The Permanent Bases of British Foreign Policy

Courtesy Reuters

NOTHING in foreign comment on British policy surprises an Englishman more than the frequent attribution to British statesmen of all parties and in all times of an almost machiavellian subtlety in the design and an unalterable persistence in the execution of their plans. Such a picture of ourselves seems to us to lack even the resemblance of a caricature to the original, and to attribute to the conduct of our foreign relations the one characteristic which whether for good or evil it most conspicuously lacks. Yet the charge is constantly made -- sometimes as a reproach, sometimes with admiration and almost with envy -- and as certainly believed. What is the explanation and wherein lies the truth?

Both are perhaps to be found in a characteristic of British psychology. The German is by nature a systematizer. He excels in organization. He likes to see where he is going, to foresee as far as may be the accidents of the route and to be assured of good accommodation at the end of his journey. "According to plan." How often did not the phrase recur during the war in German bulletins? "The plan" was at once their security and their danger -- often their most efficient instrument but sometimes their master. The Englishman on the other hand finds such systematic planning irksome and uncongenial. He submits himself to it with reluctance even when circumstances impose it on him and, even while submitting, he distrusts the process in which he is engaged, doubts his power to pierce the mists of the future, and secretly relies on his capacity to meet emergencies as they arise. In difficult times there is no more common ending to a political discussion between Englishmen than the phrase: "Well, I suppose we shall muddle through somehow." It could never occur to a German or a Frenchman to seek consolation in such a reflection.

The difference is indeed as marked between the mental processes of Englishmen and Frenchmen, and here the

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