Imperialism: A Study
By John A. Hobson
This study of modern Imperialism is designed to give more precision to a term which is on everybody’s lips and which is used to denote the most powerful movement in the current politics of the Western world. Though Imperialism has been adopted as a more or less conscious policy by several European States and threatens to break down the political isolation of the United States, Great Britain has travelled so much faster and farther along this road as to furnish in her recent career the most profitable guidance or warning.While an attempt is made to discover and discuss the general principles which underlie imperialist policy, the illustration of that policy is mainly derived from the progress of British Imperialism during the last generation, and proceeds rather by diagnosis than by historical description. [From the Preface]
First Pub. Date
New York: James Pott and Co.
The text of this edition is in the public domain.
- Part I, Chapter I, The Measure of Imperialism
- Part I, Chapter II, The Commercial Value of Imperialism
- Part I, Chapter III, Imperialism as an Outlet for Population
- Part I, Chapter IV, Economic Parasites of Imperialism
- Part I, Chapter V, Imperialism Based on Protection
- Part I, Chapter VI, The Economic Taproot of Imperialism
- Part I, Chapter VII, Imperialist Finance
- Part II, Chapter I, The Political Significance of Imperialism
- Part II, Chapter II, The Scientific Defence of Imperialism
- Part II, Chapter III, Moral and Sentimental Factors
- Part II, Chapter IV, Imperialism and the Lower Races
- Part II, Chapter V, Imperialism in Asia
- Part II, Chapter VI, Imperial Federation
- Part II, Chapter VII, The Outcome
The Political Significance of Imperialism
Part II, Chapter I
THE POLITICS OF IMPERIALISM
The curious ignorance which prevails regarding the political character and tendencies of Imperialism cannot be better illustrated than by the following passage from a learned work upon “The History of Colonisation”:
*29 “The extent of British dominion may perhaps be better imagined than described, when the fact is appreciated that, of the entire land surface of the globe, approximately one-fifth is actually or theoretically under that flag, while more than one-sixth of all the human beings living in this planet reside under one or the other type of English colonisation. The names by which authority is exerted are numerous, and processes are distinct, but the goals to which this manifold mechanism is working are very similar. According to the climate, the natural conditions and the inhabitants of the regions affected, procedure and practice differ. The means are adapted to the situation; there is not any irrevocable, immutable line of policy; from time to time, from decade to decade, English statesmen have applied different treatments to the same territory. Only one fixed rule of action seems to exist; it is to promote the interests of the colony to the utmost, to develop its scheme of government as rapidly as possible, and eventually to elevate it from the position of inferiority to that of association. Under the charm of this beneficent spirit the chief colonial establishments of Great Britain have already achieved substantial freedom, without dissolving nominal ties; the other subordinate possessions are aspiring to it, while, on the other hand, this privilege of local independence has enabled England to assimilate with ease many feudatory States into the body politic of her system.” Here then is the theory that Britons are a race endowed, like the Romans, with a genius for government, that our colonial and imperial policy is animated by a resolve to spread throughout the world the arts of free self-government which we enjoy at home,
*30 and that in truth we are accomplishing this work.
Now, without discussing here the excellencies or the defects of the British theory and practice of representative self-government, to assert that our “fixed rule of action” has been to educate our dependencies in this theory and practice is quite the largest misstatement of the facts of our colonial and imperial policy that is possible. Upon the vast majority of the populations throughout our Empire we have bestowed no real powers of self-government, nor have we any serious intention of doing so, or any serious belief that it is possible for us to do so.
Of the three hundred and sixty-seven millions of British subjects outside these isles, not more than ten millions, or one in thirty-seven, have any real self-government for purposes of legislation and administration.
Political freedom, and civil freedom, so far as it rests upon the other, are simply non-existent for the overwhelming majority of British subjects. In the self-governing colonies of Australasia and North America alone is responsible representative government a reality, and even there considerable populations of outlanders, as in West Australia, or servile labour, as in Queensland, temper the genuineness of democracy. In Cape Colony and Natal recent events testify how feebly the forms and even the spirit of the free British institutions have taken root in States where the great majority of the population were always excluded from political rights. The franchise and the rights it carries will remain virtually a white monopoly in so-called self-governing colonies, where the coloured population is to the white as four to one and ten to one respectively.
In certain of our older Crown colonies there exists a representative element in the government. While the administration is entirely vested in a governor appointed by the Crown, assisted by a council nominated by him, the colonists elect a portion of the legislative assembly. The following colonies belong to this order: Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad, Bahamas, British Guiana, Windward Islands, Bermudas, Malta, Mauritius, Ceylon.
The representative element differs considerably in size and influence in these colonies, but nowhere does it outnumber the non-elected element. It thus becomes an advisory rather than a really legislative factor. Not merely is the elected always dominated in numbers by the non-elected element, but in all cases the veto of the Colonial Office is freely exercised upon measures passed by the assemblies. To this it should be added that in nearly all cases a fairly high property qualification is attached to the franchise, precluding the coloured people from exercising an elective power proportionate to their numbers and their stake in the country.
The entire population of these modified Crown colonies amounted to 5,700,000 in 1898.
The overwhelming majority of the subjects of the British Empire are under Crown colony government, or under protectorates. In neither case do they enjoy any of the important political rights of British citizens; in neither case are they being trained in the arts of free British institutions. In the Crown colony the population exercises no political privileges. The governor, appointed by the Colonial Office, is absolute, alike for legislation and administration; he is aided by a council of local residents usually chosen by himself or by home authority, but its function is merely advisory, and its advice can be and frequently is ignored. In the vast protectorates we have assumed in Africa and Asia there is no tincture of British representative government; the British factor consists in arbitrary acts of irregular interference with native government. Exceptions to this exist in the case of districts assigned to Chartered Companies, where business men, animated avowedly by business ends, are permitted to exercise arbitrary powers of government over native populations under the imperfect check of some British Imperial Commissioner.
Again, in certain native and feudatory States of India our Empire is virtually confined to government of foreign relations, military protection, and a veto upon grave internal disorder, the real administration of the countries being left in the hands of native princes or headmen. However excellent this arrangement may be, it lends little support to the general theory of the British Empire as an educator of free political institutions.
Where British government is real, it does not carry freedom or self-government; where it does carry a certain amount of freedom and self-government, it is not real. Not five per cent. of the population of our Empire are possessed of any appreciable portion of the political and civil liberties which are the basis of British civilisation. Outside the ten millions of British subjects in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, no considerable body is endowed with full self-government in the more vital matters, or is being “elevated from the position of inferiority to that of association.”
This is the most important of all facts for students of the present and probable future of the British Empire. We have taken upon ourselves in these little islands the responsibility of governing huge aggregations of lower races in all parts of the world by methods which are antithetic to the methods of government which we most value for ourselves.
The question just here is not whether we are governing these colonies and subject races well and wisely, better than they could govern themselves if left alone, or better than another imperial European nation could govern them, but whether we are giving them those arts of government which we regard as our most valuable possessions.
The statement in the passage which we quoted, that underneath the fluctuations of our colonial policy throughout the nineteenth century lay the “fixed rule” of educating the dependencies for self-government, is so totally and manifestly opposed to historical records and to the testimony of loyal colonial politicians in all our colonies as to deserve no further formal refutation. The very structure of our party government, the ignorance or open indifference of colonial ministers of the elder generations, the biassed play of colonial cliques and interests reduced the whole of our colonial government for many decades to something between a see-saw and a game of chance; the nearest approach to any “fixed rule” was the steady prolonged pressure of some commercial interest whose political aid was worth purchase. That any such “beneficent spirit” as is recorded consciously presided over the policy applied to any class of colonies during the larger half of the nineteenth century is notoriously false. To those statesmen to whom the colonies were not a tiresome burden, they were a useful dumping-ground for surplus population, including criminals, paupers and ne’er-do-weels, or possible markets for British trade. A few more liberal-minded politicians, such as Sir W. Molesworth and Mr. Wakefield, regarded with sympathetic interest the rising democracies of Australasia and Canada. But the idea of planning a colonial policy inspired by the motive of teaching the arts of free representative self-government not merely was not the “fixed rule,” but was not present as a rule at all in any responsible Colonial Secretary in Great Britain.
When the first dawn of the new Imperialism in the seventies gave fuller political consciousness to “empire,” it did indeed become a commonplace of Liberal thought that England’s imperial mission was to spread the arts of free government, and the examples of Australia and Canada looming big before all eyes suggested that we were doing this. The principles and practices of representative government were “boomed”; Liberal proconsuls set on foot imposing experiments in India and in the West Indies; the progress of the South African colonies suggested that by fairly rapid degrees the various populations of the Empire might attain substantial measures of self-government; and the larger vision of a British Empire, consisting in the main or altogether of a union of self-governing States, began to dazzle politicians.
Some persons—though a diminishing number—still entertain these notions and believe that we are gradually moulding the British Empire into a set of substantially self-governing States. Our position in India and in Egypt is justified, they think, by the training we are giving the natives in good government, and when they hear of “representative” elements in the government of Ceylon or of Jamaica they flatter themselves that the whole trend of imperial government is directed to this end. Admitting the facts regarding the small proportion of present political liberty throughout the Empire, they urge that this arises from the necessary regard we have to the mode of educating lower races: the vast majority of our subjects are “children” and must be trained slowly and carefully in the arts of responsible self-government.
Now such persons are suffering from a great and demonstrable delusion if they suppose that any appreciable number of the able energetic officials who practically administer our Empire from Downing Street, or on the spot, either believe that the populations which they rule are capable of being trained for effective free self-government, or are appreciably affected in their policy by any regard to such a contingency in the near or remote future. Very few British officials any longer retain the notion that we can instruct or are successfully instructing the great populations of India in the Western arts of government. The general admission or conviction is that experiments in municipal and other government conducted under British control on British lines are failures. The real success of our Indian Government admittedly consists in good order and justice administered autocratically by able British officials. There is some training of native officials for subordinate, and in rare instances for high offices, but there is no pretence that this is the chief or an important aim or end, nor is there the least intention that these native officials shall in the future become the servants of the free Indian nation rather than of the bureaucratic Imperial Government.
In other instances, as in Egypt, we are using natives for certain administrative work, and this training in lower offices is doubtless not without its value. Our practical success in preserving order, securing justice and developing the material resources of many of our colonies is largely due to the fact that we have learnt to employ native agents wherever possible for detailed work of administration, and to adapt our government, where it can be safely done, to native conditions. The retention of native laws and customs or of the foreign system of jurisprudence imposed by earlier colonists of another race,
*32 while it has complicated government in the final court of the Privy Council, has greatly facilitated the detailed work of administration upon the spot.
Indeed the variety, not only of laws but of other modes of government in our Empire, arouses the enthusiastic admiration of many students of its history. “The British Empire,” we are told,” exhibits forms and methods of government in almost exuberant variety. The several colonies at different times of their history have passed through various stages of government, and in 1891 there are some thirty or forty different forms operating simultaneously within our Empire alone. At this moment there are regions where government of a purely despotic kind is in full exercise, and the Empire includes also colonies where the subordination of the colonial government has become so slight as to be almost impalpable.”
Whether this is a striking testimony to the genius for “elasticity” of our colonial policy, or an instance of haphazard opportunism, one need not here discuss.
The point is that an examination of this immense variety of government disposes entirely of the suggestion that by the extension of our Empire we are spreading the type of free government which is distinctively British.
The present condition of the government under which the vast majority of our fellow-subjects in the Empire live is eminently un-British in that it is based, not on the consent of the governed, but upon the will of imperial officials; it does indeed betray a great variety of forms, but they agree in the essential of un-freedom. Nor is it true that any of the more enlightened methods of administration we employ are directed towards undoing this character. Not only in India, but in the West Indies, and wherever there exists a large preponderance of coloured population, the trend, not merely of ignorant, but of enlightened public opinion, is against a genuinely representative government on British lines. It is perceived to be incompatible with the economic and social authority of a superior race.
When British authority has been forcibly fastened upon large populations of alien race and colour, with habits of life and thought which do not blend with ours, it is found impossible to graft the tender plants, of free representative government, and at the same time to preserve good order in external affairs. We are obliged in practice to make a choice between good order and justice administered autocratically in accordance with British standards, on the one hand, and delicate, costly, doubtful, and disorderly experiments in self-government on British lines upon the other, and we have practically everywhere decided to adopt the former alternative. A third and sounder method of permitting large liberty of self-government under a really loose protectorate, adopted in a few instances, as in Basutoland, part of Bechuanaland, and a few Indian States, meets with no great favour and in most instances seems no longer feasible. It cannot be too clearly recognised that the old Liberal notion of our educating lower races in the arts of popular government is discredited, and only survives for platform purposes when some new step of annexation is urged upon the country.
The case of Egypt is a
locus classicus. Here we entered the country under the best auspices, as deliverers rather than as conquerors; we have undoubtedly conferred great economic benefits upon large sections of the people, who are not savages, but inheritors of ancient civilised traditions. The whole existing machinery of government is virtually at our disposal, to modify it according to our will. We have reformed taxation, improved justice, and cleansed the public services of many corruptions, and claim in many ways to have improved the condition of the fellaheen. But are we introducing British political institutions in such wise as to graft them on a nation destined for progress in self-government?
The following statement of Lord Milner may be regarded as typical, not of the fossilised, old-world official, but of the modern, more enlightened, practical Imperialist:—
“I attach much more importance, in the immediate future of Egypt, to the improvement of the character and intelligence of the official class than I do to the development of the representative institutions with which we endowed the country in 1883. As a true-born Briton, I, of course, take off my hat to everything that calls itself Franchise, Parliament, Representation of the People, the Voice of the Majority, and all the rest of it. But, as an observer of the actual condition of Egyptian society, I cannot shut my eyes to the fact that popular government, as we understand it, is for a longer time than any one can foresee at present out of the question. The people neither comprehend it nor desire it. They would come to singular grief if they had it. And nobody, except a few silly theorists, thinks of giving it to them.”
Yet here we went into this country upon the express understanding that we should do precisely what Lord Milner says we have no intention of doing, viz. teach the people to govern themselves within the space of a few years and then leave them to work their government.
I am not here, however, concerned to discuss either the value of the governmental work which we are doing or our right to impose our authority upon weaker populations. But the fact is plain that the British Empire is not to any appreciable extent a training ground in the British arts of free government.
In the light of this inquiry, directed to the Empire as a whole, how do we regard the new Imperialism? Almost the whole of it, as we have seen, consists of tropical or sub-tropical territory, with large populations of savages or “lower races”; little of it is likely, even in the distant future, to increase the area of sound colonial life. In the few places where English colonists can settle, as in parts of the new South African States, they will be so largely outnumbered by dark populations as to render the adoption of free representative government impracticable.
In a single word, the new Imperialism has increased the area of British despotism, far outbalancing the progress in population and in practical freedom attained by our few democratic colonies.
It has not made for the spread of British liberty and for the propagation of our arts of government. The lands and populations which we have annexed we govern, in so far as we govern these at all, by distinctively autocratic methods, administered chiefly from Downing Street, but partly from centres of colonial government, in cases where self-governing colonies have been permitted to annex.
Now this large expansion of British political despotism is fraught with reactions upon home politics which are deserving of most serious consideration. A curious blindness seems to beset the mind of the average educated Briton when he is asked to picture to himself our colonial Empire. Almost instinctively he visualises Canada, Australasia, and only quite recently South Africa—the rest he virtually ignores. Yet the Imperialism which is our chief concern, the expansion of the last quarter of a century, and the further expansion to which we may be tempted in the early future, has nothing in common with Canada and Australasia, and very little with “white man’s Africa.”
When Lord Rosebery uttered his famous words about “a free, tolerant and unaggressive Empire,” he can scarcely have had in mind our vast recent encroachments in West and Central Africa, in the Soudan, on the Burmese frontier, or in Matabeleland. But the distinction between genuine Colonialism and Imperialism, important in itself, is vital when we consider their respective relations to domestic policy.
Modern British colonialism has been no drain upon our material and moral resources, because it has made for the creation of free white democracies, a policy of informal federation, of decentralisation, involving no appreciable strain upon the governmental faculties of Great Britain. Such federation, whether it remains informal with the slight attachment of imperial sovereignty which now exists, or voluntarily takes some more formal shape, political or financial, may well be regarded as a source of strength, political and military.
Imperialism is the very antithesis of this free, wholesome colonial connection, making, as it ever does, for greater complications of foreign policy, greater centralisation of power, and a congestion of business which ever threatens to absorb and overtax the capacity of parliamentary government.
The true political nature of Imperialism is best seen by confronting it with the watchwards of progress accepted in the middle of the nineteenth century by moderate men of both great parties in the State, though with interpretations varying in degree—peace, economy, reform, and popular self-government. Even now we find no formal abandonment of the principles of government these terms express, and a large section of professed Liberals believe or assert that Imperialism is consistent with the maintenance of all these virtues.
This contention, however, is belied by facts. The decades of Imperialism have been prolific in wars; most of these wars have been directly motived by aggression of white races upon “lower races,” and have issued in the forcible seizure of territory. Every one of the steps of expansion in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific has been accompanied by bloodshed; each imperialist Power keeps an increasing army available for foreign service; rectification of frontiers, punitive expeditions, and other euphemisms for war are in incessant progress. The
pax Britannica, always an impudent falsehood, has become of recent years a grotesque monster of hypocrisy; along our Indian frontiers, in West Africa, in the Soudan, in Uganda, in Rhodesia fighting has been well-nigh incessant. Although the great imperialist Powers have kept their hands off one another, save where the rising empire of the United States has found its opportunity in the falling empire of Spain, the self-restraint has been costly and precarious. Peace as a national policy is antagonised not merely by war, but by militarism, an even graver injury. Apart from the enmity of France and Germany, the main cause of the vast armaments which are draining the resources of most European countries is their conflicting interests in territorial and commercial expansion. Where thirty years ago there existed one sensitive spot in our relations with France, or Germany, or Russia, there are a dozen now; diplomatic strains are of almost monthly occurrence between Powers with African or Chinese interests, and the chiefly business nature of the national antagonisms renders them more dangerous, inasmuch as the policy of Governments passes more under the influence of distinctively financial juntos.
The contention of the
si pacem vis pares bellum school, that armaments alone constitute the best security for peace, is based upon the assumption that a genuine lasting antagonism of real interests exists between the various peoples who are called upon to undergo this monstrous sacrifice.
Our economic analysis has disclosed the fact that it is only the interests of competing cliques of business men—investors, contractors, export manufacturers, and certain professional classes—that are antagonistic; that these cliques, usurping the authority and voice of the people, use the public resources to push their private businesses, and spend the blood and money of the people in this vast and disastrous military game, feigning national antagonisms which have no basis in reality. It is not to the interest of the British people, either as producers of wealth or as tax-payers, to risk a war with Russia and France in order to join Japan in preventing Russia from seizing Corea; but it may serve the interests of a group of commercial politicians to promote this dangerous policy. The South African war, openly fomented by gold speculators for their private purposes, will rank in history as a leading case of this usurpation of nationalism.
War, however, represents not the success, but the failure of this policy; its normal and most perilous fruit is not war, but militarism. So long as this competitive expansion for territory and foreign markets is permitted to misrepresent itself as “national policy” the antagonism of interests seems real, and the peoples must sweat and bleed and toil to keep up an ever more expensive machinery of war.
Were logic applicable in such cases, the notion that the greater the preparation for war the smaller the probability of its occurrence might well appear a
reductio ad absurdum of militarism, implying, as it does, that the only way to secure an eternal world peace is to concentrate the entire energy of all nations upon the art of war, which is thus rendered incapable of practice!
With such paradoxes, however, we need not concern ourselves. The patent admitted fact that, as a result of imperial competition, an ever larger proportion of the time, energy, and money of “imperialist” nations is absorbed by naval and military armaments, and that no check upon further absorption is regarded as practicable by Imperialists, brings “militarism” into the forefront of practical politics. Great Britain and the United States, which have hitherto congratulated themselves on escaping the militarism of continental Europe, are now rapidly succumbing. Why? Does any one suggest that either nation needs a larger army for the protection of its own lands or of any of its genuine white settlements in other lands? Not at all. It is not pretended that the militarisation of England is required for such protective work. Australia and New Zealand are not threatened by any Power, nor could a British army render them adequate assistance if they were; equally impotent would British land forces be against the only Power which could conceivably attack our Canadian Dominion; even South Africa, which lies on the borderland between colony and tropical dependency, cannot ultimately be secured by the military power of England. It is our mistaken annexation of tropical and sub-tropical territories, and the attempt to govern “lower races,” that is driving us down the steep road to militarism.
If we are to hold all that we have taken since 1870 and to compete with the new industrial nations in the further partition of empires or spheres of influence in Africa and Asia, we must be prepared to fight. The enmity of rival empires, openly displayed throughout the South African war, is admittedly due to the policy by which we have forestalled, and are still seeking to forestall, these rivals in the annexation of territory and of markets throughout the world. The theory that we may be compelled to fight for the very existence of our Empire against some combination of European Powers, which is now used to scare the nation into a definite and irretrievable reversal of our military and commercial policy, signifies nothing else than the intention of the imperialist interests to continue the reckless career of annexation. In 1896 Lord Rosebery gave a vivid description of the policy of the last two decades, and put forth a powerful plea for peace.
“The British Empire… needs peace. For the last twenty years, still more during the last twelve, you have been laying your hands, with almost frantic eagerness, on every tract of territory adjacent to your own or desirable from any other point of view which you thought it desirable to take. That has had two results. I dare say it has been quite right, but it has had two results. The first result is this, that you have excited to an almost intolerable degree the envy of other colonising
(sic!) nations, and that, in the case of many countries, or several countries rather, which were formerly friendly to you, you can reckon—in consequence of your colonial policy, whether right or wrong—not on their active benevolence, but on their active malevolence. And, secondly, you have acquired so enormous a mass of territory that it will be years before you can settle it or control it, or make it capable of defence or make it amenable to the acts of your administration…. In twelve years you have added to the Empire, whether in the shape of actual annexation or of dominion, or of what is called a sphere of influence, 2,600,000 square miles of territory… to the 120,000 square miles of the United Kingdom, which is part of your Empire, you have added during the last twelve years twenty-two areas as large as that United Kingdom itself. I say that that marks out for many years a policy from which you cannot depart if you would. You may be compelled to draw the sword—I hope you may not be; but the foreign policy of Great Britain, until its territory is consolidated, filled up, settled, civilised, must inevitably be a policy of peace.”
Since these words were uttered, vast new tracts of undigested empire have been added in the Soudan, in East Africa, in South Africa, while Great Britain is busily entangling herself in obligations of incalculable magnitude and peril in the China seas, and the prophet who spoke this warning has himself been an active instrument in the furtherance of the very folly he denounced.
Imperialism—whether it consists in a further policy of expansion or in the rigorous maintenance of all those vast tropical lands which we have lately ear-marked as British spheres of influence—implies militarism now and ruinous wars in the near future. This truth is now for the first time brought sharply and nakedly before the mind of the nation. The kingdoms of the earth are to be ours on condition that we fall down and worship Moloch.
Militarism approaches Great Britain with the following dilemma. If the army needed for defence and expansion of the Empire is to remain upon a voluntary basis, consisting of selected material obtained by application of economic inducements, a considerable increase either of the regular forces or the militia can only be obtained by a rise of pay so large as to tempt men, not from the unskilled labour market or the agricultural districts as heretofore, but from the skilled artisan classes of the towns. It requires but slight consideration to perceive that every fresh increment of the army will involve an appeal to a class accustomed to a higher standard of wage, and that the pay for the entire army must be regulated by the rate of pay needed to secure this last increment. Recruiting in time of war is always brisker than in time of peace, other motives blending with the distinctively economic motive. Every increase of our forces on a peace footing will involve a far more than proportionate increase in the rate of pay—how large an increase experiment alone can teach. It seems quite likely that in a period of normally good trade our voluntary army could only be increased 50 per cent. by doubling the former rate of pay, or by other improved conditions of employment involving an equivalent rise of cost, and that, if we required to double the size of our standing army, we should have to quadruple the rate of pay. If, on the other hand, the prospect of some such enormous increase of military expenditure should lead us to abandon the purely voluntary basis, and have recourse to conscription or some other form of compulsory service, we could not fail to suffer in average fighting calibre. Such selection of physique and morale as prevailed under the voluntary system would now disappear, and the radical unfitness of a nation of town-dwellers for arduous military service would be disclosed. The fatuous attempt to convert ineffective slum-workers and weedy city clerks into tough military material, fit for prolonged foreign service, or even for efficient home defence, would be detected, it may be hoped, before the trial by combat with a military Power drawing its soldiers from the soil. A nation, 70 per cent. of whose inhabitants are denizens of towns, cannot afford to challenge its neighbours to trials of physical force, for in the last resort war is determined neither by generalship nor superiority of weapons, but by those elements of brute endurance which are incompatible with the life of industrial towns.
The full danger of the dilemma of militarism is only perceived when the indirect is added to the direct expenditure. An army, volunteer or conscript, formed out of town material would take longer training or more frequent exercise than a peasant army; the waste of labour power, by withdrawing the youth of the nation from their early training in the productive arts in order to prepare them for the destructive art, would be greater, and would impair more grievously the skilled industries than in nations less advanced in the specialised trades and professions. The least of these economic injuries would be the actual loss of labour time involved in the withdrawal; far graver would be the damage to industrial skill and character by withdrawing youths at the period of best docility and aptitude for skilled work and subjecting them to a distinctively mechanical discipline, for though the slum-dweller and the clodhopper may gain in smartness and alertness by military training, the skilled labouring classes will lose more by the crushing of individual initiative which professional militarism always involves.
At a time when the call for free, bold initiative and individual enterprise and ingenuity in the assimilation of the latest scientific and technical knowledge for the arts of industry, for improved organisation and methods of business, becomes most urgent to enable us to hold our own in the new competition of the world—at such a time to subject the youth of our nation to the barrack system, or to any form of effective military training, would be veritable suicide. It is to no purpose to reply that some of our keen commercial competitors, notoriously Germany, are already saddled with this burden; the answer is that, if we can hardly hold our own with Germany while she bears this burden, we shall hand over to her an easy victory if we assume a still heavier one. Whatever virtues are attributed to military discipline by its apologists, it is admitted that this training does not conduce to industrial efficiency. The economic cost of militarism is therefore twofold; the greatly increased expense of the army must be defrayed by an impoverished people.
So far, I have regarded the issue on its narrowly economic side. Far most important are the political implications of militarism. These strike at the very root of popular liberty and the ordinary civic virtues. A few plain reflections serve to dispel the sophistical vapours which are used to form a halo round the life of the soldier.
Respice finem. There exists an absolute antagonism between the activity of the good citizen and that of the soldier. The end of the soldier is not, as is sometimes falsely said, to die for his country; it is to kill for his country. In as far as he dies he is a failure; his work is to kill, and he attains perfection as a soldier when he becomes a perfect killer. This end, the slaughter of one’s fellow-men, forms a professional character, alien from, and antagonistic to, the character of our ordinary citizen, whose work conduces to the preservation of his fellow-men. If it be contended that this final purpose, though informing and moulding the structure and functions of an army, operates but seldom and slightly upon the consciousness of the individual soldier, save upon the battlefield, the answer is that, in the absence from consciousness of this end, the entire routine of the soldier’s life, his drill, parades, and whole military exercise, is a useless, purposeless activity, and that these qualities exercise a hardly less degrading influence on character than the conscious intention of killing his fellow-men.
The psychical reactions of military life are indeed notorious; even those who defend the utility of an army do not deny that it unfits a man for civil life. Nor can it be maintained that a shorter general service, such as suffices for a citizen army, escapes these reactions. If the service is long and rigorous enough to be effective, it involves these psychical reactions, which are, indeed, part and parcel of military efficiency. How clearly this is set forth by Mr. March-Phillips in his admirable appreciation of the common soldier’s life!
“Soldiers as a class (I take the town-bred, slum-bred majority, mind) are men who have discarded the civil standard of morality altogether. They simply ignore it. This is, no doubt, why civilians fight shy of them. In the game of life they don’t play the same rules, and the consequence is a good deal of misunderstanding, until finally the civilian says he won’t play with the Tommy any more. In soldiers’ eyes lying, theft, drunkenness, bad language, &c., are not evils at all. They steal like jackdaws. As to language, I used to think the language of a merchant ship’s fo’c’sle pretty bad, but the language of Tommies, in point of profanity, quite equals, and, in point of obscenity, beats it hollow. This department is a speciality of his. Lying he treats with the same large charity. To lie like a trooper is quite a sound metaphor. He invents all sorts of elaborate lies for the mere pleasure of inventing them. Looting, again, is one of his perpetual joys. Not merely looting for profit, but looting for the sheer fun of the destruction, &c.”
*37 The fidelity of this description is attested by the sympathy which the writer displays with the soldierly attributes that accompany, and, in his opinion, atone for, these breaches of the civilian rules.
“Are thieving and lying and looting and bestial talk very bad things? If they are, Tommy is a bad man. But, for some reason or other, since I got to know him, I have thought rather less of the iniquity of these things than I did before.”
This judgment is itself a striking comment on militarism. The fact that it should be given by a man of sterling character and culture is the most convincing testimony to the corrupting influence of war.
To this informal witness may be added the significant evidence of Lord Wolseley’s “Soldier’s Pocket-book.”
“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 copybook, but the man who acts upon them in war had better sheathe his sword for ever.”
The order and progress of Great Britain during the nineteenth century has been secured by the cultivation and practice of the ordinary civic and industrial virtues, assisted by certain advantages of natural resources and historical contingencies. Are we prepared to substitute the military code of ethics or to distract the national mind and conduct by a perpetual conflict of two warring principles, the one making for the evolution of the good citizen, the other for the evolution of the good soldier?
Ignoring, for the present, the distinctively moral degradation of this reversion from industrial to military ethics, we cannot but perceive that the damage done to commercial morality must react disastrously upon the wealth-producing power of the nation, and sap the roots of imperial expenditure.
But one loophole of escape from this dilemma presents itself, an escape fraught with still graver peril. The new Imperialism is, we have seen, chiefly concerned with tropical and sub-tropical countries where large “lower races” are brought under white control. Why should Englishmen fight the defensive or offensive wars of this Empire when cheaper, more numerous, and better-assimilated fighting material can be raised upon the spot, or transferred from one tropical dominion to another? As the labour of industrial development of tropical resources is put upon the “lower races” who reside there, under white superintendence, why should not militarism be organised upon the same basis, black or brown or yellow men, to whom military discipline will be “a wholesome education,” fighting for the British Empire under British officers? Thus can we best economise our own limited military material, keeping most of it for home defence. This simple solution—the employment of cheap foreign mercenary armies—is no new device. The organisation of vast native forces, armed with “civilised” weapons, drilled on “civilised” methods, and commanded by “civilised” officers, formed one of the most conspicuous features of the latest stages of the great Eastern Empires, and afterwards of the Roman Empire. It has proved one of the most perilous devices of parasitism, by which a metropolitan population entrusts the defence of its lives and possessions to the precarious fidelity of “conquered races,” commanded by ambitious pro-consuls.
One of the strangest symptoms of the blindness of Imperialism is the reckless indifference with which Great Britain, France, and other imperial nations are embarking on this perilous dependence. Great Britain has gone farthest. Most of the fighting by which we have won our Indian Empire has been done by natives; in India, as more recently in Egypt, great standing armies are placed under British commanders; almost all the fighting associated with our African dominions, except in the southern part, has been done for us by natives. How strong the pressure is to reduce the proportion of British soldiers employed in these countries to a bare minimum of safety is amply illustrated in the case of India, when the South African emergency drove us to reduce the accepted minimum by more than fifteen thousand men, while in South Africa itself we established a precedent which will cost us dear in the future, by employing large numbers of armed natives to fight against another white race.
Those best acquainted with the temper of the British people and of the politicians who have the direct determination of affairs will understand how readily we may be drawn along this perilous path. Nothing short of the fear of an early invasion of these islands will induce the British people to undergo the onerous experience of a really effective system of compulsory military service; no statesman except under the shadow of a serious menace of invasion will dare to press such a plan. A regular provision for compulsory foreign service will never be adopted when the alternative of mercenary native armies remains. Let these “niggers” fight for the Empire in return for the services we render them by annexing and governing them and teaching them “the dignity of labour,” will be the prevailing sentiment, and “imperialist” statesmen will be compelled to bow before it, diluting with British troops ever more thinly the native armies in Africa and Asia.
This mode of militarism, while cheaper and easier in the first instance, implies less and less control from Great Britain. Though reducing the strain of militarism upon the population at home, it enhances the risks of wars, which become more frequent and more barbarous in proportion as they involve to a less degree the lives of Englishmen. The expansion of our Empire under the new Imperialism has been compassed by setting the “lower races” at one another’s throats, fostering tribal animosities, and utilising for our supposed benefit the savage propensities of the peoples to whom we have a mission to carry Christianity and civilisation.
That we do not stand alone in this ignominious policy does not make it better, rather worse, offering terrible prophetic glimpses into a not distant future, when the horrors of our eighteenth century struggle with France in North America and India may be revived upon a gigantic scale, and Africa and Asia may furnish huge cock-pits for the struggles of black and yellow armies representing the imperialist rivalries of Christendom. The present tendencies of Imperialism plainly make in this direction, involving in their recoil a degradation of Western States and a possible
débâcle of Western civilisation.
In any event Imperialism makes for war and for militarism, and has brought a great and limitless increase of expenditure of national resources upon armaments. It has impaired the independence of every nation which has yielded to its false glamour. Great Britain no longer possesses a million pounds which it can call its own; its entire financial resources are mortgaged to a policy to be dictated by Germany, France, or Russia. A move from any of these Powers can force us to expend upon more battleships and military preparations the money we had designed to use for domestic purposes. The priority and reckless magnitude of our imperial expansion has made the danger of an armed coalition of great Powers against us no idle chimera. The recent development of their resources along the lines of the new industrialism, on the one hand, by driving them to seek foreign markets, brings them in all parts of the world against the vexatious barriers of British possessions; on the other, has furnished them with ample means of public expenditure. The spread of modern industrialism tends to place our “rivals” on a level with ourselves in their public resources. Hence, at the very tine when we have more reason to fear armed coalition than formerly, we are losing that superiority in finance which made it feasible for us to maintain a naval armament superior to any European combination.
All these perils in the present and the near future are the fruits of the new Imperialism, which is thus exposed as the implacable and mortal enemy of Peace and Economy. How far the military aspect of Imperialism has already eaten into the resources of modern European States may be judged by the following table showing the growth of expenditure of the various great European States on military equipment in the last generation:—
|Military Expenditure of Great European Powers.|
|For the whole body of European States the increase has been from £105,719,000 in 1869-1870 to £208,877,000 in 1897-1898.|
There are those who deny the antagonism of Imperialism and social reform. “The energy of a nation like ours, they urge, is not to be regarded as a fixed quantity, so that every expenditure upon imperial expansion implies a corresponding restriction for purposes of internal progress; there are various sorts of energy demanding different outlets, so that the true economy of British genius requires many domestic and external fields of activity; we are capable at one and the same time of imperial expansion in various directions, and of a complex energy of growth in our internal economy. The inspiration of great achievements throughout the world reacts upon the vitality of the British nation, rendering it capable of efforts of internal progress which would have been precluded by the ordinary course of smug insular self-development.”
Now it is needless to argue the incompatibility of social reform with Imperialism on any abstract principle regarding the quantity of national energy. Though limits of quantity exist underneath the finest economy of division of labour, as indeed is illustrated on the military plane by the limits which population imposes upon the combination of aggressive expansion and home defence, these limits are not always easy to discover and are sometimes capable of great elasticity. It cannot, therefore, be contended that the sound intellectual stuff which goes into our Indian Civil Service involves a corresponding loss to our home professions and official services, or that the adventurous energy of great explorers, missionaries, engineers, prospectors, and other pioneers of empire could and would have found as ample a field and as sharp a stimulus for their energies within these islands. The issue we are considering—that of Imperialism—does not in its main political and social effects turn upon any such exact considerations of quantitative economy of energy, nor does the repudiation of Imperialism imply a confinement within rigid territorial limits of any individual or co-operative energy which may find better scope abroad. We are concerned with economy of governmental power, with Imperialism as a public policy. Even here the issue is not primarily one of quantitative economy, though, as we shall see, that is clearly involved. The antagonism of Imperialism and social reform is an inherent opposition of policy involving contradictory methods and processes of government. Some of the more obvious illustrations of this antagonism are presented by considerations of finance. Most important or popular measures of social reform, the improvement of the machinery of public education, any large handling of the land and housing questions in town and country, the public control of the drink traffic, old-age pensions, legislation for improving the condition of the workers, involve considerable outlay of public money raised in taxation by the central or local authorities. Now Imperialism, through the ever-growing military expenditure it involves, visibly drains the public purse of the money which might be put to such purposes. Not only has the Exchequer not sufficient money to expend on public education, old-age pensions, or other State reforms; the smaller units of local government are similarly crippled, for the tax-payers and the rate-payers are in the main the same persons, and when they are heavily mulcted by taxes for unproductive State purposes they cannot easily bear increased rates.
Every important social reform, even if it does not directly involve large public expenditure, causes financial disturbances and risks which are less tolerable at times when public expenditure is heavy and public credit fluctuating and embarrassed. Every social reform involves some attack on vested interests, and these can best defend themselves when active Imperialism absorbs public attention. When legislation is involved, economy of time and of governmental interest is of paramount importance. Imperialism, with its “high politics,” involving the honour and safety of the Empire, claims the first place, and, as the Empire grows, the number and complexity of its issues, involving close, immediate, continuous attention, grow, absorbing the time of the Government and of Parliament. It becomes more and more impossible to set aside parliamentary time for the full unbroken discussion of matters of most vital domestic importance, or to carry through any large serious measure of reform.
It is needless to labour the theory of this antagonism when the practice is apparent to every student of politics. Indeed, it has become a commonplace of history how Governments use national animosities, foreign wars and the glamour of empire-making, in order to bemuse the popular mind and divert rising resentment against domestic abuses. The vested interests, which, on our analysis, are shown to be chief prompters of an imperialist policy, play for a double stake, seeking their private commercial and financial gains at the expense and peril of the commonwealth. They at the same time protect their economic and political supremacy at home against movements of popular reform. The city ground landlord, the country squire, the banker, the usurer, and the financier, the brewer, the mine-owner, the ironmaster, the shipbuilder, and the shipping trade, the great export manufacturers and merchants, the clergy of the State Church, the universities and great public schools, the legal trade unions and the services have, both in Great Britain and on the Continent, drawn together for common political resistance against attacks upon the power, the property, and the privileges which in various forms and degrees they represent. Having conceded under pressure the form of political power in the shape of elective institutions and a wide franchise to the masses, they are struggling to prevent the masses from gaining the substance of this power and using it for the establishment of equality of economic opportunities. The collapse of the Liberal party upon the Continent, and now in Great Britain, is only made intelligible in this way. Friends of liberty and of popular government so long as the new industrial and commercial forces were hampered by the economic barriers and the political supremacy of the
noblesse and the landed aristocracy, they have come to temper their “trust” of the people by an ever-growing quantity of caution, until within the last two decades they have either sought political fusion with the Conservatives or have dragged on a precarious existence on the strength of a few belated leaders with obsolescent principles. Where Liberalism preserves any real strength, it is because the older struggle for the franchise and the primary liberties has been delayed, as in Belgium and in Denmark, and
a modus vivendi has been possible with the rising working-class party. In Germany, France, and Italy the Liberal party, as a factor in practical politics, has either disappeared or is reduced to impotence; in England it now stands convicted of a gross palpable betrayal of the first conditions of liberty, feebly fumbling after programmes as a substitute for principles. Its leaders, having sold their party to a confederacy of stock gamblers and jingo sentimentalists, find themselves impotent to defend Free Trade, Free Press, Free Schools, Free Speech, or any of the rudiments of ancient Liberalism. They have alienated the confidence of the people. For many years they have been permitted to conduct a sham fight and to call it politics; the people thought it real until the South African war furnished a decisive dramatic test, and the unreality of Liberalism became apparent. It is not that Liberals have openly abandoned the old principles and traditions, but that they have rendered them of no account by dallying with an Imperialism which they have foolishly and futilely striven to distinguish from the firmer brand of their political opponents. This surrender to Imperialism signifies that they have preferred the economic interests of the possessing and speculative classes, to which most of their leaders belong, to the cause of Liberalism. That they are not conscious traitors or hypocrites may be readily conceded, but the fact remains that they have sold the cause of popular reform, which was their rightful heritage, for an Imperialism which appealed to their business interests and their social prepossessions. The mess of potage has been seasoned by various sweeter herbs, but its “stock” is class selfishness. The majority of the influential Liberals fled from the fight which was the truest test of Liberalism in their generation because they were “hirelings,” destitute of firm political principle, gladly abandoning themselves to whatever shallow and ignoble defences a blear-eyed, raucous “patriotism” was ready to devise for their excuse.
It is possible to explain and qualify, but this remains the naked truth, which it is well to recognise. A Liberal party can only survive as a discredited or feeble remnant in England, unless it consents definitely to dissever itself from that Imperialism which its past leaders, as well as their opponents, have permitted to block the progress of domestic reforms.
There are individuals and sections among those who have comprised the Liberal party whose deception has been in large measure blind and involuntary, because they have been absorbed by their interest in some single important issue of social reform, whether it be temperance, land tenure, education, or the like. Let these men now recognise, as in honesty they can scarcely fail to do, that Imperialism is the deadly enemy of each of these reforms, that none of them can make serious advance so long as the expansion of the Empire and its satellite (militarism) absorb the time, the energy, the money of the State. Thus alone is it still possible that a strong rally of Liberals might, by fusion or co-operation with the political organisations of the working classes, fight Imperialism with the only effectual weapon, social reconstruction on the basis of democracy.
The antagonism with democracy drives to the very roots of Imperialism as a political principle. Not only is Imperialism used to frustrate those measures of economic reform now recognised as essential to the effectual working of all machinery of popular government, but it operates to paralyse the working of that machinery itself. Representative institutions are ill adapted for empire, either as regards men or methods. The government of a great heterogeneous medley of lower races by departmental officials in London and their nominated emissaries lies outside the scope of popular knowledge and popular control. The Foreign, Colonial, and Indian Secretaries in Parliament, the permanent officials of the departments, the governors and staff who represent the Imperial Government in our dependencies, are not, and cannot be, controlled directly or effectively by the will of the people. This subordination of the legislative to the executive, and the concentration of executive power in an autocracy, are necessary consequences of the predominance of foreign over domestic politics. The process is attended by a decay of party spirit and party action, and an insistence on the part of the autocracy, whether it be a Kaiser or a Cabinet, that all effective party criticism is unpatriotic and verges on treason. An able writer, discussing the new foreign policy of Germany, summarises the point of view of the expansionists: “It is claimed by them that in foreign affairs the nation should stand as one man, that policies once entered upon by the Government should not be repudiated, and that criticism should be avoided as weakening the influence of the nation abroad…. It is evident that, when the most important concerns of a nation are thus withdrawn from the field of party difference, party government itself must grow weak, as dealing no longer with vital affairs…. Thus, as the importance of the executive is enhanced, that of the legislative is lowered, and parliamentary action is looked down upon as the futile and irritating activity of unpractical critics. If the governmental measures are to be adopted inevitably, why not dispense with the irritating delay of parliamentary discussion?”
The Kaiser’s speech at Hamburg, October 19, 1899, condenses the doctrine thus: “The face of the world has changed greatly during the last few years. What formerly required centuries is now accomplished in a few months. The task of Kaiser and Government has consequently grown beyond measure, and a solution will only be possible when the German people renounce party divisions. Standing in serried ranks behind the Kaiser, proud of their great fatherland, and conscious of their real worth, the Germans must watch the development of foreign States. They must make sacrifices for their position as a world-power, and, abandoning party spirit, they must stand united behind their prince and emperor.”
Autocratic government in imperial politics naturally reacts upon domestic government. The intricacy of the departmental work of the Home Office, the Board of Trade, of Education, and other important offices has favoured this reaction, which has taken shape in government by administrative orders in accordance with large powers slipped into important statutes and not properly challenged or safeguarded amid the chaotic hurry in which most governments are driven in legislation. It is noticeable that in America a still more dangerous practice has sprung up, entitled “government by injunction,” in which the judiciary is virtually empowered to issue decrees having the effect of laws with attendant penalties for specific acts.
In Great Britain the weakening of “party” is visibly attended by a decline of the reality of popular control. Just in proportion as foreign and colonial policy bulks more largely in the deliberative and administrative work of the State is government necessarily removed from the real control of the people. It is no mere question of economy of the time and energy of Parliament, though the dwindling proportion of the sessions devoted to consideration of domestic questions represents a corresponding decline of practical democracy. The wound to popular government penetrates far deeper. Imperialism, and the military, diplomatic, and financial resources which feed it, have become so far the paramount considerations of recent Governments that they mould and direct the entire policy, give point, colour and character to the conduct of public affairs, and overawe by continual suggestions of unknown and incalculable gains and perils the nearer and more sober processes of domestic policy. The effect on parliamentary government has been great, quick, and of palpable import, making for the diminution of the power of representative institutions. At elections the electorate is no longer invited to exercise a free, conscious, rational choice between the representatives of different intelligible policies; it is invited to endorse, or to refuse endorsement, to a difficult, intricate, and hazardous imperial and foreign policy, commonly couched in a few well-sounding general phrases, and supported by an appeal to the necessity of solidarity and continuity of national conduct—virtually a blind vote of confidence. In the deliberations of the House of Commons the power of the Opposition to oppose has been seriously and progressively impaired: partly by alteration in the rules of the House, which have diminished the right of full discussion of legislative measures in their several stages, and impaired the privileges of the Commons, viz. the right of discussing grievances upon motions of Supply, and of questioning ministers regarding the conduct of their offices; partly by a forcible encroachment of the Government upon the rights and privileges formerly enjoyed by private members in moving resolutions and in introducing bills. This diminution of the power of opposition is only the first of a series of processes of concentration of power. The Government now claims for its measures the complete disposal of the time of the House whenever it judges such monopoly to be desirable.
Within the Government itself the same centripetal forces have been operative. “There can,” writes Mr. Bryce,” be no doubt that the power of the Cabinet as against the House of Commons has grown steadily and rapidly, and it appears (1901) to be still growing.”
So the Cabinet absorbs the powers of the House, while the Cabinet itself has been deliberately and consciously expanded in size so as to promote the concentration of real power in an informal but very real “inner Cabinet,” retaining some slight selective elasticity, but virtually consisting of the Prime Minister and the Foreign and Colonial Secretaries and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. This process of centralisation of power, which tends to destroy representative government, reducing the House of Commons to be little more than a machine for the automatic registration of the decrees of an unelected inner Cabinet, is manifestly attributable to Imperialism.
*40 The consideration of delicate, uncertain intelligence affecting our relations with foreign Powers, the accepted necessity of secrecy in diplomacy, and of expeditious, unobtrusive action, seem to favour and even to necessitate a highly centralised autocratic and bureaucratic method of government.
Amid this general decline of parliamentary government the “party system” is visibly collapsing, based as it was on plain cleavages in domestic policy which have little significance when confronted with the claims and powers of Imperialism. If the party system is destined to survive in British politics, it can only do so by the consolidation of all sections opposed to the “imperialist” practices to which Liberal as well as Conservative ministries have adhered during recent years. So long as Imperialism is allowed to hold the field, the only real political conflict is between groups representing the divergent branches of Imperialism, the men upon the spot and the Home Government, the Asiatic interests of India and China and the forward policy in Africa, the advocates of a German alliance or a Franco-Russian alliance.
Imperialism and popular government have nothing in common: they differ in spirit, in policy, in method. Of policy and method I have already spoken; it remains to point out how the spirit of Imperialism poisons the springs of democracy in the mind and character of the people. As our free self-governing colonies have furnished hope, encouragement, and leading to the popular aspirations in Great Britain, not merely by practical successes in the arts of popular government, but by the wafting of a spirit of freedom and equality, so our despotically ruled dependencies have ever served to damage the character of our people by feeding the habits of snobbish subservience, the admiration of wealth and rank, the corrupt survivals of the inequalities of feudalism. This process began with the advent of the East Indian Nabob and the West Indian planter into English society and politics, bringing back with his plunders of the slave trade and the gains of corrupt and extortionate officialism the acts of vulgar ostentation, domineering demeanour and corrupting largesse to dazzle and degrade the life of our people. Cobden, writing in 1860 of our Indian Empire, put this pithy question: “Is it not just possible that we may become corrupted at home by the reaction of arbitrary political maxims in the East upon our domestic politics, just as Greece and Rome were demoralised by their contact with Asia?”
Not merely is the reaction possible, it is inevitable. As the despotic portion of our Empire has grown in area, a larger and larger number of men, trained in the temper and methods of autocracy as soldiers and civil officials in our Crown colonies, protectorates, and Indian Empire, reinforced by numbers of merchants, planters, engineers, and overseers, whose lives have been those of a superior caste living an artificial life removed from all the healthy restraints of ordinary European society, have returned to this country, bringing back the characters, sentiments, and ideas imposed by this foreign environment. The South and South-West of England is richly sprinkled with these men, many of them wealthy, most of them endowed with leisure, men openly contemptuous of democracy, devoted to material luxury, social display, and the shallower arts of intellectual life. The wealthier among them discover political ambitions, introducing into our Houses of Parliament the coarsest and most selfish spirit of “Imperialism,” using their imperial experience and connections to push profitable companies and concessions for their private benefits, and posing as authorities so as to keep the yoke of Imperialism firmly fixed upon the shoulders of the “nigger.” The South African millionaire is the brand most in evidence: his methods are the most barefaced, and his success, social and political, the most redoubtable. But the practices which are writ large in Rhodes, Beit, and their parliamentary confederates are widespread on a smaller scale; the South of England is full of men of local influence in politics and society whose character has been formed in our despotic Empire, and whose incomes are chiefly derived from the maintenance and furtherance of this despotic rule. Not a few enter our local councils, or take posts in our constabulary or our prisons: everywhere they stand for coercion and for resistance to reform. Could the incomes expended in the Home Counties and other large districts of Southern Britain be traced to their sources, it would be found that they were in large measure wrung from the enforced toil of vast multitudes of black, brown, or yellow natives, by arts not differing essentially from those which supported in idleness and luxury imperial Rome.
It is, indeed, a nemesis of Imperialism that the arts and crafts of tyranny, acquired and exercised in our unfree Empire, should be turned against our liberties at home. Those who have felt surprise at the total disregard or the open contempt displayed by the aristocracy and the plutocracy of this land for infringements of the liberties of the subject and for the abrogation of constitutional rights and usages have not taken sufficiently into account the steady reflux of this poison of irresponsible autocracy from our “unfree intolerant, aggressive” Empire.
The political effects, actual and necessary, of the new Imperialism, as illustrated in the case of the greatest of imperialist Powers, may be thus summarised. It is a constant menace to peace, by furnishing continual temptations to further aggression upon lands occupied by lower races, and by embroiling our nation with other nations of rival imperial ambitions; to the sharp peril of war it adds the chronic danger and degradation of militarism, which not merely wastes the current physical and moral resources of the nations, but checks the very course of civilisation. It consumes to an illimitable and incalculable extent the financial resources of a nation by military preparation, estopping the expenditure of the current income of the State upon productive public purposes and burdening posterity with heavy loads of debt. Absorbing the public money, time, interest and energy on costly and unprofitable work of territorial aggrandisement, it thus wastes those energies of public life in the governing classes and the nations which are needed for internal reforms and for the cultivation of the arts of material and intellectual progress at home. Finally, the spirit, the policy, and the methods of Imperialism are hostile to the institutions of popular self-government, favouring forms of political tyranny and social authority which are the deadly enemies of effective liberty and equality.
political element has waned as a factor. The lack of interest in constitutional matters has been conspicuous…. The ‘Parliament man’ has been disappearing; the number of those desirous of furthering social and industrial reforms has been waning. On the other hand, those who have been anxious to grasp such opportunities of various kinds outside its work and duties as are afforded by membership of the House of Commons, and who are willing to support the Government in the division lobby without being called upon to do much more, came up in large numbers in 1895 and 1900, and now form a very large proportion, if not the majority, of the House of Commons” (Mr. John E. Ellis, M.P.,
The Speaker, June 7, 1902).
Part II, Chapter II