The Expansion of Europe Part 4
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They must be made to feel their responsibility for the working of the laws which they adopted, and for the welfare of the whole community. As for the conflict of races, its only cure was that both should be made to feel their common responsibility for the destinies of the community in which both must remain partners.
Lord Durham's recommendations were fully carried into effect, partly in the Canada Act of 1840, but more especially by a simple instruction issued to governors, that their ministries must henceforward be chosen, in the British fas.h.i.+on, on the ground that they commanded the support of a majority in the elected house; and that the governors themselves must be guided by their advice. A crucial test of this new policy came in 1849, when the ministers and the parliamentary majority proposed to vote compensation for property destroyed in 1837. This to many seemed compensation for rebels, and the indignant loyalists were urgent that the governor, Lord Elgin, should veto it. He firmly declined to do so; and thus gave an invaluable lesson to both parties. The Canadian people, acting through their representatives, were now responsible for their actions. If they chose to vote for irresponsible and dangerous devices, they must henceforward realise that they must themselves answer for the consequences.
Thus, within a few years of the outbreak of rebellion in two provinces, full power had been entrusted to the rebels themselves. It was a daring policy, only to be justified by a very confident belief in the virtues of self-government. But it was completely and triumphantly successful.
Henceforward friction between the Canadian colonies and the mother-country ceased: if there were grounds for complaint in the state of Canadian affairs, the Canadians must now blame their own ministers, and the remedy lay in their own hands. And what was the outcome? Twenty years later the various colonies, once as full of mutual jealousies as the American colonies had been before 1775, began to discuss the possibility of federation. With the cordial approval and co-operation of the home government, they drew up a scheme for the formation of a united Dominion of Canada, including distant British Columbia and the coastal colonies of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island; and the adoption of this scheme, in 1867, turned Canada from a bundle of separate settlements into a great state. To this state the home government later made over the control of all the vast and rich lands of the North-West, and so the destinies of half a continent pa.s.sed under its direction. It was a charge, the magnitude and challenge of which could not but bring forth all that there was of statesmans.h.i.+p among the Canadian people; and it has not failed to do so.
One feature of Canadian const.i.tutional development remains to be noted.
It might have been expected that the Canadians would have been tempted to follow the political model of their great neighbour the United States; and if their development had been the outcome of friction with the mother-country, no doubt they would have done so. But they preferred to follow the British model. The keynote of the American system is division of power: division between the federal government and the state governments, which form mutual checks upon one another; division between the executive and the legislature, which are independent of one another at once in the states and in the federal government, both being directly elected by popular vote. The keynote of the British system is concentration of responsibility by the subordination of the executive to the legislature. The Canadians adopted the British principle: what had formerly been distinct colonies became, not 'states' but 'provinces,' definitely subordinated to the supreme central government; and whether in the federal or in the provincial system, the control of government by the representative body was finally established. This concord with the British system is a fact of real import. It means that the political usages of the home-country and the great Dominion are so closely a.s.similated that political co-operation between them is far easier than it otherwise might be; it increases the possibility of a future link more intimate than that of mere co-operation.
Not less whole-hearted or generous than the treatment of the problems of Canadian government was the treatment of the same problem in Australia. Here, as a matter of course, all the colonies had been endowed, at the earliest possible date, with the familiar system of representative but not responsible government. No such acute friction as had occurred in Canada had yet shown itself, though signs of its development were not lacking. But in 1852 an astonis.h.i.+ng step was taken by the British parliament: the various Australian colonies were empowered to elect single-chamber const.i.tuent a.s.semblies to decide the forms of government under which they wished to live. They decided in every case to reproduce as nearly as possible the British system: legislatures of two chambers, with ministries responsible to them.
Thus, in Australia as in Canada, the daughter-peoples were made to feel the community of their inst.i.tutions with those of the mother-country, and the possibility of intimate and easy co-operation was increased.
Two years later, in 1854, New Zealand was endowed with the same system.
Among all the British realms in which the white man was predominant, only South Africa was as yet excluded from this remarkable development.
The reasons for this exclusion we have already noted: its consequences will occupy our attention in later pages.
Very manifestly the empire which was developing on such lines was not an empire in the old sense--a dominion imposed by force upon unwilling subjects. That old word, which has been used in so many senses, was being given a wholly new connotation. It was being made to mean a free partners.h.i.+p of self-governing peoples, held together not by force, but in part by common interests, and in a still higher degree by common sentiment and the possession of the same inst.i.tutions of liberty.
In the fullest sense, however, this new conception of empire applied only to the group of the great self-governing colonies. There were many other regions, even before 1878, included within the British Empire, though as yet it had not incorporated those vast protectorates over regions peopled by backward races which have been added during the last generation. There were tropical settlements like British Honduras, British Guiana, Sierra Leone, and Cape Coast Castle; there were many West Indian Islands, and scattered possessions like Mauritius and Hong-Kong and Singapore and the Straits Settlements; there were garrison towns or coaling-stations like Gibraltar, Malta, Aden, St.
Helena. To none of these were the inst.i.tutions of full responsible self-government granted. Some of them possessed representative inst.i.tutions without responsible ministries; in others the governor was a.s.sisted by a nominated council, intended to express local opinion, but not elected by the inhabitants; in yet others the governor ruled autocratically. But in all these cases the ultimate control of policy was retained by the home government. And in this general category, as yet, the South African colonies were included. Why were these distinctions drawn? Why did the generation of British statesmen, who had dealt so generously with the demand for self-government in Canada and Australia, stop short and refuse to carry out their principles in these other cases?
It is characteristic of British politics that they are never merely or fully logical, and that even when political doctrines seem to enjoy the most complete ascendancy, they are never put into effect without qualifications or exceptions. The exceptions already named to the establishment of full self-government were due to many and varying causes. In the first place, there was in most of these cases no effective demand for full self-government; and it may safely be a.s.serted that any community in which there is no demand for self-governing inst.i.tutions is probably not in a condition to work them with effect. Some of these possessions were purely military posts, like Gibraltar and Aden, and were necessarily administered as such. Others were too small and weak to dream of a.s.suming the full privileges. But in the majority of cases one outstanding common feature will appear on closer a.n.a.lysis. Nearly all these territories were tropical or semi-tropical lands, whose British inhabitants were not permanent settlers, but were present solely for the purposes of trade or other exploitation, while the bulk of the population consisted of backward peoples, whose traditions and civilisation rendered their effective partic.i.p.ation in public affairs quite impracticable. In such cases, to have given full political power to the small and generally s.h.i.+fting minority of white men would have been to give scope to many evils; and to have enfranchised, on a mere theory, the ma.s.s of the population would have been to produce still worse results. It would have sentenced these communities to the sort of fate which has befallen the beautiful island of Hayti, where the self-government of a population of emanc.i.p.ated negro slaves has brought nothing but anarchy and degradation. In such conditions the steady Reign of Law is the greatest boon that can be given to white settlers and coloured subjects alike; and the final authority is rightly retained by the home government, inspired, as British opinion has long required that it should be, by the principle that the rights of the backward peoples must be safeguarded. Under this system, both law and a real degree of liberty are made possible; whereas under a doctrinaire application of the theory of self-government, both would vanish.
But there remains the vast dominion of India, which falls neither into the one category nor into the other. Though there are many primitive and backward elements among its vast population, there are also peoples and castes whose members are intellectually capable of meeting on equal terms the members of any of the ruling races of the West. Yet during this age, when self-government on the amplest scale was being extended to the chief regions of the British Empire, India, the greatest dominion of them all, did not obtain the gift of representative inst.i.tutions even on the most modest scale. Why was this?
It was not because the ruling race was hostile to the idea, or desired merely to retain its own ascendancy. On the contrary, both in Britain and among the best of the British administrators in India, it was increasingly held that the only ultimate justification for the British power in India would be that under its guidance the Indian peoples should be gradually enabled to govern themselves. As early as 1824, when in Europe sheer reaction was at its height, this view was being strongly urged by one of the greatest of Anglo-Indian administrators, Sir Thomas Munro, a soldier of distinction, then serving as governor of Madras. 'We should look upon India,' he wrote, 'not as a temporary possession, but as one which is to be maintained permanently, until the natives shall have abandoned most of their superst.i.tions and prejudices, and become sufficiently enlightened to frame a regular government for themselves, and to conduct and preserve it. Whenever such a time shall arrive, it will probably be best for both countries that the British control over India should be gradually withdrawn. That the desirable change contemplated may in some after age be effected in India, there is no cause to despair. Such a change was at one time in Britain itself at least as hopeless as it is here. When we reflect how much the character of nations has always been influenced by that of governments, and that some, once the most cultivated, have sunk into barbarism, while others, formerly the rudest, have attained the highest point of civilisation, we shall see no reason to doubt that if we pursue steadily the proper measures, we shall in time so far improve the character of our Indian subjects as to make them able to govern and protect themselves.'
In other words, self-government was the desirable end to be pursued in India as elsewhere; but in India there were many and grave obstacles to its efficient working, which could only slowly be overcome. In the first place, India is more deeply divided in race, language, and religion than any other region of the world. Nowhere else is there such a medley of peoples of every grade of development, from the almost savage Bhil to the cultivated and high-bred Brahmin or Rajput or Mahomedan chief. There are sharp regional differences, as great as those between the European countries; but cutting across these there are everywhere the rigid and impermeable distinctions of caste, which have no parallel anywhere else in the world. The experience of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, whose confusion of races is simplicity itself in comparison with the chaos of India, affords a significant demonstration of the fact that parliamentary inst.i.tutions, if they are established among deeply divided peoples, must almost inevitably be exploited for the purpose of racial ascendancy by the most vigorous or the best-organised elements among the people; and a very ugly tyranny is apt to result, as it has resulted in Austro-Hungary. This consequence would almost certainly follow the establishment of a full representative system in India. In the cities of mediaeval Italy, when the conflict of parties became so acute that neither side could expect justice from the other, the practice grew up of electing a podesta from some foreign city to act as an impartial arbiter. The British power in India has played the part of a podesta in restraining and mediating between the conflicting peoples and religions of India.
But again (and this is even more fundamental), for thousands of years the history of India has been one long story of conquests and tyrannies by successive ruling races. Always Might has been Right, so that the lover of righteousness could only pursue it, like the mediaeval ascetic, by cutting himself off from the world, abjuring all social ties, and immolating the flesh in order to live by the spirit. Always Law had been, in the last resort, the Will of the Stronger, not the decree of impartial justice. Always the master-races, the predatory bands, the ruling castes, had expected to receive, and the ma.s.s of the people had been accustomed to give, the most abject submission; and these habits were difficult to overcome. 'In England,' says Sir Thomas Munro, 'the people resist oppression, and it is their spirit which gives efficacy to the law: in India the people rarely resist oppression, and the law intended to secure them from it can therefore derive no aid from themselves. ... It is in vain to caution them against paying by telling them that the law is on their side, and will support them in refusing to comply with unauthorised demands. All exhortations on this head are thrown away, and after listening to them they will the very next day submit to extortion as quietly as before.'
How could representative inst.i.tutions be expected to work under such conditions? They would have lacked the very foundation upon which alone they can firmly rest: respect for law, and public co-operation in the enforcement of it. Thus the supreme service which the government of India could render to its people was the establishment and maintenance of the Reign of Law, and of the liberty which it shelters. In such conditions representative government would be liable to bring, not liberty, but anarchy and the renewal of lawless oppression.
But although the extension of the representative system to India neither was nor could be attempted in this age, very remarkable advances were made towards turning India in a real sense into a self-governing country. It ceased to be regarded or treated as a subject dominion existing solely for the advantage of its conquerors.
That had always been its fate in all the long centuries of its history; and in the first period of British rule the trading company which had acquired this amazing empire had naturally regarded it as primarily a source of profit. In 1833 the company was forbidden to engage in trade, and the profit-making motive disappeared. The shareholders still continued to receive a fixed dividend out of the Indian revenues, but this may be compared to a fixed debt-charge, an annual payment for capital expended in the past; and it came to an end when the company was abolished in 1858. Apart from this dividend, no sort of tribute was exacted from India by the ruling power. India was not even required to contribute to the upkeep of the navy, which protected her equally with the rest of the Empire, or of the diplomatic service, which was often concerned with her interests. She paid for the small army which guarded her frontiers; but if any part of it was borrowed for service abroad, its whole pay and charges were met by Britain. She paid the salaries and pensions of the handful of British administrators who conducted her government, but this was a very small charge in comparison with the lavish outlay of the native princes whom they had replaced. India had become a self-contained state, whose whole resources were expended exclusively upon her own needs, and expended with the most scrupulous honesty, and under the most elaborate safeguards.
They were expended, moreover, especially during the later part of this period, largely in equipping her with the material apparatus of modern civilisation. Efficient police, great roads, a postal service cheaper than that of any other country, a well-planned railway system, and, above all, a gigantic system of irrigation which brought under cultivation vast regions. .h.i.therto desert--these were some of the boons acquired by India during the period. They were rendered possible partly by the economical management of her finances, partly by the liberal expenditure of British capital. Above all, the period saw the beginning of a system of popular education, of which the English language became the main vehicle, because none of the thirty-eight recognised vernacular tongues of India either possessed the necessary literature, or could be used as a medium for instruction in modern science. In 1858 three universities were established; and although their system was ill-devised, under the malign influence of the a.n.a.logy of London University, a very large and increasing number of young graduates, trained for modern occupations, began to filter into Indian society, and to modify its point of view. All speaking and writing English, and all trained in much the same body of ideas, they possessed a similarity of outlook and a vehicle of communication such as had never before linked together the various races and castes of India. This large and growing cla.s.s, educated in some measure in the learning of the West, formed already, at the end of the period, a very important new element in the life of India. They were capable of criticising the work of their government; they were not without standards of comparison by which to measure its achievements; and, aided by the large freedom granted to the press under the British system, they were able to begin the creation of an intelligent public opinion, which was apt, in its first movements, to be ill-guided and rash, but which was nevertheless a healthy development. That this newly created cla.s.s of educated men should produce a continual stream of criticism, and that it should even stimulate into existence public discontents, is by no means a condemnation of the system of government which has made these developments possible. On the contrary, it is a proof that the system has had an invigorating effect. For the existence and the expression of discontent is a sign of life; it means that there is an end of that utter docility which marks a people enslaved body and soul. India has never been more prosperous than she is to-day; she has never before known so impartial a system of justice as she now possesses; and these are legitimate grounds of pride to her rulers. But they may even more justly pride themselves upon the fact that in all her history India has never been so frankly and incessantly critical of her government as she is to-day; never so bold in the aspirations for the future which her sons entertain.
The creation of the new cla.s.s of Western-educated Indians also facilitated another development which the British government definitely aimed at encouraging: the partic.i.p.ation of Indians in the conduct of administration in their own land. The Act of 1833 had laid it down as a fundamental principle that 'no native of the said territories ... shall by reason only of his religion, place of birth, descent, or any of them, be disabled from holding any place, office, or employment.' The great majority of the minor administrative posts had always been held by Indians; but until 1833 it had been held that the maintenance of British supremacy required that the higher offices should be reserved to members of the ruling race. This restriction was now abolished; but it was not until the development of the educational system had produced a body of sufficiently trained men that the new principle could produce appreciable results; and even then, the deficiencies of an undeveloped system of training, combined with the racial and religious jealousies which the government of India must always keep in mind, imposed limitations upon the rapid increase of the number of Indians holding the higher posts. Still, the principle had been laid down, and was being acted upon. And that also const.i.tuted a great step towards self-government.
India in 1878 was governed, under the terms of a code of law based upon Indian custom, by a small body of British officials, among whom leading Indians were gradually taking their place, and who worked in detail through an army of minor officials, nearly all of Indian birth, and selected without regard to race or creed. She was a self-contained country whose whole resources were devoted to her own needs. She was prospering to a degree unexampled in her history; she had achieved a political unity never before known to her; she had been given the supreme boon of a just and impartial law, administered without fear or favour; and she had enjoyed a long period of peace, unbroken by any attack from external foes. Here also, as fully as in the self-governing colonies, members.h.i.+p of the British Empire did not mean subjection to the selfish dominion of a master, or the subordination to that master's interests of the vital interests of the community. It meant the establishment among a vast population of the essential gifts of Western civilisation, rational law, and the liberty which exists under its shelter. Empire had come to mean, not merely domination pursued for its own sake, but trustees.h.i.+p for the extension of civilisation.
The period of practical British monopoly, 1815-1878, had thus brought about a very remarkable transformation in the character of the British Empire. It had greatly increased in extent, and by every test of area, population, and natural resources, it was beyond comparison the greatest power that had ever existed in the world. But its organisation was of an extreme laxity; it possessed no real common government; and its princ.i.p.al members were united rather by a community of inst.i.tutions and ideas than by any formal ties. Moreover, it presented a more amazing diversity of racial types, of religions, and of grades of civilisation, than any other political fabric which had existed in history. Its development had a.s.suredly brought about a very great expansion of the ideas of Western civilisation over the face of the globe, and, above all, a remarkable diffusion of the inst.i.tutions of political liberty. But it remained to be proved whether this loosely compacted bundle of states possessed any real unity, or would be capable of standing any severe strain. The majority of observers, both in Britain itself and throughout the world, would have been inclined, in 1878, to give a negative answer to these questions.
THE ERA OF THE WORLD-STATES, 1878-1900
The Congress of Berlin in 1878 marks the close of the era of nationalist revolutions and wars in Europe. By the same date all the European states had attained to a certain stability in their const.i.tutional systems. With equal definiteness this year may be said to mark the opening of a new era in the history of European imperialism; an era of eager compet.i.tion for the control of the still unoccupied regions of the world, in which the concerns of remote lands suddenly became matters of supreme moment to the great European powers, and the peace of the world was endangered by questions arising in China or Siam, in Morocco or the Soudan, or the islands of the Pacific. The control of Europe over the non-European world was in a single generation completed and confirmed. And the most important of the many questions raised by this development was the question whether the spirit in which this world-supremacy of Europe was to be wielded should be the spirit which long experience had inspired in the oldest of the colonising nations, the spirit of trustees.h.i.+p on behalf of civilisation; or whether it was to be the old, brutal, and sterile spirit of mere domination for its own sake.
On a superficial view the most obvious feature of this strenuous period was that all the remaining unexploited regions of the world were either annexed by one or other of the great Western states, or were driven to adopt, with greater or less success, the modes of organisation of the West. But what was far more important than any new demarcation of the map was that not only the newly annexed lands, but also the half-developed territories of earlier European dominions, were with an extraordinary devouring energy penetrated during this generation by European traders and administrators, equipped with railways, steam-boats, and all the material apparatus of modern life, and in general organised and exploited for the purposes of industry and trade.
This astonis.h.i.+ng achievement was almost as thorough as it was swift.
And its result was, not merely that the political control of Europe over the backward regions of the world was strengthened and secured by these means, but that the whole world was turned into a single economic and political unit, no part of which could henceforth dwell in isolation. This might have meant that we should have been brought nearer to some sort of world-order; but unhappily the spirit in which the great work was undertaken by some, at least, of the nations which partic.i.p.ated in it has turned this wonderful achievement into a source of bitterness and enmity, and led the world in the end to the tragedy and agony of the Great War.
The causes of this gigantic outpouring of energy were manifold. The main impelling forces were perhaps economic rather than political. But the economic needs of this strenuous age might have been satisfied without resort to the brutal arbitrament of war: their satisfaction might even have been made the means of diminis.h.i.+ng the danger of war.
It was the interpretation of these economic needs in terms of an unhappy political theory which has led to the final catastrophe.
On a broad view, the final conquest of the world by European civilisation was made possible, and indeed inevitable, by the amazing development of the material aspects of that civilisation during the nineteenth century; by the progressive command over the forces of nature which the advance of science had placed in the hands of man, by the application of science to industry in the development of manufacturing methods and of new modes of communication, and by the intricate and flexible organisation of modern finance. These changes were already in progress before 1878, and were already transforming the face of the world. Since 1878 they have gone forward with such accelerating speed that we have been unable to appreciate the significance of the revolution they were effecting. We have been carried off our feet; and have found it impossible to adjust our moral and political ideas to the new conditions.
The great material achievements of the last two generations have been mainly due to an intense concentration and specialisation of functions among both men of thought and men of action. But the result of this has been that there have been few to attempt the vitally important task of appreciating the movement of our civilisation as a whole, and of endeavouring to determine how far the political conceptions inherited from an earlier age were valid in the new conditions. For under the pressure of the great transformation political forces also have been transformed, and in all countries political thought is baffled and bewildered by the complexity of the problems by which it is faced. To this in part we owe the dimness of vision which overtook us as we went whirling together towards the great catastrophe. It is only in the glare of a world-conflagration that we begin to perceive, in something like their true proportions, the great forces and events which have been shaping our destinies. In the future, if the huge soulless mechanism which man has created is not to get out of hand and destroy him, we must abandon that contempt for the philosopher and the political thinker which we have latterly been too ready to express, and we must recognise that the task of a.n.a.lysing and relating to one another the achievements of the past and the problems of the present is at least as important as the increase of our knowledge and of our dangerous powers by intense and narrow concentration within very limited fields of thought and work.
In the meantime we must observe (however briefly and inadequately), how the dazzling advances of science and industry have affected the conquest of the world by European civilisation, and why it has come about that instead of leading to amity and happiness, they have brought us to the most hideous catastrophe in human history.
Science and industry, in the first place, made the conquest and organisation of the world easy. In the first stages of the expansion of Europe the material superiority of the West had unquestionably afforded the means whereby its political ideas and inst.i.tutions could be made operative in new fields. The invention of ocean-going s.h.i.+ps, the use of the mariner's compa.s.s, the discovery of the rotundity of the earth, the development of firearms--these were the things which made possible the creation of the first European empires; though these purely material advantages could have led to no stable results unless they had been wielded by peoples possessing a real political capacity. In the same way the brilliant triumphs of modern engineering have alone rendered possible the rapid conquest and organisation of huge undeveloped areas; the deadly precision of Western weapons has made the Western peoples irresistible; the wonderful progress of medical science has largely overcome the barriers of disease which long excluded the white man from great regions of the earth; and the methods of modern finance, organising and making available the combined credit of whole communities, have provided the means for vast enterprises which without them could never have been undertaken.
Then, in the next place, science has found uses for many commodities which were previously of little value, and many of which are mainly produced in the undeveloped regions of the earth. Some of these, like rubber, or nitrates, or mineral and vegetable oils, have rapidly become quite indispensable materials, consumed by the industrial countries on an immense scale. Accordingly, the more highly industrialised a country is, the more dependent it must be upon supplies drawn from all parts of the world; not only supplies of food for the maintenance of its teeming population, but, even more, supplies of material for its industries.
The days when Europe, or even America, was self-sufficient are gone for ever. And in order that these essential supplies may be available, it has become necessary that all the regions which produce them should be brought under efficient administration. The anarchy of primitive barbarism cannot be allowed to stand in the way of access to these vital necessities of the new world-economy. It is merely futile for well-meaning sentimentalists to talk of the wickedness of invading the inalienable rights of the primitive occupants of these lands: for good or for ill, the world has become a single economic unit, and its progress cannot be stopped out of consideration for the time-honoured usages of uncivilised and backward tribes. Of course it is our duty to ensure that these simple folks are justly treated, led gently into civilisation, and protected from the iniquities of a mere ruthless exploitation, such as, in some regions, we have been compelled to witness. But Western civilisation has seized the reins of the world, and it will not be denied. Its economic needs drive it to undertake the organisation of the whole world. What we have to secure is that its political principles shall be such as will ensure that its control will be a benefit to its subjects as well as to itself. But the development of scientific industry has made European control and civilised administration inevitable throughout the world.
It did not, however, necessarily follow from these premises that the great European states which did not already possess extra-European territories were bound to acquire such lands. So far as their purely economic needs were concerned, it would have been enough that they should have freedom of access, on equal terms with their neighbours, to the sources of the supplies they required. It is quite possible, as events have shown, for a European state to attain very great success in the industrial sphere without possessing any political control over the lands from which its raw materials are drawn, or to which its finished products are sold. Norway has created an immense s.h.i.+pping industry without owning a single port outside her own borders. The manufactures of Switzerland are as thriving as these of any European country, though Switzerland does not possess any colonies. Germany herself, the loudest advocate of the necessity of political control as the basis of economic prosperity, has found it possible to create a vast and very prosperous industry, though her colonial possessions have been small, and have contributed scarcely at all to her wealth. Her merchants and capitalists have indeed found the most profitable fields for their enterprises, not in their own colonies, which they have on the whole tended to neglect, but in a far greater degree in South and Central America, and in India and the other vast territories of the British Empire, which have been open to them as freely as to British merchants.
All that the prosperity of European industry required was that the sources of supply should be under efficient administration, and that access to them should be open. And these conditions were fulfilled, before the great rush began, over the greater part of the earth. If in 1878, when the European nations suddenly awoke to the importance of the non-European world, they had been able to agree upon some simple principle which would have secured equal treatment to all, how different would have been the fate of Europe and the world! If it could have been laid down, as a principle of international law, that in every area whose administration was undertaken by a European state, the 'open door' should be secured for the trade of all nations equally, and that this rule should continue in force until the area concerned acquired the status of a distinctly organised state controlling its own fiscal system, the industrial communities would have felt secure, the little states quite as fully as the big states. Moreover, since, under these conditions, the annexation of territory by a European state would not have threatened the creation of a monopoly, but would have meant the a.s.sumption of a duty on behalf of civilisation, the acrimonies and jealousies which have attended the process of part.i.tion would have been largely conjured away. In 1878 such a solution would have presented few difficulties. For at that date the only European state which controlled large undeveloped areas was Britain; and Britain, as we have seen, had on her own account arrived at this solution, and had administered, as she still administers, all those regions of her Empire which do not possess self-governing rights in the spirit of the principle we have suggested.
Why was it that this solution, or some solution on these lines, was not then adopted, and had no chance of being adopted? It was because the European states, and first and foremost among them Germany, were still dominated by a political theory which forbade their taking such a view.
We may call this theory the Doctrine of Power. It is the doctrine that the highest duty of every state is to aim at the extension of its own power, and that before this duty every other consideration must give way. The Doctrine of Power has never received a more unflinching expression than it received from the German Treitschke, whose influence was at its height during the years of the great rush for extra-European possessions. The advocate of the Doctrine of Power is not, and cannot be, satisfied with equality of opportunity; he demands supremacy, he demands monopoly, he demands the means to injure and destroy his rivals. It would not be just to say that this doctrine was influential only in Germany; it was in some degree potent everywhere, especially in this period, which was the period par excellence of 'imperialism' in the bad sense of the term. But it is certainly true that no state has ever been so completely dominated by it as Germany; and no state less than Britain. It was in the light of this doctrine that the demands of the new scientific industry were interpreted. Hag-ridden by this conception, when the statesmen of Europe awoke to the importance of the non-European world, it was not primarily the economic needs of their countries that they thought of, for these were, on the whole, not inadequately met: what struck their imagination was that, in paying no attention to the outer world, they had missed great opportunities of increasing their power. This oversight, they resolved, must be rectified before it was too late.
For when the peoples of Western and Central Europe, no longer engrossed by the problems of Nationalism and Liberalism, cast their eyes over the world, lo! the scale of things seemed to have changed. Just as, in the fifteenth century, civilisation had suddenly pa.s.sed from the stage of the city-state or the feudal princ.i.p.ality to the stage of the great nation-state, so now, while the European peoples were still struggling to realise their nationhood, civilisation seemed to have stolen a march upon them, and to have advanced once more, this time into the stage of the world-state. For to the east of the European nations lay the vast Russian Empire, stretching from Central Europe across Asia to the Pacific; and in the west the American Republic extended from ocean to ocean, across three thousand miles of territory; and between these and around them spread the British Empire, sprawling over the whole face of the globe, on every sea and in every continent. In contrast with these giant empires, the nation-states of Europe felt themselves out of scale, just as the Italian cities in the sixteenth century must have felt themselves out of scale in comparison with the new nation-states of Spain and France. To achieve the standard of the world-state, to make their own nations the controlling factors in wide dominions which should include territories and populations of varied types, became the ambition of the most powerful European states. A new political ideal had captivated the mind of Europe.
These powerful motives were reinforced by others which arose from the development of affairs within Europe itself. In the first place, the leading European states had by 1878 definitely abandoned that tendency towards free trade which had seemed to be increasing in strength during the previous generation; and, largely in the hope of combating the overwhelming mercantile and industrial supremacy of Britain, had adopted the fiscal policy of protection. The ideal of the protectionist creed is national self-sufficiency in the economic sphere. But, as we have seen, economic self-sufficiency was no longer attainable in the conditions of modern industry by any European state. Only by large foreign annexations, especially in the tropical regions, did it seem possible of achievement. But when a protectionist state begins to acquire territory, the antic.i.p.ation that it will use its power to exclude or destroy the trade of its rivals must drive other states to safeguard themselves by still further annexations. It was, indeed, this fear which mainly drove Britain, in spite of, or perhaps because of, her free trade theories, into a series of large annexations in regions where her trade had been hitherto predominant.
Again, the most perturbing feature of the relations between the European powers also contributed to produce an eagerness for colonial possessions. Europe had entered upon the era of huge national armies; the example of Prussia, and the rancours which had been created by her policy, had set all the nations arming themselves. They had learned to measure their strength by their available man-power, and in two ways the desire to increase the reserve of military manhood formed a motive for colonisation. In the first place, the surplus manhood of a nation was lost to it if it was allowed to pa.s.s under an alien flag by emigration. Those continental states from which emigration took place on a large scale began to aspire after the possession of colonies of their own, where their emigrants could still be kept under control, and remain subject to the obligations of service. Germany, the state which beyond all others measures its strength by its fighting man-power, was most affected by this motive, which formed the chief theme of the colonial school among her politicians and journalists, and continued to be so even when the stream of her emigrants had dwindled to very small proportions. In a less degree, Italy was influenced by the same motive.
In the second place, conquered subjects even of backward races might be made useful for the purposes of war. This motive appealed most strongly to France. Her home population was stationary. She lived in constant dread of a new onslaught from her formidable neighbour; and she watched with alarm the rapid increase of that neighbour's population, and the incessant increases in the numbers of his armies. At a later date Germany also began to be attracted by the possibility of drilling and arming, among the negroes of Central Africa, or the Turks of Asia Minor, forces which might aid her to dominate the world.
Thus the political situation in Europe had a very direct influence upon the colonising activity of this period. The dominant fact of European politics during this generation was the supreme prestige and influence of Germany, who, not content with an unquestioned military superiority to any other power, had b.u.t.tressed herself by the formation (1879 and 1882) of the most formidable standing alliance that has ever existed in European history, and completely dominated European politics. France, having been hurled from the leaders.h.i.+p of Europe in 1870, dreaded nothing so much as the outbreak of a new European war, in which she must be inevitably involved, and in which she might be utterly ruined.
She strove to find a compensation for her wounded pride in colonial adventures, and therefore became, during the first part of the period, the most active of the powers in this field. She was encouraged to adopt this policy by Bismarck, partly in the hope that she might thus forget Alsace, partly in order that she might be kept on bad terms with Britain, whose interests seemed to be continually threatened by her colonising activity. But she hesitated to take a very definite line in regard to territories that lay close to Europe and might involve European complications.
Bismarck himself took little interest in colonial questions, except in so far as they could be used as a means of alienating the other powers from one another, and so securing the European supremacy of Germany. He therefore at first made no attempt to use the dominant position of Germany as a means of acquiring extra-European dominions. But the younger generation in Germany was far from sharing this view. It was determined to win for Germany a world-empire, and in 1884 and the following years--rather late in the day, when most of the more desirable territories were already occupied--it forced Bismarck to annex large areas. After Bismarck's fall, in 1890, this party got the upper hand in German politics, and the creation of a great world-empire became, as we shall see, the supreme aim of William II. and his advisers. The formidable and threatening power of Germany began to be systematically employed not merely for the maintenance of supremacy in Europe, which could be secured by peaceful means, but for the acquisition of a commanding position in the outer world; and since this could only be attained by violence, the world being now almost completely part.i.tioned, the new policy made Germany the source of unrest and apprehension, as she had earlier been, and still continued to be, the main cause of the burden of military preparation in Europe.
Among the other powers which partic.i.p.ated in the great part.i.tion, Russia continued her pressure in two of the three directions which she had earlier followed-south-eastwards in Central Asia, eastwards towards China. In both directions her activity aroused the nervous fears of Britain, while her pressure upon China helped to bring j.a.pan into the ranks of the militant and aggressive powers. But Russia took no interest in the more distant quarters of the world. Nor did Austria, though during these years her old ambition to expand south-eastwards at the expense of Turkey and the Balkan peoples revived under German encouragement. Italy, having but recently achieved national unity and taken her place among the Great Powers, felt that she could not be left out of the running, now that extra-European possessions had come to appear an almost essential mark of greatness among states; and, disappointed of Tunis, she endeavoured to find compensation on the sh.o.r.es of the Red Sea. Spain and Portugal, in the midst of all these eager rivalries, were tempted to furbish up their old and half-dormant claims. Even the United States of America joined in the rush during the fevered period of the 'nineties.
Lastly, Britain, the oldest and the most fully endowed of all the colonising powers, was drawn, half unwilling, into the compet.i.tion; and having an immense start over her rivals, actually acquired more new territory than any of them. She was, indeed, like the other states, pa.s.sing through an 'imperialist' phase in these years. The value attached by other countries to oversea possessions awakened among the British people a new pride in their far-spread dominions. Disraeli, who was in the ascendant when the period opened, had forgotten his old opinion of the uselessness of colonies, and had become a prophet of Empire. An Imperial Federation Society was founded in 1878. The old unwillingness to a.s.sume new responsibilities died out, or diminished; and the rapid annexations of other states, especially France, in regions where British influence had hitherto been supreme, and whose chieftains had often begged in vain for British protection, aroused some irritation. The ebullient energy of the colonists themselves, especially in South Africa and Australia, demanded a forward policy.
Above all, the fact that the European powers, now so eager for colonial possessions, had all adopted the protectionist policy aroused a fear lest British traders should find themselves shut out from lands whose trade had hitherto been almost wholly in their hands; and the militant and aggressive temper sometimes shown by the agents of these powers awakened some nervousness regarding the safety of the existing British possessions. Hence Britain, after a period of hesitancy, became as active as any of the other states in annexation. Throughout this period her main rival was France, whose new claims seemed to come in conflict with her own in almost every quarter of the globe. This rivalry produced acute friction, which grew in intensity until it reached its culminating point in the crisis of Fashoda in 1898, and was not removed until the settlement of 1904 solved all the outstanding difficulties.
It would be quite untrue to say that Britain deliberately endeavoured to prevent or to check the rapid colonial expansion of France. The truth is that British trading interests had been predominant in many of the regions where the French were most active, and that the protectionist policy which France had adopted stimulated into a new life the ancient rivalry of these neighbour and sister nations. Towards the colonial ambitions of Germany, and still more of Italy, Britain was far more complaisant.
It is difficult to give in a brief s.p.a.ce a clear summary of the extremely complicated events and intrigues of this vitally important period. But perhaps it will be easiest if we consider in turn the regions in which the strenuous rivalries of the powers displayed themselves. The most important was Africa, which lay invitingly near to Europe, and was the only large region of the world which was still for the most part unoccupied. Here all the compet.i.tors, save Russia, j.a.pan, and America, played a part. Western Asia formed a second field, in which three powers only, Russia, Germany, and Britain, were immediately concerned. The Far East, where the vast Empire of China seemed to be falling into decrepitude, afforded the most vexed problems of the period. Finally, the Pacific Islands were the scene of an active though less intense rivalry.
It is a curious fact that Africa, the continent whose outline was the first outside of Europe itself to be fully mapped out by the European peoples, was actually the last to be effectively brought under the influence of European civilisation. This was because the coasts of Africa are for the most part inhospitable; its vast interior plateau is almost everywhere shut off either by belts of desert land, or by swampy and malarious regions along the coast; even its great rivers do not readily tempt the explorer inland, because their course is often interrupted by falls or rapids not far from their mouths, where they descend from the interior plateau to the coastal plain; and its inhabitants, warlike and difficult to deal with, are also peoples of few and simple wants, who have little to offer to the trader. Hence eight generations of European mariners had circ.u.mnavigated the continent without seriously attempting to penetrate its central ma.s.s; and apart from the Anglo-Dutch settlements at the Southern extremity, the French empire in Algeria in the north, a few trading centres on the West Coast, and some half-derelict Portuguese stations in Angola and Mozambique, the whole continent remained available for European exploitation in 1878.
What trade was carried on, except in Egypt, in Algeria, and in the immediate vicinity of the old French settlements on the West Coast, was mainly in the hands of British merchants. Over the greater part of the coastal belts only the British power was known to the native tribes and chieftains. Many of them (like the Sultan of Zanzibar and the chiefs of the Cameroons) had repeatedly begged to be taken under British protection, and had been refused. During the two generations before 1878 the interior of the continent had begun to be known. But except in the north and north-west, where French explorers and a few Germans had been active, the work had been mainly done by British travellers. Most of the great names of African exploration--Livingstone, Burton, Speke, Baker, Cameron and the Anglo-American Stanley--were British names.
The Expansion of Europe Part 4
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