« AnteriorContinuar »
upon her own bottom, and, confident in the purity of her own intentions, to defy the world in arms, she may 'die game with her colours nailed to the mast, an object of admiration even to her enemies and a magnificent subject for the poets and historians of the future. But though such a choice may be heroism it is certainly not statesmanship: and this is all I am concerned with.
I write as a Conservative, or, if the word be thought better, as a Tory. The great outburst of Liberal or Radical sentiment, which both preceded and followed the Reform Bill of 1832, swamped the old principles by which the foreign policy of this country was formerly regulated, and impregnated the great body of the people with prejudices and antipathies which have already done a great deal of harm, and may do a great deal more if the eyes of the country are not opened in time. If we trace 'isolation’to its source we shall find it here in the Liberal preachments on foreign affairs from 1820 downwards. Isolation is not a cut and dried theory of politics adopted by statesmen deliberately and on principle. It is the natural result of the causes I have mentioned, and has been gradually growing up for the last two generations. Is it possible even now to disabuse the popular mind of the idea instilled into it during this interval, and to resume our allegiance to the rule of political sagacity and practical healthy common sense?
But even supposing that it is, we have still that other fact to reckon with which has been already mentioned as much the more serious of the two. Steam and iron, big guns and Radical gush count for something; but there is yet another change behind which counts for still more—the social change which has taken place in England within the memory of middle-aged men. This is of two kinds. It might be thought that in a 'trade war' the classes most interested in trade would be foremost in the fray, and the last to give in while the slightest hope remained of saving their commercial advantages. But when we consider the recklessness with which the numerous and allpowerful class whose livelihood depends on trade see it driven away from this country rather than sacrifice one iota of their own shibboleths, we cannot feel sure of this. Suppose that the weight of taxation rendered necessary by war compelled employers to reduce wages, do we see anything in the conduct of the working classes to encourage us in the belief that they would turn a deaf ear to the demagogue who told them to agitate for peace? It is not any want of patriotism or want of spirit in the working classes which need cause us any anxiety; it is their seemingly incurable short sightedness. They would be told of course that the final loss of their markets would be much worse for them in the end than the temporary reduction of their wages. Let another generation look to that, they would in effect answer. In the second place, we have to consider the natural propensity of the people to grow tired of war after a very short experience of it: and that they now have the power, which they never had before, of giving effect to their impatience. We may be quite sure that if they desired to do so they would speedily find orators to make the country ring with their demands. Ministers, statesmen, parties, cannot now disregard such demonstrations as they could have done in the days of Pitt. They hold their power by a different tenure.
Those other classes of society who best understand questions of peace and war, and all that England has to lose, who know the necessity for fortitude and perseverance, and are capable of exhibiting these qualities in their own persons, no longer hold that position in the country which they held at the beginning of the century. “A popular order' then existed in England, not questioning the natural right of a superior order to lead it, content within its own sphere, admiring the grandeur and highmindedness of its ruling class, and catching in its own spirit some reflex of what it thus admired.'? The English aristocracy then had a free hand, and whatever may be thought of their fitness to govern in ordinary times, there can be no question of their superior capacity for leading the people and directing our policy during the progress of a great war. The staying power' of an aristocracy is what we want then. And by the aristocracy I do not mean only the House of Lords or the titled nobility. I mean the whole body of gentlemen, be they titled or untitled, who represent what Lord Beaconsfield used to call our “territorial constitution.' Now it will hardly be denied that of late years various inroads have been made on that constitution, by which the authority and dignity of the territorial class have been perceptibly impaired, and with it of course the influence which they are capable of exercising in any great national emergency. And here I wish I had space to quote at more length from two speeches delivered by two great men who all their lives were steadily opposed to each other, and differed on almost every conceivable subject with which statesmen can be called upon to deal. Yet they both agreed in their description of the territorial interest. On the 17th of February, 1870, Mr. Gladstone, in his speech on the Irish Land Act, described the position of English landlords in the following terms :
A position marked by residence, by personal familiarity, and by sympathy with the people among whom they live, by long traditional connection handed on from generation to generation, and marked by a constant discharge of duty in every form that can be suggested—be it as to the administration of justice, be it as to the defence of the country, be it as to the supply of social, or spiritual, or moral, or educational wants; be it for any purpose whatever that is recognised as good or beneficial in a civilised society.
In May 1843 Lord Beaconsfield (Mr. Disraeli as he was then) speaking at Shrewsbury, after adverting to the position and duties of
? Matthew Arnold on Democracy.
the landed aristocracy in very similar terms--to their judicial and administrative duties, and to the manners and associations which are naturally formed by such a class-went on to say of it that it was
an immense element of political power and stability: that we should never bare been able to undertake the great war in which we embarked, in the memory of many present, that we could never have been able to conquer the greatest military genius the world ever saw, with the greatest means at his disposal, and to hurl him from his throne, if we had not had a territorial aristocracy to give stability to our constitution.
Am I wrong in saying that this 'immense element of political power and stability' is no longer what it was during the Napoleonic war, no longer what it was in 1843, no longer quite what it was even in 1870 ? When it corresponded to the terms in which it was described by Mr. Gladstone it was to all intents and purposes the governing class in every English county. The discharge of all these public duties gave it a dignity in the eyes of the people which cannot fail to have been diminished by the gradual reduction of them. The people felt that the country gentlemen were really leaders and rulers, and respected them in proportion. Their public position in the country has therefore been to some extent lowered, and with it the moral influence which they possessed in virtue of it. In the next place, their private fortunes have of late years been so reduced that they are no longer able to make the most of what is still left to them of their former functions and privileges. They no longer, as a matter of course, represent their counties in Parliament. They are no longer masters on their own estates; and though they have displayed both public spirit and a true sense of their own interests in taking part in the new system of local administration, it can never be to them all that the old one was, or give them the same position in the public eye.
If our next great war is in defence of our trade, our battles at least must be fought in the same spirit which won Waterloo and Trafalgar. We always associate with an aristocracy the idea of fighting qualities; and I believe that its presence and its unconscious influence do much to cherish such qualities. Our aristocracy form a solid and united body rooted in their native soil, and inspired by all the traditions and associations which attach to ancient birth. They have their ancestors to think of as well as themselves, and the honour of England is one of their heirlooms. England is all in all to them. Whatever tends to abate the force of such a body must diminish one source of strength which we have possessed in previous
I do not mean that the aristocracy have deteriorated in themselves—far from it. But social and political changes, which could not perhaps have been averted, and were in some respects practical improvements, have deprived them in part of that status in the country to which they owed so much of their former weight, and which caused them to be regarded by the people as their natural guides and representatives. Whatever advantage the nation in time of war derived from those conditions will now be so much the less, though assuredly not wholly lost. “Though much is taken, much remains.' But, combining together the change in the position of the aristocracy with the preponderating strength of the working classes, and seeing the ends for which the enormous power of the trades unions is commonly exerted, it is difficult not to feel that English society on the whole is less fitted than it was formerly to bear the strain of a great war, and that for these reasons, if for no other, it is quite true that England cannot fight two great Powers by herself.
I have already disclaimed all intention of deciding on the abstract merits of those Radical theories which, in my humble opinion, have worked so much practical mischief. All I have said is that, if we must have a great Empire,' these ideas are not conducive to its stability. There are two theories of national life, one that the greatest happiness of the greatest number should be the end and aim of all Governments; the other, that the greatest greatness of the greatest number should fill that place. If we accept the former, it is not by any means certain that Imperial cares and responsibilities are things to be sought after. Mr. Froude somewhere contemplates the possibility of England, after losing all her colonies and commerce, becoming a nation of shepherds and herdsmen, and it is quite possible that such an England might be happier than our own. Those who are in favour of the opposite theory are so because they think that the development of man's faculties, and the elevation of his character, it may be through sufferings and hardships, is the end for which he is placed on earth, and that the exercise of those governing powers which have been bestowed more freely on some races than on others is one of the most proper works in which he can be engaged. On the one side we place the toil and danger of conquest, colonisation, and civilisation; on the other, the quiet enjoyment of an easy life, innocent of culture and undisturbed by emulation, but with sufficient comfort and freedom, and no anxieties beyond the silver streak. England has practically to choose between the two. She would not become exactly the nation of shepherds and herdsmen which Mr. Froude saw in his imagination, but she would subside into a country where the social inequalities of our own time would probably be much lessened, where society would be more of a dead level, and where the thousand-and-one Imperial interests and troubles which now encompass us would be unknown. I can understand the preference for this state of things over the other, though I do not share in it. Greatness is not essential to happiness, nor is happiness always the result of
greatness. Our judgment must be determined by the nature of our belief in the destiny of the human race, and in the purpose for which they are placed in this mysterious world.
T. E. KEBBEL.
P.S.-Since the above was written, the report of French aggression in West Africa has brought the shadow of war nearer to us. The advance into British territory, if not disavowed by the French Government, would have been something more than an insidious encroachment. It would be an open challenge ; and if the gauntlet is really thrown down, England has no alternative but to take it up, in which case the views expressed in this article may be put to the test sooner than its author anticipated. For I do not disguise from myself that part of it is applicable, though, of course, with much diminished force, to a conflict with any one great Power, if it only last long enough.