until this burden has become the common duty and privilege of all, until a Canadian or an Australian feels as strongly as an Englishman that his interests and honour are bound up with the security and good government of India, there is obviously a serious flaw in the unity of the Empire.

This is not the place to discuss in detail how these or other such problems should be approached. The hope—nay, the conviction—that they are capable of solution has been growing in the minds of the present generation. The faith that the Empire is not doomed to disintegration, but can be reorganized on permanent lines and preserved to continue its beneficent work for humanity, has become the basis of a new political creed. The vision of a future before it, longer and more glorious than its past, has seized hold of the imagination of men of the British race, and become their main political inspiration. It is in this hope, this faith, this vision, that for Britons the Imperial ideal is embodied; it is in these that it lives again resurgent from the ashes of the past.


There is good reason to believe that the great political movements of the last five centuries have, in spite of the endless struggles and aggressions by which their progress has been accompanied, been gradually working towards a more stable order. The end, indeed, is not yet, but it is less distant, perhaps, than many think. The sharper definition of national boundaries, the extension of European civilization and control to the backward countries of the world, and the growth of a few vast political systems which begin to overshadow the earth, all tend to reduce the occasions for war, to simplify the problem of maintaining international peace. Now, as Britons who have felt the attraction of the Imperial ideal dimly see, the reconstituted Empire of their dreams would be specially fitted under the new conditions for the office of mediator between the great combinations around it, specially adapted to be the central or regulating State of the world in the coming time. It is here that we begin to perceive a reach of significance in their ideal wider than the merely esoteric, here that we find the connection between the Imperialism of to-day and the Imperialism of Rome in its grander aspects, or the sublime ideals of the Middle Ages. Our Empire could play the part of the Imperator Pacificus for whom the Middle Ages longed, and it could do it, not by holding the nations of the earth in the iron grip of Rome, but while leaving full scope for the free play of the multitudinous forces of humanity in all their legitimate fields of action.

Historically, England has for many centuries played the same part of the regulating Power in the microcosm of Europe. Freed by her isolated position and her interests oversea from the temptation to aggression in Europe on her own account, she has over and over again thrown her weight decisively into the scale against the aggression of any other Power that had grown dangerously strong. Philip II., Louis XIV., and Napoleon, all alike, found England barring the way to a European domination; and it has almost become a tradition in Europe that, when any Power threatens the independence of the others, the weaker States gather round England. A distinguished French journalist, writing in a French paper for the benefit of his countrymen, not long ago described the Englishman as 'the most perfect type of civilized humanity in this twentieth century.' Testimony such as this, if it is used, not to minister to national vanity, but to deepen the sense of national responsibility, need not be ignored; and there is in truth, with many faults, a certain μεσότης about the English character—in spite of their insularity, a certain Shakespearean breadth about the English people which has peculiarly fitted them for the part they have had to play in Europe in the past, and peculiarly fits them for its continuance under the different conditions of the future. The very things that, up to a certain point, contributed to their insularity, the comparatively isolated course of English history, the national love of the via media in politics and religion, the recoil from either of the rival fanaticisms into which our continental neighbours have so often fallen—all these things, corrected by the cosmopolitanism which the growth of a vast Empire has brought with it, have helped to make the English people what they are, in a sense, to-day—the central people of the world. Whether it is owing to the composite character of the English stock itself, or to the political circumstances that have combined English, Irish, Scotch, and Welsh in one national State without entirely fusing them, we seem to have escaped a certain rigidity of political temper and a certain liability to excesses of national Chauvinism, by which more sharply defined nationalities are sometimes afflicted. Even our near kindred, the Americans, are not wholly free from these limitations, and to that extent they have ceased to be the true heirs and upholders of the Shakespearean tradition.

England has been far more successful, however, in communicating her special qualities to the younger nations that still move with her in the same political orbit; and by projecting these qualities into her Empire as a whole she has given it a special fitness for carrying on her own high tradition and fulfilling in a larger sense and on a grander scale the regulating mission she bequeaths to it. Wide and various as the world itself, the British Empire is not likely to employ its collective energies for any merely partial or selfish object. Constituted as it is, or as in any future developments it is likely to be. it can hardly develop into an engine of aggression. A political system, with four or five different centres of energy, may be strong for purposes of defence; but it is difficult to imagine a policy of aggression that could command the united support of five nations scattered over the world, and all alike devoted to the pursuits of peace. If we look to the special form of military force that they must continue to wield, we are pointed to the same conclusion. With its centre in an island of the sea, and divided into a thousand fragments that communicate only by the sea, the Empire depends essentially upon sea-power; and it is of the very essence of sea-power, above all in these days of steam, to be one and indivisible, and therefore, in the hands of the dominant Power, to be universal. Napoleon, at the height of his military fame, was impotent even on land a thousand miles from his capital. The British Empire, on the other hand, as long as it retains the command of the sea—as long, that is to say, as it exists—can make its presence felt in every quarter of the globe accessible by sea. It holds, in fact, a power whose exercise is in a sense a trust, a power to which every other State in some degree rives hostages, and which is mighty for purposes of defence, but beyond a certain point is impotent for purposes of aggression. If there is to be a regulating State at all in the international system, it is to the State that holds this power that the function must be assigned.

If this reasoning has any force, then the ideal which the British race have placed before them has a certain catholicity, is a truly cosmopolitan ideal—cosmopolitan in the largest and noblest sense. The high hopes, indeed, which the men of our generation have formed may be frustrated. The work of reorganization necessary to fit the Empire for its lofty mission will tax statesmanship to the utmost—the statesmanship not only of leaders, but of peoples—and there is the possibility of failure. There are portents enough to warn us from lapsing into an easy fatalistic optimism—selfishness and parochialism at the centre, selfishness and parochialism at the extremities of the Empire—

'Waverings of every vane with every wind,
And wordy trucklings to the transient hour.'

Failure, no doubt, would be a great historical catastrophe, but there are, we must remember, catastrophes in history—catastrophes almost unredeemed. It is hard, however, to believe that the long and splendid history of England is to end in purposelessness and disaster; that she has escaped so many dangers to perish miserably of want of faith and courage at the last; that the work of many ages and countless heroes is to be utterly thrown away. Rather will we believe that her work is not yet finished, her mission not yet fulfilled; that all she has yet achieved is but the preparation for the high historic part that still awaits her.