The Expansion of Europe Part 8

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For the issue is as simple as this. Now that the world has been made one by the victory of Western civilisation, in what spirit is that supremacy to be used? Is it to be in the spirit expressed in the German Doctrine of Power, the spirit of mere dominion, ruthlessly imposed and ruthlessly exploited for the sole advantage of the master-power? That way ruin lies. Or is it to be in the spirit which has on the whole, and in spite of lapses, guided the progress of Western civilisation in the past, the spirit of respect for law and for the rights of the weak, the spirit of liberty which rejoices in variety of type and method, and which believes that the destiny towards which all peoples should be guided is that of self-government in freedom, and the co-operation of free peoples in the maintenance of common interests? Britain, France, and America have been the great advocates and exponents of these principles in the government of their own states: they are all ranged on one side to-day. Britain, also, as we have tried to show, has been led by Fate to take a chief part in the extension of these principles of Western civilisation to the non-European regions of the world; and, after many mistakes and failures, has in the direction of her own wide dominions found her way to a system which reconciles freedom with unity, and learned to regard herself as being only the trustee of civilisation in the government of the backward peoples whom she rules.

For the just and final determination of such gigantic issues not even the terrible price we are paying is too high.

The issue of the great conflict lies still upon the lap of the G.o.ds.

Yet one thing is, we may hope, already a.s.sured. Although at the beginning of the war they came near to winning it, the Germans are not now likely to win that complete victory upon which they had calculated, and which would have brought as its prize the mastery of the world. We can now form some judgment of the extent of the calamity which this would have meant for humanity. There would have remained in the world no power capable of resisting this grim and ugly tyrant-state, with its brute strength and b.e.s.t.i.a.l cruelty as of a gorilla in the primaeval forest, reinforced by the cold and pitiless calculus of the man of science in his laboratory; unless, perhaps, Russia had in time recovered her strength, or unless America had not merely thrown over her tradition of aloofness and made up her mind to intervene, but had been allowed the time to organise her forces for resistance. Of the great empires which the modern age has brought into being, the Russian would have survived as a helpless and blinded mammoth; the French Empire would have vanished, and the proud and n.o.ble land of France would have sunk into va.s.salage and despair; the British Empire would a.s.suredly have dissolved into its component parts, for its strength is still too much concentrated in the motherland for it to be able to hold together once her power was broken. After a few generations, that will no longer be the case; but to-day it is so, and the dream of a partners.h.i.+p of free nations which had begun to dawn upon us would have been shattered for ever by a complete German victory. Some of the atoms of what once was an empire might have been left in freedom, but they would have been powerless to resist the decrees of the Master-state.

There would have been one supreme world-power; and that a power whose att.i.tude towards backward races has been ill.u.s.trated by the ruthless ma.s.sacre of the Hereros; whose att.i.tude towards ancient but disorganised civilisations has been ill.u.s.trated by the history of Kiao-chau and by the celebrated allocution of the Kaiser to his soldiers on the eve of the Boxer expedition, when he bade them outdo the ferocity of Attila and his Huns; whose att.i.tude towards kindred civilisations on the same level as their own has been ill.u.s.trated before the war in the treatment of Danes, Poles, and Alsatians, and during the war in the treatment of Belgium, of the occupied districts in France, of Poland and of Serbia. The world would have lain at the mercy of an insolent and ruthless tyranny, the tyranny of a Kultur whose ideal is the uniformity of a perfect mechanism, not the variety of life. Such a fate humanity could not long have tolerated; yet before the iron mechanism could have been shattered, if once it had been established, there must have been inconceivable suffering, and civilisation must have fallen back many stages towards barbarism. From this fate, we may perhaps claim, the world was saved from the moment when not Britain only, but the British Empire, refused to await its turn according to the German plan, threw its whole weight into the scale, and showed that, though not organised for war, it was not the effete and decadent power, not the fortuitous combination of discordant and incoherent elements, which German theory had supposed; but that Freedom can create a unity and a virile strength capable of withstanding even the most rigid discipline, capable of enduring defeat and disappointment undismayed; but incapable of yielding to the insolence of brute force.

It is still possible that the war may end in what is called an inconclusive peace; and as it is certain that of all her unrighteous gains that to which Germany will most desperately cling will be her domination over the Austrian and Turkish Empires, with the prospect which it affords of a later and more fortunate attempt at world-power, an inconclusive peace would mean that the whole world would live in constant dread of a renewal of these agonies and horrors in a still more awful form. What the effect of this would be upon the extra-European dominions of powers which would be drained of their manhood and loaded with the burden of the past war and the burden of preparation for the coming war, it is beyond our power to imagine. But it seems likely that the outer world would very swiftly begin to revise its judgment as to the value of that civilisation which it has, upon the whole, been ready to welcome; and chaos would soon come again.

Finally, it is possible that the Evil Power may be utterly routed, and the allied empires, tried by fire, may be given the opportunity and the obligation of making, not merely a new Europe, but a new world. If that chance should come, how will they use it? One thing at least is clear.

The task which will face the diplomats who take part in the coming peace-congress will be different in kind as well as in degree from that of any of their predecessors at any moment in human history. They will be concerned not merely with the adjustment of the differences of a few leading states, and not merely with the settlement of Europe: they will have to deal with the whole world, and to decide upon what principles and to what ends the leaders.h.i.+p of the peoples of European stock over the non-European world is to be exercised. Whether they realise it or not, whether they intend it or not, they will create either a world-order or a world-disorder. And it will inevitably be a world-disorder which will result unless we do some hard thinking on this gigantic problem which faces us, and unless we are prepared to learn, from the history of the relations of Europe with the outer world, what are the principles by which we ought to be guided. We are too, when we think of the problems of the future peace, to fix our attention almost wholly upon Europe, and, if we think of the non-European world at all, to a.s.sume either that the problem is merely one of power, or that the principles which will guide us in the settlement of Europe can be equally applied outside of Europe. Both of these a.s.sumptions are dangerous, because both disregard the teachings of the past which we have been surveying.

If, on the one hand, we are content to regard the problem as merely one of power, and to divide out the non-European world among the victors as the spoils of victory, we shall indeed have been conquered by the very spirit which we are fighting; we shall have become converts to the German Doctrine of Power, which has brought upon us all these ills, and may bring yet more appalling evils in the future. The world will emerge divided among a group of vast empires which will overshadow the lesser states. These empires will continue to regard one another with fear and suspicion, and to look upon their subject-peoples merely as providing the implements for a war of destruction, to be waged by cut-throat commercial rivalry in time of peace, and by man-power and machine-power in war. If that should be the result of all our agonies, the burden which must be laid upon the peoples of these empires, and the intolerable antic.i.p.ation of what is to come, will make their yoke seem indeed a heavy one; will probably bring about their disintegration; and will end that ascendancy of Western civilisation over the world which the last four centuries have established. And justly; since Western civilisation will thus be made to stand not for justice and liberty, but for injustice and oppression. Such must be the inevitable result of any settlement of the non-European world which is guided merely by the ambitions of a few rival states and the Doctrine of Power.

On the other hand, we are urged by enthusiasts for liberty, especially in Russia, to believe that imperialism as such is the enemy; that we must put an end for ever to all dominion exercised by one people over another; and that outside of Europe as within it we must trust to the same principles for the hope of future peace--the principles of national freedom and self-government--and leave all peoples everywhere to control freely their own destinies. But this is a misreading of the facts as fatal as the other. It disregards the value of the work that has been done in the extension of European civilisation to the rest of the world by the imperial activities of the European peoples. It fails to recognise that until Europe began to conquer the world neither rational law nor political liberty had ever in any real sense existed in the outer world, and that their dominion is even now far from a.s.sured, but depends for its maintenance upon the continued tutelage of the European peoples. It fails to realise that the economic demands of the modern world necessitate the maintenance of civilised administration after the Western pattern, and that this can only be a.s.sured, in large regions of the earth, by means of the political control of European peoples. Above all this view does not grasp the essential fact that the idea of nationhood and the idea of self-government are both modern ideas, which have had their origin in Europe, and which can only be realised among peoples of a high political development; that the sense of nationhood is but slowly created, and must not be arbitrarily defined in terms of race or language; and that the capacity for self-government is only formed by a long process of training, and has never existed except among peoples who were unified by a strongly felt community of sentiment, and had acquired the habit and instinct of loyalty to the law. a.s.suredly it is the duty of Europe and America to extend these fruitful conceptions to the regions which have pa.s.sed under their influence. But the process must be a very slow one, and it can only be achieved under tutelage. It is the control of the European peoples over the non-European world which has turned the world into an economic unit, brought it within a single political system, and opened to us the possibility of making a world-order such as the most daring dreamers of the past could never have conceived. This control cannot be suddenly withdrawn. For a very long time to come the world-states whose rise we have traced must continue to be the means by which the political discoveries of Europe, as well as her material civilisation, are made available for the rest of the world. The world-states are such recent things that we have not yet found a place for them in our political philosophy. But unless we find a place for them, and think in terms of them, in the future, we shall be in danger of a terrible s.h.i.+pwreck.

If, then, it is essential, not only for the economic development of the world, but for the political advancement of its more backward peoples, that the political suzerainty of the European peoples should survive, and as a consequence that the world should continue to be dominated by a group of great world-states, how are we to conjure away the nightmare of inter-imperial rivalry which has brought upon us the present catastrophe, and seems to threaten us with yet more appalling ruin in the future? Only by resolving and ensuring, as at the great settlement we may be able to do, that the necessary political control of Europe over the outer world shall in future be exercised not merely in the interests of the mistress-states, but in accordance with principles which are just in themselves, and which will give to all peoples a fair chance of making the best use of their powers. But how are we to discover these principles, if the ideas of nationality and self-government, to which we pin our faith in Europe, are to be held inapplicable to the greater part of the non-European world? There is only one possible source of instruction: our past experience, which has now extended over four centuries, and which we have in this book endeavoured to survey.

Now while it is undeniably true that the mere l.u.s.t of power has always been present in the imperial activities of the European peoples, it is certainly untrue (as our study ought to have shown) that it has ever been the sole motive, except, perhaps, in the great German challenge.

And in the course of their experience the colonising peoples have gradually worked out certain principles in their treatment of subject peoples, which ought to be of use to us. The fullest and the most varied experience is that of the British Empire: it is the oldest of all the world-states; it alone includes regions of the utmost variety of types, new lands peopled by European settlers, realms of ancient civilisation like India, and regions inhabited by backward and primitive peoples. It would be absurd to claim that its methods are perfect and infallible. But they have been very varied, and quite astonis.h.i.+ngly successful. And it is because they seem to afford clearer guidance than any other part of the experiments which we have recorded that we have studied them, especially in their later developments, with what may have seemed a disproportionate fulness. What are the principles which experience has gradually worked out in the British Empire? They cannot be embodied in a single formula, because they vary according to the condition and development of the lands to which they apply.

But in the first place we have learnt by a very long experience that in lands inhabited by European settlers, who bring with them European traditions, the only satisfactory solution is to be found in the concession of the fullest self-governing rights, since these settlers are able to use them, and in the encouragement of that sentiment of unity which we call the national spirit. And this involves a recognition of the fact that nationality is never to be defined solely in terms of race or language, but can arise, and should be encouraged to arise, among racially divided communities such as Canada and South Africa. Any attempt to interpret nationhood in terms of race is not merely dangerous, but ruinous; and such endeavours to stimulate or accentuate racial conflict, as Germany has been guilty of in Brazil, in South Africa, and even in America, must be, if successful, fatal to the progress of the countries affected, and dangerous to the peace of the world.

In the second place we have learnt that in lands of ancient civilisation, where ruling castes have for centuries been in the habit of exploiting their subjects, the supreme gift which Europe can offer is that of internal peace and a firmly administered and equal law, which will render possible the gradual rise of a sense of unity, and the gradual training of the people in the habits of life that make self-government possible. How soon national unity can be established, or self-government made practicable in any full sense, must be matter of debate. But the creation of these things is, or ought to be, the ultimate aim of European government in such countries. And in the meantime, and until they become fully masters of their own fate, these lands, so our British experience tells us, ought to be treated as distinct political units; they should pay no tribute; all their resources should be devoted to their own development; and they should not be expected or required to maintain larger forces than are necessary for their own defence. At the same time, the ruling power should claim no special privileges for its own citizens, but should throw open the markets of such realms equally to all nations. In short it should act not as a master, but as a trustee, on behalf of its subjects and also on behalf of civilisation.

In the third place we have learnt that in the backward regions of the earth it is the duty of the ruling power, firstly, to protect its primitive subjects from unscrupulous exploitation, to guard their simple customs, proscribing only those which are immoral, and to afford them the means of a gradual emanc.i.p.ation from barbarism; secondly, to develop the economic resources of these regions for the needs of the industrial world, to open them up by modern communications, and to make them available on equal terms to all nations, giving no advantage to its own citizens.

In spite of lapses and defects, it is an undeniable historical fact that these are the principles which have been wrought out and applied in the administration of the British Empire during the nineteenth century. They are not vague and Utopian dreams; they are a matter of daily practice. If they can be applied by one of the world-states, and that the greatest, why should they not be applied by the rest? But if these principles became universal, is it not apparent that all danger of a catastrophic war between these powers would be removed, since every reason for it would have vanished? Thus the necessary and advantageous tutelage of Europe over the non-European world, and the continuance of the great world-states, could be combined with the conjuring away of the ever-present terror of war, and with the gradual training of the non-European peoples to enjoy the political methods of Europe; while the lesser states without extra-European dominions need no longer feel themselves stunted and reduced to economic dependence upon their great neighbours. Thus, and thus alone, can the benefits of the long development which we have traced be reaped in full; thus alone can the dominion of the European peoples over the world be made to mean justice and the chance for all peoples to make the best of their powers.

But it is not only the principles upon which particular areas outside of Europe should be governed which we must consider. We must reflect also upon the nature of the relations that should exist between the various members of these great world-empires, which must hence-forward be the dominating factors in the world's politics. And here the problem is urgent only in the case of the British Empire, because it alone is developed to such a point that the problem is inevitably raised.

Whatever else may happen, the war must necessarily bring a crisis in the history of the British Empire. On a vastly greater scale the situation of 1763 is being reproduced. Now, as then, the Empire will emerge from a war for existence, in which mother and daughter lands alike have shared. Now, as then, the strain and pressure of the war will have brought to light deficiencies in the system of the Empire.

Now, as then, the most patent of these deficiencies will be the fact that, generous as the self-governing powers of the great Dominions have been, they still have limits; and the irresistible tendency of self-government to work towards its own fulfilment will once more show itself. For there are two spheres in which even the most fully self-governing of the empire-nations have no effective control: they do not share in the determination of foreign policy, and they do not share in the direction of imperial defence. The responsibility for foreign policy, and the responsibility, and with it almost the whole burden, of organising imperial defence, have hitherto rested solely with Britain.

Until the Great War, foreign policy seemed to be a matter of purely European interest, not directly concerning the great Dominions; nor did the problems of imperial defence appear very pressing or urgent. But now all have realised that not merely their interests, but their very existence, may depend upon the wise conduct of foreign relations; and now all have contributed the whole available strength of their manhood to support a struggle in whose direction they have had no effective share. These things must henceforth be altered; and they can be altered only in one or other of three ways. Either the great Dominions will become independent states, as the American colonies did, and pursue a foreign policy and maintain a system of defence of their own; or the Empire must reshape itself as a sort of permanent offensive and defensive alliance, whose external policy and modes of defence will be arranged by agreement; or some mode of common management of these and other questions must be devised. The first of these solutions is unlikely to be adopted, not only because the component members of the Empire are conscious of their individual weakness, but still more because the memory of the ordeal through which all have pa.s.sed must form an indissoluble bond. Yet rashness or high-handedness in the treatment of the great issue might lead even to this unlikely result.

If either of the other two solutions is adopted, the question will at once arise of the place to be occupied, in the league or in the reorganised super-state, of all those innumerable sections of the Empire which do not yet enjoy, and some of which may never enjoy, the full privileges of self-government; and above all, the place to be taken by the vast dominion of India, which though it is not, and may not for a long time become, a fully self-governing state, is yet a definite and vitally important unit in the Empire, ent.i.tled to have its needs and problems considered, and its government represented, on equal terms with the rest. The problem is an extraordinarily difficult one; perhaps the most difficult political problem that has ever faced the sons of men. But it is essentially the same problem which has continually recurred in the history of British imperialism, though it now presents itself on a vastly greater scale, and in a far more complex form, than ever before: it is the problem of reconciling unity with liberty and variety; of combining nationality and self-government with imperialism, without impairing the rights of either. And beyond any doubt the most tremendous and fascinating political question which now awaits solution in the world, is the question whether the political instinct of the British peoples, and the genius of self-government, will find a way out of these difficulties, as they have found a way out of so many others. Patience, mutual tolerance, willingness to compromise, will be required in the highest measure if the solution is to be found; but these are the qualities which self-government cultivates.

'A thing that is wholly a sham,' said Treitschke, speaking of the British Empire, 'cannot in this world of ours, endure for ever.' Why did this Empire appear to Treitschke to be 'wholly a sham'? Was it not because it did not answer to any definition of the word 'Empire' to be found in German political philosophy; because it did not mean dominion and uniformity, but liberty and variety; because it did not rest upon Force, as, in his view, every firmly established state must do; because it was not governed by a single master, whose edicts all its subjects must obey? But for 'a thing that is wholly a sham' men do not lay down their lives, in thousands and in hundreds of thousands, not under the pressure of compulsion, but by a willing self-devotion; for the defence of 'a thing that is wholly a sham' men will not stream in from all the ends of the earth, abandoning their families and their careers, and offering without murmur or hesitation themselves and all they have and are. There must be a reality in the thing that calls forth such sacrifices, a reality of the kind to which Realpolitik, with its concentration upon purely material concerns, is wholly blind: it is the reality of an ideal of honour, and justice, and freedom. And if the Germans have been deceived in their calculations of Realpolitik, is it not perhaps because they have learnt to regard honour, and justice, and freedom as 'things that are wholly shams'?

This amazing political structure, which refuses to fall within any of the categories of political science, which is an empire and yet not an empire, a state and yet not a state, a super-nation incorporating in itself an incredible variety of peoples and races, is not a structure which has been designed by the ingenuity of man, or created by the purposive action of a government; it is a natural growth, the product of the spontaneous activity of innumerable individuals and groups springing from among peoples whose history has made liberty and the tolerance of differences their most fundamental instincts; it is the outcome of a series of accidents, unforeseen, but turned to advantage by the unfailing and ever-new resourcefulness of men habituated to self-government. There is no logic or uniformity in its system, which has arisen from an infinite number of makes.h.i.+fts and tentative experiments, yet in all of these a certain consistency appears, because they have been presided over by the genius of self-government. It is distributed over every continent, is washed by every ocean, includes half the dust of islands that Nature has scattered about the seas of the world, controls almost all the main avenues of the world's sea-going commerce, and is linked together by ten thousand s.h.i.+ps perpetually going to and fro. Weak for offensive purposes, because its resources are so scattered, it is, except at a few points, almost impregnable against attack, if its forces are well organised. It includes among its population representatives of almost every human race and religion, and every grade of civilisation, from the Australian Bushman to the subtle and philosophic Brahmin, from the African dwarf to the master of modern industry or the scholar of universities. Almost every form of social organisation and of government known to man is represented in its complex and many-hued fabric. It embodies five of the most completely self-governing communities which the world has known, and four of these control the future of the great empty s.p.a.ces that remain for the settlement of white men. It finds place for the highly organised caste system by which the teeming millions of India are held together. It preserves the simple tribal organisation of the African clans. To different elements among its subjects this empire appears in different aspects. To the self-governing Dominions it is a brotherhood of free nations, co-operating for the defence and diffusion of common ideas and of common inst.i.tutions. To the ancient civilisations of India or of Egypt it is a power which, in spite of all its mistakes and limitations, has brought peace instead of turmoil, law instead of arbitrary might, unity instead of chaos, justice instead of oppression, freedom for the development of the capacities and characteristic ideas of their peoples, and the prospect of a steady growth of national unity and political responsibility. To the backward races it has meant the suppression of unending slaughter, the disappearance of slavery, the protection of the rights and usages of primitive and simple folk against reckless exploitation, and the chance of gradual improvement and emanc.i.p.ation from barbarism. But to all alike, to one quarter of the inhabitants of the world, it has meant the establishment of the Reign of Law, and of the Liberty which can only exist under its shelter. In some degree, though imperfectly as yet, it has realised within its own body all the three great political ideas of the modern world. It has fostered the rise of a sense of nationhood in the young communities of the new lands, and in the old and decaying civilisations of the most ancient historic countries. It has given a freedom of development to self-government such as history has never before known. And by linking together so many diverse and contrasted peoples in a common peace, it has already realised, for a quarter of the globe, the ideal of internationalism on a scale undreamt of by the most sanguine prophets of Europe.

Truly this empire is a fabric so wonderful, so many-sided, and so various in its aspects, that it may well escape the rigid categories of a German professor, and seem to him 'wholly a sham.' Now is the crisis of its fate: and if the wisdom of its leaders can solve the riddle of the Sphinx which is being put to them, the Great War will indeed have brought, for a quarter of the world, the culmination of modern history.

The Expansion of Europe Part 8

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The Expansion of Europe Part 8 summary

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