Imperial Policies of Great Britain

IN 1897 there was held in London the Diamond Jubilee in celebration of the sixtieth year of the reign of Queen Victoria. The galaxy of foreign monarchs, of Indian princes, and of colonial statesmen who attended, the assemblage of an unrivalled sea power, the marshalling of contingents of varying race and color from the four corners of the earth, made of the occasion an imperial pageant the like of which the world had never seen. Through it breathed a not unjustifiable pride in the achievement overseas of the inhabitants of the little home islands. It was instinct with a sense of power, a buoyant confidence in the imperial destiny of Britain. Better, perhaps, than any other single occurrence it marks the culmination of the great age of nineteenth century British imperialism. At its close Kipling in his "Recessional" struck a more chastened note, and now after the lapse of thirty years, we are not quite so sure as we were in 1897. With the new epoch new forces and new circumstances have come into being and the effects of old ones have been altered or more significantly revealed. The Commonwealth, it is true, has been able to weather an unprecedented storm, but the tempest has left its mark upon it, and things are not as they were even in 1914. It may be worth while, then, to attempt a simple statement of the main factors which had given to the British Empire its unrivalled position in the world toward the end of the Victorian age, and of the changed conditions which have evoked in many who love the Commonwealth a feeling of uncertainty and apprehension for its future.

The factors that contributed to Britain's success in empire building are many and varied, but three which were absolutely essential were sea power, commerce and industry. Had Britain remained largely an agricultural country as she was in the Middle Ages, the resulting limitation in wealth and population would have made her too feeble to become the heart of such a great and scattered empire. That Britain did not remain mainly agricultural but experienced the requisite growth of sea power, commerce and industry, was in large measure, though not wholly, due to lucky accidents of her geography and geology.

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