- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 13 Jan 1944, p. 225-237
- Gower-Rees, The Venerable Archdeacon A.P., Speaker
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- Item Type
- The complexities of the Empire. The urgent need for a careful consideration of Imperial problems, should the need for taking final decisions arise. The strengths and weaknesses of the Empire's Colonial system, as stated by Prime Minister Jan Christian Smuts of South Africa, along with his suggestions for changes by which the Dominions will assume larger responsibilities as sharers and partners in the Empire, thus creating fresh links between the Empire and the Commonwealth and create new interest and life in the system as a whole. An examination of the terms "Empire," "Commonwealth," and "Imperialism." Defining wherein a Commonwealth consists. The British Commonwealth, and what it stands for. The duty of Empire. The Commonwealth's position in the world, with a look at each country: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India. The denial of the right of force alone to control the destinies of the world as the very essence of the claim made by ourselves and our allies. Giving convincing proof that we hold as an Empire, the place we have gained in trust for the good of the world. The path of highest duty ever a difficult one to travel. The conviction, as stated by Lord Rosebery, that "With all its mistakes and shortcomings the British Empire is the greatest secular agency for good that exists in the world." The United Nations. An opportunity for the British Empire to take a definite lead in cooperation between nations. The political organization of the Empire. Reconciling autonomy in the control of the interests peculiar to each self-governing unit of the Empire with the common responsibility for what concerns them all. Future problems. A final word about foreign affairs.
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- 13 Jan 1944
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SHARING THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF EMPIRE
AN ADDRESS BY THE VENERABLE ARCHDEACON A. P. GOWERREES, ARCHDEACON OF MONTREAL.
Chairman: The President, Mr. W. Eason Humphreys
Thursday, January 13, I944
MR. HUMPHREYS: Our guest of honour is Naval Chaplain in Montreal. Jan Christian Smuts said it: "I look upon this Empire and Commonwealth as the best missionary enterprise that has been launched for a thousand years."
That assertion, gentlemen-deemed by most to be true-imposes upon every citizen of this Commonwealth responsibility for upholding the great enterprise so vital to our near and distant future.
Our guest of honour, the Venerable Archdeacon A. P. Gower-Rees, M.A., D.C.L., M.C., speaks to us today on "Sharing the Responsibilities of Empire". Archdeacon Gower-Rees has spoken on this subject to many clubs both in the Dominions and in the United States.
Our guest was called to Canada in 1927, and is at present Archdeacon of Montreal and Rector of St. George's.
Graduating from Christ's College, Cambridge, he was ordained in York Minster, and became Canon of Bradford Cathedral and also Rector of Bolton in Yorkshire.
For four and a half years during the last war he was in France, Bergium and Germany, and was Deputy Assistant Chaplain-General of the Army of Occupation. He preached, too, in Cologne Cathedral after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.
Archdeacon Gower-Rees was awarded the Military Cross, and was twice mentioned in despatches. He was also awarded the Meritorious Service Medal of the Legion of Frontiersmen and is Senior Commandant Chaplain of the Corps of Imperial Frontiersmen. Gentlemen: The Venerable Archdeacon Gower-Rees.
DR. GOWER-REFS: Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen: It is because you are members of a Club that claims special interest in all matters that concern the welfare of the Empire, that I venture to discuss with you today what may be called an Imperial subject. The war is so much with us that to some it may seem an inopportune moment for such a subject. Concentration on the needs and prosecution of the war is admittedly most important, and wisdom dictates that everything else should be put off till the morrow, if it need not absolutely be done today. But the Imperial problem, or call it by its better name, the problem of the British Commonwealth is, like that of the war itself, urgent at once in its vital character, its complex nature, and in the need for early prevision. It is our duty to know how great the complexities of the Empire are without delay. The rulers within the Empire may at any moment be faced with the need for taking final decisions, or still more difficult, for action on seemingly small matters that may yet lead to decisive results. The need for careful consideration of Imperial problems is very urgent. The ringing challenge of the "explosive" ideas expressed by one of the greatest statesmen in the British Commonwealth, Prime Minister Jan Christian Smuts of South Africa, calls for immediate consideration and due preparation for action.
As a firm believer in the maintenance and strengthening of the British Empire, he frankly warns us of the existing defects and weaknesses of the Empire's Colonial system; and advises definite changes by which the Dominions will assume larger responsibilities "as sharers and partners in the Empire" and thus "create fresh links between the Empire and the Commonwealth and create new interest and life in the system as a whole". He offers his suggestions to us all, in order that we may, before it is too late, strive towards the achievement of a firmer solidarity within the Empire whereby it will really become an "equal" in the partnership or "trinity of equals" upon which the responsibility will rest to maintain peace in the world when the present conflict is ended.
Before I proceed further may I here say a word about the words "Empire" and "Commonwealth". Most of the controversies which sunder men derive half their bitter ness from misunderstanding about words. Words are but labels for ideas and as people's grasp of ideas is ever changing, so does the meaning they attach to the words by which they present them. There is no word more misused or about which there is a wider divergence of interpretation in the popular mind than the word "Empire," or rather, the word "Imperialism". Those words have been so loosely and so falsely used that they have acquired with many people a bad connotation. You cannot read a book nor listen to a discussion on the subject without becoming aware that its opponents and its supporters are at hopeless cross purposes. To one side Imperialism implies the worst kind of Prussianism. To the other it represents the loftiest ideals of chivalry, and the gift of peace, order, and education to the oppressed peoples. It has become the general practice now, when speaking of the British Empire to substitute the word "Commonwealth" for Empire. I believe that Commonwealth is the better and truer word to use. I am bold enough to believe that with many lapses and failures, those who have guided the destinies of the British Empire, created not an Empire but a Commonwealth.
It is not easy to define wherein a Commonwealth consists. A Commonwealth cannot exist among a people whose government depends upon unquestioning obedience to authority, whether it is secured by terrorism inspired by armed force, or by the sedulous inculcation into the subjects that disobedience is impious and wicked. Nor can it exist among people organized on the principle of limited liability on the basis that society is merely a makeshift for controlling the otherwise destructive propensities of its members. A Commonwealth bases its communal life squarely on the principle that every citizen has an unlimited duty of helping every other citizen, that it exists to maintain or promote self-government among its peoples, and that the society it fosters will be healthy only in so far as its members are governed, not by the calculations of intelligent selfishness, but by the law of love. The British Empire is a Commonwealth because for the last 130 years its policy has been modelled more or less on that principle.
The British Commonwealth indeed has come into being, not through any consciously Imperialistic design, not, as Seeley said, in a fit of absence of mind, or by accident, but because it has supplied the needs of the people within it. Where chaos or tyranny or callous exploitation, or perpetual war and robbery reigned before, it has established peace, order and justice. Under its protection one quarter of the people of the earth live in peace. It guarantees to every individual of whatever race or color, an equal liberty before the law. It protects them from devastation from without and from disorder within. It bridges, in its laws and institutions, the gulf between East and West, between white and black, between race and race. It is even able to give full liberty to nationalism and yet combine it with loyalty to a greater Commonwealth. To all it promises not good government only, but eventual self-government. Its whole purpose is to ensure that every citizen may lead the fullest and freest life, consistent with the acknowledgement and discharge of his duties to the rest of the four hundred million human beings who are his fellow citizens. It is easy to point to defects in its administration and its institutions. The room for improvement and progress is infinite. None the less the British Commonwealth of Nations does, in its imperfect human way, meet an essential human need, and that is why it exists, and why it must continue to exist. If we wish for further testimony to this fact we have only to look at the marvellous spectacle of unity and enthusiasm for its defence which all its peoples have manifested in the past four years of war.
DUTY OF EMPIRE
The word "Duty" has played a great part in the upbuilding of our British Empire. In the past it has inspired our greatest statesmen, sailors and soldiers; the pursuit of it has given them their most enduring fame; it has been the trumpet call to which the rank and file of our people have responded most certainly and most heartily in times of national emergency or prolonged strain.
We see the loud call it makes today to the men and women in the King's forces who are ready at its bidding to face great issues of life and death; inspiring also with a new energy our vast armies of industries. We see it bracing up our people to bear financial burdens such as never before have been thought of; to bear them too for other nations less able to make contributions to the common cause.
If personal duty of the citizen to the community is our main reliance for winning our way successfully through this greatest crisis of our existence as an Empire, it is a deepened sense of national duty to other nations. which will enable us to reap the noblest and most enduring fruits of victory, which, however much delayed, we anticipate. It will be the surest guarantee for the maintenance of the Empire.
Out of the Armageddon into which we have been plunged, the nations, victors and vanquished alike, will emerge exhausted and chastened beyond precedent; bereaved in their homes, burdened with debt, confronted with the utmost difficulties in fixing penalties, reconciling race interests, arranging new boundaries, healing the wounds that industry has suffered, and generally reconstructing the dislocated machinery of ordinary life. Above all for each one of them a revision of national outlook is inevitable: a review of the spiritual forces which give impulse and guidance to all powerful nationality.
New values will be given to national ideals, to national pledges, to the true limits of national ambition, to the right direction of national energy. It is the nation which gets these new ideals and values most truly fixed that will gain the most from the war. We know that when the war is over we shall be definitely poorer through the wastage of precious lives. Shall we find compensation in a new and grander outlook of national purpose, a reconsecration of all we have to the service of the world? Shall we find the moral moorings of our nation strengthened for the new strain which is sure to be put upon it in the years to come? This is the interrogation we must answer at the bar of history. What the individual owes to the nation, the nation with its larger outlook owes to the world. If we, the peoples of the British Commonwealth, are to measure this sense of duty we shall find it great indeed.
II. OUR POSITION IN THE WORLD
Let us try to put before ourselves as briefly as possible, what our position is and what these responsibilities mean. Only thus can we grasp the wide reach of our obligations as an Empire. In following our race instincts, and in the course of our national development we have gained a position and accepted responsibilities without any precedent in the whole course of human history.
First, let us think of Canada, covering one-half of the Continent of North America, and with an area equal to that of Europe. Already Canada has consolidated into a powerful state of over eleven million people, with every prospect of a future as great as that of the United States, and with the assured vigor of a Northern race. Next in Australia we have a whole continent, once more the size of Europe-now politically-minded and with its wonderful sunshine and extraordinary natural resources, attracting from every quarter of the globe a population to which it gives a stamp of almost unequalled energy and enterprise.
Farther out in the Pacific is New Zealand, with about the same area as the Motherland, and the same maritime outlook, with a climate, a fertility of soil, and a variety of production which make it one of the most desirable homes and nurseries of our British races that have anywhere been found. Next South Africa, in extent equal to the combined areas of several European countries--and endowed with some of nature's greatest storehouses of wealth.
These Dominions--Canada resting on the Atlantic and Pacific, Australia and New Zealand upon the Pacific and Indian Oceans and South Africa upon the Indian and
Atlantic-form with the Motherland itself, a quadrilateral of maritime position and potential growth which it is difficult for the imagination to grasp.
Smaller colonies and naval stations in the East and West Indies and scattered over the oceans link together these great units. There still remain the great dependencies--India which is graduating in the principles and practice of self-government; with East, West and Central Africa where 30 millions or more backward races depend on us for guidance into the paths of civilization.
It takes a vivid imagination to fill up the details of a picture thus roughly outlined when we add further territories that were incorporated in the Empire after the last war. Never was such a burden of responsibility laid upon any nation or race in the course of history. But responsibility deliberately assumed, furnishes the true and only adequate measure of duty.
Our right to hold this astonishing and unprecedented position in the world has been openly challenged; our power to hold it, is now being tested for the second time within a quarter of a century by the tremendous arbitrament of war. In the mere contest of strength and endurance we believe we shall succeed. But something more than superior strength and material success is required to establish our right conclusively.
The very essence of the claim made by ourselves and our allies is our denial of the right of force alone to control the destinies of the world. We must give convincing proof that we hold as an Empire, the place we have gained in trust for the good of the world, and not merely to satisfy our own selfish interests. To give that convincing proof will be no easy task. The path of highest duty is ever a difficult one to travel. Lord Rosebery on a notable occasion said, "With all its mistakes and shortcomings the British Empire is the greatest secular agency for good that exists in the world". In that conviction lies the explanation of the wonderful rally of every unit of the Empire to the support of the flag which represents our British ideals,--Self-governing Dominions, dependencies and colonies.
But the war has produced other results which may well give us pause in putting our trust solely in ideals peculiar to our own people. We find ourselves fighting side by side with other nations; each devoted to its own conceptions of national life; each ready to suffer and sacrifice anything for their maintenance. Today while each is fighting in defence of what it considers its own highest interest, all are lifted up into a higher atmosphere of co-operation in guarding the largest interests of civilization and humanity. All are pledged to act together in giving security to those interests when the final settlement comes.
It seems to me that this situation presents an opportunity that has never occurred before, that may never occur again, for the British Empire to take a definite lead. Our wider outlook on the world, our contact with almost every civilized and uncivilized people, our settled institutions, the fact that we have already absorbed other nationalities into our system, our readiness to give an equality of opportunity to all men who come to us and accept our principles of life and government; all these things give us an unequalled advantage for leadership in affecting this great change of national attitude between the nations of the world.
Foremost among the tasks that will face the Empire after the war, I am inclined to put the political organization of the Empire. And that I believe was the point General Smuts emphasized in his recent warning to the Empire. We owe that duty to the world as well as to ourselves. The course of this war has made it fairly evident that the British Empire, even in its loosely organized condition, is the rock upon which the wild dreams of German ambition have been shattered in two wars. Without the resistance of the British Empire, it looks as if the German programme for dominating continental Europe would have been carried out. The vials of hate poured out upon us indicate that this is also the German view.
The barrier against aggressive force which has served this temporary purpose in this present struggle will be strengthened and made permanent. This war has cleared the path of statesmanship to an Empire united in fact as well as name; linked together by common interests; controlled by common policy; inspired by common democratic aims. The policy before us is clear and definite. It is to reconcile autonomy in the control of the interests peculiar to each self-governing unit of the Empire with the common responsibility for what concerns them all. If that problem is not solved the fault will lie either in incapacity and want of vision in statesmen, or with the ignorance and indifference of that public opinion which gives policy its motive power.
There are people, not all Germans, who picture our Empire as a greedy monster, which has as a settled policy for some centuries seized every part of the world on which it can lay its hands, and clings tenaciously to it in the sheer lust of imperial power. It would be difficult to convince Germans in their present attitude of mind how false that picture is; but that it is false can be amply proved. It is not much more than eighty years since the leading statesmen of Britain, backed up by what then seemed predominant public opinion, were willing and almost anxious, that those colonies which have since grown into the great Dominions, should separate themselves as independent states. It was deemed an honour to have given birth to free communities; it was considered a disadvantage and weakness to hold them in unwilling bonds. There is a Bill in existence, drawn up in the early sixties of the last century by one of the most distinguihsed lawmakers of England, in consultation with prominent statesmen of the time-a Bill prepared in every detail for submission to Parliament, providing for the resolute separation of the great self-governing colonies from the Motherland. That does not look as if greed of territory and lust of world power has been the permanent policy of the British Empire.
Many of you will know what a determined effort was required, what years of strenuous teaching was needed to resist that tendency, and make British people, both in Britain and in the colonies understand the higher destiny that might be achieved by continued union.
The argument by which that change of national purpose was affected was not based on ideas of aggression, on plans for world dominance or for thrusting our British culture on unwilling nations, small or great: It aimed at peace; at keeping safe the channels of commerce for the whole world; at giving security for the free development on their own lines of the younger nations that the British Empire had founded. What that change of purpose and policy has meant to the Motherland and the whole British Commonwealth of Nations, we are only now beginning to understand.
Under the policy of eighty years ago, the Dominions would have become separate states exposed to separate attack, without the power to resist or be neutral. They would have been unable to combat the greatest and most subtly planned attack on human liberty that history records. Instead of that we see Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa contributing of their available manhood, material wealth and services to share in the great struggle; every smallest colony is sending the best it has to give in men and material.
The arrogant aggressiveness of the German menace has crystallized the will of all our peoples in the Empire into a united purpose more effectually than a century of ordinary political evolution could have done. It is now the business of statesmen to give constitutional form to that common will as a safeguard for the future. Again, it is just that, that the far sighted Prime Minister of South Africa now asks for, and submits practical suggestions for a revision or the organization for the management of the Empire. As I understand his proposals, he simply asks that the great Dominions of the Empire be permitted to shoulder a larger share of the responsibility in that management. Throughout the now powerful self-governing Dominions there is everywhere evident a wonderful willingness to assume a larger and fairer share of the white man's burden.
In conclusion may we take a brief glance at the problems which will confront us in the future. The first concerns the relations to one another of the self-governing nations of the Commonwealth. After the War is over the peoples of the Dominions will rightly ask for a larger share in the management of the Empire, and in the vital decisions concerning the issues of war and peace. The war has revealed the need for such a sharing of power and responsibility. There can be no true union of self-governing nations within the Commonwealth unless they are all ready to place control of purely Imperial affairs to a new and representative Imperial Council. We do not doubt for a moment that each self-governing Dominion with the Motherland, will eagerly carry out their respective parts of an arrangement necessary to the continued unity and stability of the Commonwealth.
The second concerns the attitude of the Motherland and the Dominions to the dependencies. The people of the dependencies, and especially India, will certainly ask and even press for their demand for some formal definition of their status within the Commonwealth, and for some further advance towards self-government. Indeed, they are doing it now. And they will urge in support of their demands that they have taken their share in defending the integrity of our common state, and have shown that they appreciate and understand the principles which give it life. This is true. Things can never be after the war, what they were before. We need not hazard exact prophecies as to what ought and what can be done. But we can say that whatever steps are taken will be in the direction of helping the peoples of the dependencies to govern themselves as rapidly as possible. Nothing else is consonant with the principles to which we subscribe. This is not to solve the problem. The question of how to adjust a continuous progress towards self government with the welfare of all the peoples, not only in India, but of the rest of the Commonwealth is perhaps, the most difficult of all the problems which confront us. The solution of it will be found only in so far as we keep resolutely in front of our eyes the welfare of the whole. If the Indian peoples continue to remember the responsibilities as well as the rights which liberty carries in its train, and if the self-governing peoples remember that the purpose of the Commonwealth is to promote the development of all its members, and are able to fire the imagination of the non-self-governing peoples with their own ideals, a way will be found.
Finally, one word about foreign affairs. We cannot appreciate the full significance of the British Commonwealth, or the full importance of the closer unity of its peoples until we consider their relations with the outside world. The British Commonwealth is the standing denial of the doctrines which have caused the devastation of Europe in this war. It is a living proof that unity comes not of force, but of justice and law, not of self-concentration but of mutual service. It proves no less, that peace is the fruit, not of jealousy and selfishness; but of a brotherhood which can transcend the narrower claims of race and nationality and color. If it were to break up, it would be the greatest calamity which could befall mankind. Indeed the full fruition of the principles on which it rests, will not be realized until through the voluntary association with other Commonwealths it has come to include all the peoples of the earth.
All hopes of human unity and of universal peace, therefore, depend upon its surviving not only the shocks of this colossal war, but the subtler dissensions which may endanger its afterwards. If it does so, the secret springs of its strength cannot fail to impress the minds of other men and peoples searching, after the carnage of war, for the principles that will give them and the rest of mankind, freedom, justice, peace. What those principles are we have seen. If we are to save ourselves, still more, if we are to help other nations, we must see to it that we, the citizens of the British Commonwealth of Nations, are not less faithful to them in the future than we have been in the past.