Courtesy Reuters

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.

Britain is an island, and it is a truism that this fact has influenced her development in a great variety of ways. It lay most certainly at the basis of her development of sea power. The fact that no part of the country is more than forty or fifty miles from salt water helped to give her people a sense of the sea. Numerous harbors and rich neighboring fishing banks early nourished a hardy race of fishermen like that which formed the basis of Dutch sea power. Proximity to the Continent and danger of attack therefrom also made a fleet the obvious and indispensable first line of defense for an island state.

Britain, however, was not only an island. She was an island with a strategic situation. Up to 1492, indeed, she occupied a remote and rather disadvantageous position in the known world, but the age of geographical discoveries shifted her from her marginal situation to a central position on the trade routes of a new and larger world.

For Britain this had enormous consequences. In the first place it made her as an oceanic island lying athwart the new oceanic routes the natural leader in the evolution of a new type of oceanic sea power. The old routes had been through the narrow seas, and there since the dawn of historic times the galley had been the appropriate type of sea power. But the galley was unsuitable for the long voyages and heavy seas of the new oceanic trade routes, and its cargo space was small. Accordingly the lighter sailing ships of earlier times had to be developed into larger and more seaworthy craft. These in turn to trade safely and protect distant colonies had to be evolved into a new type of warship carrying broadsides of cannon, fighting under sail, and subject to very different tactics from those of galley fighting. Now the Mediterranean was the stronghold of the old traditional galley warfare, and Spain and France, England's chief rivals, being both Mediterranean powers it was therefore difficult for them to free themselves from the old galley tradition. England, on the other hand, because of her geographical position on an oceanic island remote from the Mediterranean, and dependent wholly on sea power for defense, from the time of Henry VIII quite naturally took the leadership in this naval revolution. It was because of this leadership that in 1588 she won her classic victory over the obsolescent equipment and methods of the Armada, and thus broke the power of Spain. The same advantage of an island situation and the same necessity of defense by a fleet rather than by an army has caused Britain, with one or two dangerous lapses, to maintain from that day to this the leadership in the evolution of sea power which she assumed in the sixteenth century.

But sea power was not only the sine qua non of national independence at home. It was the key to empire abroad -- for the sea is a highway that leads to all parts of the world. When it came to rivalry with Continental powers for control of that highway Britain's geographical position proved to be an asset of great strategic value. They were land powers, whose first line of defense was necessarily an army. They therefore could put only their secondary efforts into building up sea power. While France and Spain and the Empire wasted each other's strength in the land struggle for European hegemony, and while Holland was exhausted by her desperate fight for existence against Louis XIV, England because of her island position was relatively free to pursue sea power, colonies and commerce. On critical occasions, it is true, she participated in Continental struggles to prevent any strong power gaining a dangerous ascendancy or acquiring control of the Low Countries, either of which eventualities was an obvious peril to England. But on such occasions England's insular detachment usually placed her in the advantageous position of being able to choose which of two fairly evenly balanced groups of Continental powers she would join. She was thus able to "ride the balance of power" to her own security and advantage.

Moreover, when it came to a contest on the high seas themselves, Britain lay across the trade routes of her distracted Continental rivals. She cut the communications between Spain and the rebellious Netherlands, between France and her ally Sweden in the north. She enclosed within the North Sea her rival Holland in the seventeenth century and in our own day her mightier rival Germany, and was thus able to strangle them into submission by the instrument of the blockade. And if Britain did not similarly lie across the communications of France and Spain and Portugal with the outer world she at least had the advantage of taking them on the flank.

Thus it was that England, largely owing to her happy geographical position, was able to preserve and augment the sea supremacy which in 1588 she had asserted against Spain. It was that sea power which decided the fate of North America and of India in the eighteenth century, for by it Britain was able largely to cut off her enemy's forces from the arena of operations overseas and throw in her own. It was that sea power which in spite of Napoleon's mastery of the Continent left the colonies of France and her allies in Britain's hands. In a word, it was by sea power alone that Britain was able to win her empire and by it alone was she able to retain it. The feeling of power and confidence which prevailed in 1897 was largely due to the fact that since Trafalgar British supremacy on the seas had been unassailed and still seemed unassailable.

But the mood of 1897 was not based solely on a consciousness of sea power. It was compounded also of the consciousness that for a hundred years Britain had led the world in commerce, in industry and in finance. Behind the sea supremacy were the material resources to sustain it. The vast accumulation of wealth, and of power to produce wealth, which had become concentrated in Britain was again in no small degree due to the good fortune of her geographical position. In continental countries, exposed to military invasion and depending on military power as the first arm of defense, it was easy for princes to base an autocratic power on standing armies. In Britain, an island state, shielded by sea power, such a course was never possible except for one brief interval under Cromwell. Accordingly, government in England early became relatively free and relatively stable -- a condition favorable to the growth of trade and industry. The practical freedom from the ravages of invading armies and the releasing of a greater proportion of the population for the pursuits of peace likewise stimulated the growth of wealth.

With the discovery of the New World, and of a new way to the Far East also, Britain found herself occupying as strategic a position for trade as for war. A glance at a map will show that she lies very near the centre of the land hemisphere of the earth, and on or near the routes joining a great part of Europe with the outer world. Accordingly it was easy for her to bring together products of many countries for resale to other lands and thus become an entrepôt for world trade. Similarly when the industrial age came Britain was strategically situated for assembling raw materials from, and despatching manufactured goods to, all parts of the world by sea carriage, the cheapest sort of transportation. With these advantages, and the "freedom of the seas" which her sea power established, the commerce of Britain steadily grew, and one of the most formidable consequences of its growth was the accumulation of a great body of ready capital in the country. This development was signalized by the appearance of organizations like the Royal Exchange and the Bank of England for dealing with large scale finance.

With capital available in large quantities and seeking profitable investment, and with overseas markets of seemingly inexhaustible capacity for absorbing manufactured goods of suitable character, Britain was now in a position for an industrial expansion such as no country had ever before experienced in the history of the world. All she needed was the natural resources requisite for large scale industries, and the human ingenuity to take advantage of them. Again a kindly nature had endowered her with geological formations containing large quantities of high grade coal and iron, coal for power, and iron for machinery. The genius of her people was equal to the task of effecting the needed synthesis, with the result that Britain became the "workshop of the world." The growth of industry in its turn gave a new impetus to commerce, and both operated to pile up an ever-growing fund of capital. For the investment and reinvestment of this capital in enterprises in all parts of the world, and for the exchange of credit between country and country, peculiarly flexible financial machinery and a highly skilled technique were developed. Because of the unrivalled services which "the City" could give, it attracted foreign capital as well as domestic, and London became the financial capital of the world.

In this fashion a grouping of geographical and geological and human factors had brought about in the nineteenth century in Britain a combination of imperial sway and of commercial, industrial, financial and naval strength without parallel in history. Nor was this edifice wholly a materialistic one. The liberties which she had painfully evolved through the centuries at home Britain had extended step by step to those of her colonies which were ready for self-government, and the Dominions, mistresses of their own domestic affairs, were thereby bound all the more strongly by the ties of sentiment to the old Mother Land. Moreover, to the more backward peoples of the Empire, as yet unfit to rule themselves, Britain brought the boon of peace and law and justice between men, and the hope that in due time political liberty would ripen for them as elsewhere in the Empire. Everywhere, too, there was toleration and legal equality between race and race and creed and creed. In a word her attitude has been one, not of exploitation and enslavement, but of trusteeship. Seemingly impregnable in its strength and on the whole beneficent in spirit, it was the thought of many of the subjects of the great Queen that their Empire must indefinitely keep its preëminence, and become "the greatest force for good" in the future history of the world. And indeed it is not impossible that this hope may still be realized, but if so it must be along lines that few or none clearly perceived in 1897. What are the chief ways in which the situation has changed, and what modifications in ideals and policies do these changes involve?

In the first place, a fact fundamental to nearly every aspect of Britain's situation is that she is not a self-sufficient country in the matter of food supply. This of course was true in 1897. Early in the nineteenth century Britain passed the point when she could sustain her rapidly growing industrial population from the products of her own agriculture. Since then with the growth of population and the decline of agriculture her dependence has steadily increased until it has been estimated that at the present time there is usually only seven weeks' reserve supply of food in the country. In 1897 with Britain's overwhelming naval superiority this dependence on overseas lands for food did not seem a very real danger. But the Great War showed that it was a deadly peril. Indeed, through changed circumstances the insular position of Britain, which had been such a safeguard in earlier times, had now become in this respect just as clearly a disadvantage. A continental country with a surplus population cannot be starved into surrender except by a combination of powers which can completely blockade its entire land and sea frontier, and such a combination is unlikely. An island power with a surplus population, on the other hand, can be starved into surrender by any single opponent possessing superior sea power. Indeed, the Great War indicated the possibility of this being achieved by a country which was inferior on the seas resorting to submarine warfare.

In other ways, too, the passage of time has made Britain's island position, formerly so strategic, much less so. While she possesses the disadvantage of an island in the matter of vulnerability to blockade and submarine warfare, she no longer enjoys its advantages with respect to some other modes of warfare. Cannon can now fire across the Channel, and the progress of aeronautics has been such that in the event of another war no part of the British Isles would be immune from the disorganization and devastation of aerial warfare. In these respects, indeed, Britain has ceased really to be an island. The Channel is no longer a natural frontier and Britain is compelled, as the Locarno Pact shows, to look beyond the Belgian coast and to other devices than sea power for her defense.

The development of new methods of war above and under the sea, then, has made Britain's position far less secure than it was in 1897. Nor is it quite as secure on the seas themselves. Since then we have witnessed Britain's traditional type of sea power reduced from an indefinite superiority to a three, to a two and now to a one power standard. Nor is this one power standard at all assured. Agreement with respect to its definition failed to be reached at the recent naval disarmament conference, and who can doubt that if a race of armaments should begin between Britain and the United States, the former with its more limited resources, strained as they have been by the Great War and the ensuing economic depression, would be unable to sustain the contest with the unstrained and unrivalled resources of the latter? Even if the one power standard should be maintained it spells for Britain a certain measure of inferiority, because her naval commitments are scattered all over the world while those of the United States are largely concentrated on her Atlantic and Pacific coasts linked by the Panama Canal. This fact, on an equal basis of naval construction, would tend to give to the United States a greater facility for concentration and therefore a superior striking power. Moreover, while Britain, an island with an insufficient food supply, is susceptible to a vital blow from sea power, the United States can largely live of itself and is unvulnerable to sea power alone. As against the United States, and Japan, also, Britain possesses no such strategic advantage as she did against Germany. She does not lie across their sea access to the outer world. On the contrary, while Britain has near at hand in France a power which can use the aeroplane and submarine against her with deadly effect, neither the United States nor Japan is at present so menaced. A race of armaments would thus mean for Britain not only building against the United States and Japan on the seas, but building against France above and under the seas, for the increase of Britain's strength as against the United States or Japan would inevitably be regarded by France as a peril to herself.

No one, of course, would consciously and deliberately wish to plunge Britain into such a competition. The only danger is that unconsciously and step by step we may drift into it. Solicitude for our own security may lead us to insist on certain minima of armament. This in turn will be regarded by the other states in question as a threat to their security, which will cause them further to arm themselves. This again will raise our conception of the minimum necessary for our defense, and thus we are caught in the fatal circle. Forty or fifty years ago, perhaps Britain could have sustained such a competition. Today she would be foolhardy to enter upon it, not only because of the adversely altered strategic situation noted above, but also because her economic situation has likewise changed in such a fashion as to make her in peace as well as in war more dependent on and vulnerable to forces in the outside world.

What are the main facts in this altered economic situation? As before we must take our departure from the commonplace but fundamental consideration that Britain has a much larger population than her agriculture can support. To provide her people with the food and other things from abroad which are requisite to the maintenance of the existing standard of living, the country must make corresponding payments to foreign lands. These payments, as everyone knows, are made in such forms as the export of manufactured goods like textiles, or of raw materials such as coal; the re-export, with a profit, of raw materials or manufactured goods imported from abroad; the services of the merchant marine; the interest on investments abroad, and the banking and exchange services performed for foreigners by "the City" functioning as the financial capital of the world. Not only must Britain pay for her food in these ways, but she must purchase in these ways also many of the raw materials without which she cannot manufacture the articles to pay for the food. All this makes Britain trebly dependent. First, she is dependent on the outside world for a growing proportion of her food and raw material. Secondly, she is dependent on the willingness and ability of the outside world to give her a market for her manufactured goods and re-exports and to avail itself of her mercantile and financial services. Thirdly, she is dependent on the maintenance of the "freedom of the seas" to enable these exchanges, which are like the vital flow of blood in the body, to be safely and normally made.

Even in the heyday of the Victorian age it is true that England was dependent, as now, in all these respects, but her dependence did not then seem to be a matter worthy of grave concern. The trident appeared to be irremovably within her grasp and therefore for her under all circumstances the freedom of the seas was assured. For the rest, raw materials seemed inexhaustible and markets for British goods and services seemed capable of indefinite expansion. There did not appear to most British subjects to be any reason why population and wealth and power should not grow without limit in the British Isles, and this economic supremacy and imperial preëminence be indefinitely maintained.

To this complacency time has brought many challenges and a somewhat changed perspective. The altered situation with respect to sea power has just been treated and need be labored no further. But the economic situation back of sea power has changed also and in a variety of ways. First, in the matter of industry. The nineteenth century was preëminently the age of coal and of this commodity Britain possessed a superabundance of the finest quality. This she was able to use not only to manufacture goods at home, but she was able to export large quantities in payment for food and raw materials from abroad. Moreover, coal greatly helped to make Britain a centre of commerce constituting as it did a ready return cargo to many parts of the world and thus making for cheap marine rates. It has been claimed that British economic preëminence in the nineteenth century was built up fundamentally on coal.

In this vital matter Britain now finds herself at a disadvantage in two ways. In the first place, other fuels such as oil and electricity which possess some obvious advantages over coal are competing more and more successfully with coal for various uses, and in various regions. With these new sources of power Britain is not so well supplied, at least in the homeland, as many other countries. In the second place, in the world market for coal Britain has found a competition far more keen than any she experienced in the nineteenth century. In the years before the war German competition made itself increasingly felt, particularly on the Continent. During the war Britain, and of course Germany, had to curtail their exports, with the result that other countries entered the export field. Australia developed a Pacific market. South Africa commenced to export. Most formidable of all, the United States with her enormous productive capacity for the first time became a great exporter, replacing British coal in wide regions. Since the war Britain has recovered a good deal of this ground, but the fundamental fact remains that coal is not quite so important industrially as it was in the past, and may become still less so, and that in the export field Britain will have to meet from a reviving Germany, an expanding United States, and from other quarters a keener competition than she has ever experienced. In other words, Britain will find it more difficult to use her coal to purchase the food and raw materials which she must obtain abroad in order to sustain her existing population at home. In this respect the fabric of her industrial life and of her national strength would seem to be less secure.

In other ways, too, the future would seem to be more precarious than the past. Iron is another essential of modern industrialism. Once Britain was self-sufficient in this respect as in coal, but now she depends on the foreigner for about half of the iron ore consumed in her blast furnaces. In the fiscal year 1921-22 the native wool crop supplied only 12 percent of her industrial needs. Most of her wool and all of her cotton, silk, jute and rubber must be imported. Now, of course, from the very beginning of her industrialization Britain was dependent to a considerable extent on foreign supplies. The point is that as population and industralization have increased the dependence has grown, and with this growth of dependence the economic life of Britain has been rendered less stable. It is an ever bigger pyramid on an ever smaller base, the equilibrium of which may be disturbed by two sorts of outside forces. Accidents of nature in distant parts of the world such as floods, droughts, blights and so forth may curtail the supplies of needed raw materials or restrict the purchasing power of needed markets to the disorganization of industrial Britain. Similar disorganization may be produced by the acts of men, such as the waging of wars which disturb markets and restrict the flow of raw materials, the erection of hostile tariffs, the development of industries which compete with those of Britain, and the deliberate monopolistic regulation by governments or capitalistic groups of supplies of raw materials which Britain must have.

One of the disturbing features of the present situation is the tendency for this second human species of outside disturbance to British industry to grow. Even in the 19th century the drift outside England was steadily away from the doctrines of Free Trade, and the Great War seems to have accentuated this tendency. It has multiplied states and frontiers and tariff systems. The new states, inspired with nationalist sentiment and still feeling insecure, strive by political means to stimulate the manufacture of their own raw materials and thus to become as independent as possible of the foreigner. In other cases customers of Britain during the war were forced to buy elsewhere with the result that the market she once enjoyed has now to be won back. from the competitor. Other peoples who formerly bought from England were necessitated or encouraged by war conditions to manufacture for themselves, and national feeling operating through governmental action now protects the home industries thus created against British recovery of their market. Examples of the operation of these tendencies come readily enough to mind. Australia has tried to develop a woollen industry to handle the raw material which she produces. British India has passed an act for the protection of a home industry in steel. While the United States now manufactures much of its own cotton, and while spindles and looms have increased in Europe, India, China and Japan, Lancashire has been working short time. In 1924, Britain was buying more from other countries than in 1913, and she was selling less to them by about 20 percent. In the same period the production of the United States had increased by 20 percent and her export of manufactured goods by nearly 50 percent. These developments would seem to indicate that in the future the task of purchasing the needed food and raw materials by the products of industry will be more difficult for Britain than in the past.

So, too, with trade it will be more difficult for Britain to keep her old ascendancy. That ascendancy was based in a very considerable degree on her geographical position and her Free Trade policy making her a great entrepôt -- a cheap and convenient market for the buying and selling and transhipment of goods in transit between Europe and the rest of the world. But of late years there has been more of a tendency for goods and passengers to go directly to the Continent or from the Continent to their foreign destination. More than that, the trade of Europe relative to the volume of world trade has been steadily declining. In the period from 1871 to 1880, the trade of Europe constituted about seven-tenths of that of the world; after 1880, about six-tenths; and in the period from 1913 to 1924 only five-tenths. If the trade of Europe is to form a steadily decreasing proportion of the world's trade, then it would seem to follow that Britain, whose strategic position for trade is largely relative to Europe, will in the future occupy a relatively less advantageous position.

So, too, in the matter of finance. Britain's world leadership in industry and commerce brought about vast accumulations of capital and made London the financial centre of the world. But as the trade and industry of other countries developed, capital accumulated elsewhere in large quantities, subsidiary financial centres grew up, and the shock of the Great War seemed for a time as though it were about to establish a primacy of one of these at London's expense. With heroic efforts Britain salvaged the pound and on the whole has retrieved the situation. Even yet the United States is for the moment the greatest exporter of capital in the world, but London has preserved her position as the international banking centre, as the discount market, the foreign exchange market, and the insurance market of the world. New York in the past has been predominantly concerned with the financing of enormous internal developments and lacks the specialized financial machinery and the skilled personnel and technique for international operations. But these things can be developed, and London must look to her laurels. In England progress in the accumulation of wealth was suspended during the war. Allowing for changes in the purchasing power of money it is estimated that the annual amount of wealth saved is from £150,000,000 to £200,000,000 below that saved in 1913. The enormous burden of direct taxation, moreover, hampers trade and takes capital from investment, and the fall of prices consequent upon deflation has slowed down industry and has greatly increased the real burden of the national debt. Even in the sphere of finance, then, there are factors which seem to make Britain's traditional preëminence more precarious.

In the above the adverse factors in Britain's position have been deliberately selected. The writer is well aware that there are assets which can be set off against them. In the matter of competition for the export trade, for example, Britain has the great advantage that her mines are close to the sea while American exports of iron, steel, coal, and engineering products are hampered by the relatively heavy cost of transportation from the mining and manufacturing districts to the coast. The German heavy industries, too, are tied to coal-fields much further inland than those of Britain, and therefore are handicapped in finding overseas markets, though their central position in Europe and the European canal systems give them an advantage in Central and Eastern Europe. Nor is the human factor to be neglected. Britain's free and stable government, the long-developed and well-tried genius of her people for seafaring, trade and industry, her superb financial technique and unrivalled financial integrity, the patriotism of her masses, and the public spirit which animates so many individuals of her middle and upper classes -- these and other such things, together with the fact that she emerged victorious from the Great War and with her Empire intact and enlarged, all make for confidence in the future.

Nevertheless, if we try to strike a balance it is hard to resist the conclusion that on the whole Britain's position is as difficult as any which has confronted her in her long history. Her population owing to the decline of emigration was in 1921 2,000,000 more than in 1911, despite the losses of the Great War. A greater population means, if the standard of living is to be maintained, expansion of the industries, merchant marine and financial services by which food and raw materials are paid for. This in turn implies that adequate supplies of raw materials and adequate markets for British goods and services must be available abroad at profitable prices. But it is just in these respects, as we have seen, that the situation in the future appears through the operation of tariffs, monopoly and competition as though it would be more difficult than at any time in the past.

Even more gloomy is the prospect if we take into account the law of diminishing returns, which the Victorians too often forgot. They thought that there was no limit to the quantity of goods which could be produced at a profit. Many of our modern writers, returning to Malthus and Ricardo, remind us that though there is still much vacant agricultural land in the world it will only be brought into cultivation in response to the stimulant of a rise in prices. This means that for each new application of capital or labor applied to industry in an old country like Britain, a relatively smaller quantity of food-stuffs or raw materials can be purchased. Under these circumstances will not the point be steadily approached beyond which British industrialization will be excessive? Indeed, would not the phenomenon of the last six years during which the unemployed have never numbered under a million, together with the fact of a narrowing margin between imports and exports, visible and invisible, show that the point of saturation industrially has been reached, and that Britain now has a population as large as her own capacities and the conditions of the outside world will permit her to support? If this be true, while certain other powers such as the United States have greater capacity for expansion, must not Britain's wealth and power suffer a relative decline? And if Britain should suffer such a relative decline, does she not thereby become less capable of retaining control of the seas and maintaining her position as the centre of a world-wide empire whose communications are sea routes?

Such changing circumstances, such possibilities, force one to consider what policies, domestic, imperial and foreign, it would best serve Britain's interests to pursue. One such policy is indicated by Clive Day in his article on "War Shocks to European Commerce" in FOREIGN AFFAIRS, July, 1927. "In foreign markets," he says, "in which Britain must face unaided the competition of established rivals like the United States and Japan (with the threat of German competition to come) and must overcome the resistance of newly founded home industries, the salvation of the British export trade appears to depend on a heightened efficiency of production which will win a market in spite of obstacles. Britain must specialize still further, abandoning the simpler processes to other peoples. . . . It is significant that the branch of the English cotton industry which has best maintained its position in these hard times has been that working on the long-stapled Egyptian cotton turning out a fine product and demanding superior skill."

To enable Britain thus to increase her efficiency of production and specialize still further there are certain prerequisites. Some modus vivendi must be found between capitalist and labor unions which will enable production to proceed with less friction than of late. The further expansion of facilities for technical education is also necessary and in this respect Britain has something to learn from both her chief rivals, Germany and the United States. From the latter, too, she can learn much in the matter of the utilization of more modern machine equipment. Both these competitors tend to excel her in the provision of educational facilities for the masses of the people. Until a great deal more than nine percent of the population possess the advantage of some secondary school education it is hopeless to look for Britain to hold her own. Industrial efficiency demands that the native intelligence of which the masses of the British people are not devoid should be tapped by popular educational facilities at least equal to those of her rivals. The hereditary principle which has so long dominated British social life and has in the economic sphere been a numbing influence should be discarded and the freest possible path should be opened up for talent.

A second and quite different line of action, but not one at all exclusive of the first, is that which has been advocated by the imperialistic school. The British Empire has roughly one-quarter of the population and one-fifth of the land area of the world. Its territory is distributed in every climate and contains an abundance of practically every kind of raw material. Let Britain then turn from a world of growing difficulties to her own Empire. By using her authority over the dependent parts of the Empire and by negotiation and agreement with the self-governing parts let her knit them together into an economic system in which highly industrialized Britain would find her natural complement in less developed regions which would supply the food and raw materials which she needs in exchange for her manufactured goods. Let her likewise concert with her Dominions a common policy for defense and foreign affairs and common machinery to make such policy effective. Such an Empire would be more self-sufficient even than the United States. It could coöperate cordially in the League of Nations. But it would, none the less, be great and strong enough to stand, if necessary, alone and impregnable, economically and politically.

Such a plan has not been without its attractiveness for men of fine intellect and ideals. But examination shows that perhaps insuperable obstacles lie in the path of the realization of many of its aspects. In the first place, the Empire is so scattered geographically, so differently endowed by nature, and so diverse racially, that its various parts are bound to develop divergent economic and political interests and policies.

Examples are easy to find. Take first the sphere of foreign policy. In the years before the Great War the Dominions were almost wholly content with their local autonomy and left foreign affairs in the hands of the Motherland. She paid the piper and should call the tune. But as a result of their exertions in the Great War and their own maturing national sentiment, the Dominions, led by Canada, have step by step won their way to a position at least of nominal equality with the Motherland in the League of Nations, in the Empire, and in the diplomatic world. Except for the Privy Council in the case of certain of the Dominions, the monarch himself remains the only formal link between Britain and her Dominions, and there is now the possibility of George V as King of Britain, of Canada and of Ireland following conflicting policies at Washington through his respective ambassadors. Why not? The intransigeance of certain elements which may get control of the Irish Government is well known. As for Canada, should serious trouble arise between the United States and Japan with Britain as the latter's ally, where would Canada's interest lie? Is not Mr. Meighen's opposition to the renewal of the Anglo-Japanese alliance sufficient answer? Britain is a European power and necessarily involved in the complicated game of European politics, but her Dominions being far distant wish only to be free from such entanglements, as witness Canada's attitude towards Chanak, Lausanne and Locarno. What common interests have India and Canada, or India and Australia, or India and South Africa, to draw them into a common foreign policy? If it came to the race struggle which some writers foresee, assuredly these parts of the Empire would tend to be drawn rather into opposite camps. Already there has been friction and there is ill-feeling on this score.

The same is true of a common policy of defense. The needs of the different parts are not the same. Britain, whether she had an empire or no, would need her sea power. The protection of her commerce, the safeguarding of her daily bread, would demand it. Canada, on the other hand, does not greatly need the British fleet or army. The United States in self-defense must protect Canada from attack by all other powers, while against her giant neighbor, should she choose to attack, Canada would be helpless. As for Australia and New Zealand, the only power that can really threaten them in their isolation would seem to be Japan, and could they not in such a case look almost equally to the United States as to Britain? The former would hardly consent without a struggle to such a formidable growth of her Japanese rival's power as the acquisition of Australia would make possible. As for India, South Africa, Canada, what interest have they in making any serious effort for each other's defense? Even under the threat of the German peril before the Great War the Dominions found it difficult to agree upon common measures of naval defense. With that pressure removed is the task an easier one?

Again in economic matters the story is much the same. The economic interests involved have been too divergent. For nearly thirty years the question of some sort of tariff union for the Empire has been before the public and has been discussed at successive imperial conferences with little of consequence achieved. The Dominions have given certain preferences to the Motherland, and since the war she has responded with preferential treatment for certain products from her Empire overseas. But substantial progress has always broken down upon two obstacles. On the one hand, the British public has refused to assent to a preference on staple colonial products such as wool, cotton or wheat because it fears that thereby the cost of raw materials and food would be so increased as to make it impossible for Britain to compete in the markets of the world. The Dominions, on the other hand, though they have given a preference to British manufactured goods have always retained for their own manufacturing interests a substantial measure of protection. They do not propose to sacrifice home industries unduly to Britain. In this respect India seems to be following in the wake of the Dominions. Just in proportion as she progresses towards control of her own government so the movement grows for the protection of home industries, against Britain as against other states. In all likelihood the crown colonies as they attain self-government will adopt the same policy of economic self-development. Is there any calculable time within which it would seem likely that these divergent tendencies can be reconciled?

An examination of the character of British trade shows still further the nature of the difficulties.

1913 1922 1923
British Imports from the Empire 24.9 31.6 29.7
British Exports to the Empire 37.2 37.5 36.3

In brief, something less than one-third of Britain's import trade and a little more than one-third of her export trade are with her own Empire. It is true that this imperial trade is of a more complementary character than her foreign trade, that is, the imports comprise a greater proportion of food and raw materials and the exports include a greater percentage of the manufactured goods than is the case with Britain's trade with foreign lands. None the less the fact remains that about two-thirds of Britain's total trade lies outside her Empire. The economics of Richard Cobden have sunk deep into the mentality of the British nation. On the principles of Free Trade they have built up an industrial, commercial and financial edifice which is world-wide in its foundations. May they not well ask themselves whether the imposition of restrictions on the two-thirds of their extra-imperial trade in favor of the one-third of their trade which is inter-imperial will not fatally disturb their economic equilibrium? What would be the effect on British industry? What would be the effect on the mercantile and financial ascendancy so largely built up on Britain's position as the greatest free market in the world? These are questions difficult or impossible to answer, but the fact remains that in 1923, as on all previous occasions when the British electorate found themselves confronted with these questions, they decided not to embark on an experiment the end of which they could so little foresee.

There is a further consideration which enters into this aspect of the question. Would not the knitting together of the British Empire into a tightly drawn economic and political unity excite the fear of other powers and bring about a hostile and possibly fatal coalition against Britain? Since the Great War Britain has established in the crown colonies differential duties in favor of herself which affect about 5 percent of the colonial trade. On this the United States Tariff Commission on Colonial Tariff Policies commented in 1922 as follows: "While the differential duties at present are so few, in so vast an empire and one that controls the major part of the world's supplies of so many articles, the reintroduction, on however limited a scale, of the old mercantilist principle of the reservation of colonial products to the Mother Country must cause serious concern to the rest of the world." It is true that the United States follows the same preferential system with most of her own possessions and therefore such a comment does not come from her with the virtue of consistency. But nations are not the slaves of consistency, and the comment shows the possible drift of developments. The economic plan of the imperialists is in essence a return to the old colonial system of the 18th century, and their opponents have not been slow to point out that that system culminated in a revolt of Britain's first colonial empire assisted by an interested and formidable coalition of outside powers. The precedent, it must be admitted, is not a happy one.

Whether Britain will ever find an outlet from her difficulties along the lines of the old imperialist ideal is, then, a question that must give rise to grave doubts. But in connection with any program of imperialism it is necessary to bear certain fundamentals in mind. The British Empire is not dependent for its continuance upon any uniformity of economic policy. Had it been so it would long since have been dissolved into fragments. Though it was acquired by sea power backed by military force and economic strength, it is no longer so held. These were ties which in 1914 both India and the Dominions could have impeached had they wished. They did not so choose. The tie that held and holds them, then, is not naval, military or economic, but something on a quite different plane. It is something psychological. It is a devotion to common ideals of liberty and justice which find a growing embodiment in free institutions. These free ideals and institutions have been Britain's greatest bequest to her Empire. They form the very soul of it, and all sound imperial policy must be in harmony with them. Between such free and equal communities all progress in the direction of common political organization or unity of diplomatic and economic policy must necessarily be by consent of all the parts. Such progress, therefore, must be tentative and slow, so slow as to be extremely trying to the theorist. Yet any progress so attained is the surest form of progress.

By this method of negotiation, assent, and coöperation, there would seem to be at least one aspect of the imperialist policy which is susceptible of more rapid development than the others. If the Motherland is over-populated the Dominions are still comparatively empty, and many have pointed out the appropriate remedy of imperial migration. Various difficulties have hampered its application. For one thing, the so-called "dole system" in Britain has with many checked the impulse to migrate. The surplus population of Britain also is largely urban and industrial in character. What the Dominions require are agriculturists, and labor interests overseas have steadily opposed the immigration of British factory workers to compete with them in the labor market. But it would seem that these difficulties are not insuperable. Surely Britain and the Dominions are capable of evolving a scheme by which emigration would be stimulated and the emigrants be given a training for the new type of life and an assistance in the early years of it which would ensure the success of the great majority of them. Such a scheme would at one stroke help to solve the problems of both Dominions and Motherland. It would be the truest form of imperialism. Efforts indeed have been made along this line, but so far they have failed as a whole to achieve any striking success. Until our genius can solve a problem such as this surely the time is not ripe for us to attempt still more ambitious imperialistic schemes.

Still another aspect of Britain's problem is the determination of her proper policy towards the United States, the country which is now her most formidable political and economic rival. The writer has conversed with intelligent Americans who were apparently obsessed with the idea that Britain had for centuries compassed the ruin of her rivals by forming hostile coalitions against them. Thus she had disposed of Holland, France and Germany, and thus she would now set about to eliminate her latest rival, the United States. Therefore the latter must be eternally vigilant about her defenses, particularly at sea.

To any sane Britisher such a policy on Britain's part would be the sheerest folly, and for Americans to apprehend its adoption by Britain is nothing but a panicky obsession. Consider the circumstances. For Britain to provoke a naval rivalry by machinations against the United States would be suicidal for her, for there is no doubt that the United States has now developed to the point where her resources would permit her to outbuild Great Britain. More than that, to the north of the United States lies Canada. Her population is only 9,000,000 as compared with the 120,000,000 of her great neighbor. There are 3,000 miles of unfortified frontier and all the big Canadian centres of population lie within easy striking distance of the border. In case of war with the United States Canada's strategic position would be a hopeless one. She is practically a hostage in American hands. Can any one conceive a British statesman following such a witless policy as one of deliberately planned aggression against the United States? So far as I know no one has ever advocated or thought of such a course. On the contrary, there have been those who have proposed an Anglo-American alliance. This, however, is only to jump to the other extreme. It is an impracticable policy, for all the non-British and all the anti-British elements in the United States would be so opposed to it that no American government could carry it out. For Britain's part, it would be a very dubious policy for it would be apt to assume in the eyes of her colored subjects and the Japanese the aspect of a white alliance against the colored races, while European powers would regard it with an apprehension and hostility which might easily take the form of a counter-coalition. Neither of these eventualities would be to the advantage of Great Britain.

For her the sound policy would seem to lie in between these two extremes. It should be one that assumes that there never will be another war between the English-speaking nations. Britain should refuse to be drawn into machinations against or into naval or military competition with the United States, and should place her trust in the long mutual tradition of the amicable settlement of disputes, a tradition longer and stronger between Britain and the United States than between any other powers. No opportunity should be lost, consistent with national dignity and self-respect, to dispel the misunderstandings and animosities of the past and to create an atmosphere of friendliness and good will for the future. In this way the two countries can be drawn together most powerfully for the peace and welfare of the world.

One other aspect of our topic remains to be treated. There has been in existence since 1919 a new factor in world affairs in the shape of a League of Nations. The different states of the world have had to consider the question of their policy towards it. What should Britain's be?

At first glance it might appear that the League of Nations is an organization which must have a subversive effect on the British Empire. Nations and empires are usually cemented into unity by external pressure. Canada, in so far as she is a nation, has been created in no small degree by the pressure of the United States. The United States were largely created by the pressure of Britain's colonial system. Modern Japan is the product of the aggression of western powers. Examples need not be multiplied. May it not be conjectured, then, that just in so far as the League of Nations succeeds in changing international society from its ancient predatory state into a peaceful and law-observing one, the different parts of the British Empire will less than ever feel any need for each other and the Commonwealth will thus gradually dissolve into the larger body? Is the League of Nations a solvent for the British Empire? A little reflection will, I think, show that such a result by no means necessarily follows.

At the end of the Victorian age Britain was in such a powerful position that a policy of "splendid isolation" was still feasible. The German threat soon made it no longer so, and Britain was drawn into ententes and alliances. Today with her sea supremacy gone, her natural frontier -- the Channel -- no longer valid, with her dependence accentuated on raw materials and markets in all parts of the world, Britain can no longer follow such a policy. She cannot refrain as of old from previous commitments and keep her hands free to deal with each situation as it arises. She must take time by the forelock and enter into a regular system of commitments and relationships with other Powers. This Locarno has abundantly shown.

Fortunately, just at the moment when her growing dependence makes it necessary for Britain permanently to abandon her "splendid isolation" it has been made safer for her to do so by the fact that international relationships have been transferred, partly at least, to a new plane. In the old days the leading powers of the world were partly autocratic and partly democratic. This made for distrust and friction, and international arrangements tended too much to be hostile arrangements with one group against another on the old principle of the balance of power. As a result of the Great War, however, the democratically organized states have gained such a marked preponderance that it has become possible to an unprecedented degree for international relationships to develop upon the opposite principles of friendship, coöperation and the common good.

It is for these principles that the League of Nations stands. Its supreme interest is the maintenance of the peace of the world, for it is recognized that modern science has rendered war so all-destructive that only by its elimination can civilization itself be preserved. More than that, the League aims to promote the utmost international coöperation in such matters as health, labor conditions, communications, intellectual activities -- the very things which are vital to the future progress of civilization.

Now in many ways the League of Nations is simply an embodiment of the principles for which the British Empire has stood and stands. What is the Empire but a society of nations linked together that each may the better make its distinctive contribution to the evolving civilization of the world? In the imperial conferences we forecasted the method of consultation and coöperation which the League of Nations was to adopt and to develop. Is not the Pax Britannica simply a peace enjoyed by one-quarter of the human race, the like of which the League wishes to extend to all the world? Is not the mandate system with supervision by the League simply a variant of that idea of trusteeship in the government of backward peoples of which the British Empire has long been the pioneer? The League's principle that mandated territories shall be given control of their own affairs when they are capable of assuming it is again only the application of the British principle of responsible government. As for the "open door" economically in mandated regions, that was long Britain's policy towards her crown colonies, and still is mainly so. And as to the "freedom of the seas" which nations seek through the League, did not Britain vindicate that principle against Spain and Portugal in the 16th century and has she not observed it scrupulously in the century and more of her unquestioned supremacy since Trafalgar?

If the League and the Empire embody many common principles and use many common methods they likewise have many common problems. The chief concern of the League is to preserve the peace of the world, but to whose interests is this more vital than to those of Britain? No state economically is so dependent as she on peace and order in the outside world, none has given so many hostages to fortune. The League seeks to lessen the burden of armaments. To Britain, strained by the Great War and subjected on many sides to an increasingly severe economic competition, this should be a welcome policy. Britain is dependent on foreign supplies of food and raw materials. But she is not alone in this. Japan, Italy, Germany, are dependent only in somewhat less degree -- indeed in some respects they are more dependent, for they are "proletarian" nations lacking colonial empires such as Britain and France possess. The League of Nations seeks to make progress towards the solution of this international economic problem by economic conferences and in other ways, so that among the nations there may be established a live-and-let-live policy. Surely this is in line with Britain's long-cherished Cobdenite economic principles. The League seeks everywhere to facilitate means of transit and communication. No power stands to gain more by this than a world-wide Empire with a world-wide trade. Thinking men say that racial and nationalist antagonisms are two of the chief dangers to the future peace of the world, and both these problems the League must study and attempt to solve. With both these problems, too, the British Empire is concerned for they are reefs upon which it may well founder.

Indeed, it follows from the way in which the British Empire interpenetrates the world that its problems are, on a somewhat smaller scale, just those world problems with which the League of Nations must contend. Any solution of them which the League may be able to achieve must redound to the advantage of the Empire, while in many ways the Empire may be able to reveal fruitful lines of action for the League to follow. Here, then, we have a relationship not fatal to one party but healthful to both. By sharing with her Dominions in the most active and whole-hearted participation in the League of Nations Britain will not extinguish her Empire but will further strengthen and vitalize its fibre and will assure for herself, her Dominions and dependencies a maximum of prosperity, stability and strength. Still more, by so doing she will attain in the world a moral prestige and leadership such as no mere preëminence in wealth and power like that of the Victorian Age could give.

Browse Related Articles on {{}}

{{ | number}} Articles Found

  • {{bucket.key_as_string}}