- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 31 Jan 1957, p. 199-213
- James, F. Cyril, Speaker
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- Item Type
- What is the future of the Empire for which this Club was named or, more precisely of the Commonwealth which is its modern embodiment. Looking back over history and Canadian history and asking ourselves some questions. The nature of the British Empire and how it has changed over the past two centuries, even more than Canada has changed. Four significant stages by which the British Empire has evolved into a Commonwealth which, in the speaker's opinion, is unique in human history. A detailed look at these four stages, beginning with the concept of Empire 200 years ago, which was property. Factors which affected the changes, and delineated the stages. The future of the Commonwealth. Canada's position and responsibilities within the Commonwealth. Difficulties faced by the United Nations. Making the Commonwealth work.
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- 31 Jan 1957
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- Full Text
- "THE FUTURE OF THE EMPIRE"
An Address by F. CYRIL JAMES, M.A., Ph.D., LL.D., D.Sc. Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill University, Montreal
Thursday, January 31st, 1957
CHAIRMAN: The President, Mr. Donald H. Jupp.
MR. JUPP: The first time Dr. Cyril James addressed this Club was on February 6, 1941, when our President was the Hon. G. Howard Ferguson. Dr. James has visited us twice since that time, on February 12, 1948 and on St. Patrick's Day 1949. On the merits of those three speeches alone he would find a warm welcome awaiting him at any time from the Empire Club of Canada and we can be proud that our Year Books contain such fine material.
The reputation of Principal James is widely known. He was born and educated in London, England and came to North America with a B. Comm. from the London School of Economics in 1923 to take his MA and Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania. He stayed there to teach economics subjects until he moved to McGill in 1939. He has been Principal and Vice-Chancellor of McGill since December 1st of that year. He has been given honorary degrees by no less than twenty different universities, among them Toronto in 1945, was made a Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1948.
Dr. James has chosen as his subject today "The Future of the Empire" and in doing so I feel that he has honored us most graciously. Moreover, at this particular point in the evolution of that Empire we are thirsty for knowledge and anxious to have an honest appraisal. At other times in the 54 years' history of the Empire Club sixty of our guest speakers, including Winston Churchill, have dealt with the Empire in one context or another. We could not look forward to anything more keenly in 1957 than Dr. Cyril James speaking on "The Future of the Empire".
MR. JAMES: During the days immediately after the Anglo-French attempt to seize the Suez Canal, some Canadians were suggesting that this action might bring an end to the British Commonwealth. Opinion has changed somewhat during the intervening weeks, but the simple fact that such opinions could be held makes it important for us to ask ourselves soberly, without sudden excitement, What in our opinion is the future of the Empire for which this Club was named half a century ago or, more precisely of the Commonwealth which is its modern embodiment?
The first thought that comes to my mind is that more than a century ago there were many Canadians who felt that the Empire was no longer of interest to this country. The group that signed the Annexation Manifesto in 1849 contained among its numbers several outstanding Canadians. These men were convinced that the usefulness of the British Empire from the viewpoint of Canada was a thing of the past, and that it would be much better for the future development of our country if it should be annexed to the rapidly growing nation of the United States to the south of our border. The people who were enthusiastic about the Reciprocity Treaty of 1854 were more moderate in their convictions. Lord Elgin, indeed, pointed out that increased trade with the United States might improve the prosperity of Canada and avoid the desire for annexation. There were still, however, many Canadians who supported the Reciprocity Treaty because they felt that this compromise would inevitably lead to final commercial and political union with the United States. Many of them must have thought that the action of Great Britain in adopting free trade policies had brought the British Empire to an effective end.
Looking backwards over Canadian history, it is easy for us to say that Canada, in the middle of the nineteenth century, was a vastly different country from that which it has now become. Confederation was still in the future. The Hudson's Bay Company still owned the great North West, and the development of a Dominion stretching from sea to sea was scarcely envisaged by the Parliamentary Commission on the Hudson Bay Territories that was set up in London exactly a hundred years ago. In terms of transportation, the first train to link Toronto and Montreal did not run until 1856, and it is worth remembering that Canada still had no direct communication with Great Britain or Europe. As a matter of fact, exactly one hundred years ago, in the spring of 1857, the SS. Niagara was sailing from our shores eastward across the Atlantic on a mission that envisaged a meeting with HMS AGAMENNON which was sailing from Britain at the same time. The first trans-Atlantic cable was being laid.
Canada was a different place a hundred years ago, and the Canadians who signed the Annexation Manifesto or supported the Reciprocity Treaty could not have foreseen the evolution of the British Empire any more clearly than they envisaged the future development of Canada. We in our day, looking backward, can recognize their blindness and their foolishness.
Might it not be equally true that we Canadians of this generation have no better vision? How clear is our concept of the British Commonwealth at the present time? How clearly do we envisage its future development?
As soon as we begin to ask ourselves those questions, it becomes apparent that the nature of the British Empire has changed even more than Canada has changed during the course of the past two centuries. To describe in detail its process of evolution would take more time than I have at my disposal today and would greatly strain your patience. But I should like, in broad brush strokes, to delineate the four significant stages by which the British Empire has evolved into a Commonwealth which, in my opinion, is unique in human history.
Two hundred years ago the concept of Empire was simple: it was property. The territory and population that a more powerful country had conquered was an asset to be numbered among its possessions, and exploited for its profit. Quite frequently, as in the case of India, Virginia or Massachusetts, the colony was owned by a great corporation that had purchased it for cash and operated it strictly for the profit of its shareholders, but whether operated by a corporation or directly by government the colony had no rights of its own and no voice in deciding whether it should stay in the Empire or leave it.
The Empire belonged entirely to the great power that had conquered it. England followed the trail that had been blazed by Spain, Portugal, France and Holland. If we can find a difference, it lies solely in the fact that emigration from Great Britain was larger in volume than the previous migrations from the older colonial powers to their outlying possessions. These emigrants from Britain, whose character and aspirations are so splendidly set forth in Stephen Vincent Benet's Western Star were not always as concerned as they should have been about the profit of the corporation that paid their passage, or about the mother country from which they came. Quite frequently they carried in their breasts a stubborn and intransigent conviction that they were entitled, wherever they went, to the traditional rights of an Englishman. That conviction might create trouble in the future, but at the moment of their emigration it did not affect the concept of Empire that was strongly held in London, Paris and Amsterdam.
For many of the great powers this concept of Empire continued to be valid until the end of the nineteenth century. The report on the Belgian Congo during the last quarter of that century which was written by that tragic figure, Sir Roger Casement, is pretty grim reading, but there is no reason for us to single out the Belgian Empire as worse than that of many other European countries. The idea of exploitation for profit was still deeply engrained. In the case of the British Empire, however, two sets of forces had combined to bring about a complete change of philosophy during the period from 1775 to 1850. Politically, the American War of Independence had brought home to many thinking people in the United Kingdom the fact that colonies had rights and were entitled to a measure of self government. We should never forget that the birth of the United States, much as it owed to the gallant men who fought under the command of General Washington, also owes something to those great liberal thinkers and statesmen in England who insisted day in and day out that Lord North's concept of empire was out of date and suicidal. The intransigence of the emigrants who thought that they carried with them the rights of an Englishman was justified in the event.
Parallel to this growing political consciousness, but independent of it, was the sequence of hammer blows that we call the Industrial Revolution. The United Kingdom had become the workshop of the world. It had discovered that instead of growing its own food and raw materials it could obtain them more cheaply by spending its energies on the production of manufactured goods and exporting those goods in exchange for the food and raw materials that other countries could produce. Its trade was extending to all the world, and statisticians have pointed out that the trade between Great Britain and the United States grew more rapidly after 1776 than it had during the preceding fifty years. The old policies of colonialism were not necessary. Free trade was a new gospel, and after Britain had repealed the Corn Laws, in 1846, serious thinkers were suggesting that it should divest itself of its colonies, encourage them to become self-governing and concentrate its energies entirely on the development of British industry and trade.
When Albert, Prince Consort, opened the Great Exhibition in London in the spring of 1851, this new philosophy was fully fledged. It was no small vision in terms of the history of humankind. Men dreamed that economic progress under free capitalism would unite the whole world in a peaceful human family, in which the inhabitants of each country would enjoy the products of all in proportion to the volume of their own exports. Each country, and the business men within it, should manage its own affairs, and political government had no responsibilities but those of a policeman to maintain the ring. Colonies should be given the privileges of self government as quickly as possible and encouraged to develop their own economies on their own initiative and with their own resources. The Durham Report of 1837, which is a landmark in the history of the British Empire as significant as it is in the history of Canada, was a reflexion of this new philosophy. The Annexation Manifesto was Canada's angry answer to it.
The dimming of this vision of a flourishing international economy, and the beginning of the third stage in . the evolution of the British concept of Empire, is harder to date. In some ways, the most significant date is exactly a century ago when the Indian Mutiny broke out in Meerat in May of 1857. The ultimate result of that Mutiny was, as we all remember, the termination of the Charter of the East India Company and the end of corporate exploitation of colonial possessions. The Indian Empire, splendidly envisioned by Disraeli, was its successor, and the concept of empire that it embodied began to gather momentum during the 1870's when Britain reversed the previous trend and set out to acquire additional colonies. The detailed record does not concern us here, but as examples we can remember that the Malay States were added to the British Empire in 1872, Fiji in 1875, and the Transvaal in 1877.
During the forty years from the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny to the celebration of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897 a completely new concept of Empire had been worked out. It was displayed in kaleidoscope for all the world to see at those Diamond Jubilee celebrations, in which men in varied uniforms gathered from all the far corners of the seven seas to march in procession and do honour to the great Queen Empress.
This was the Empire that Rudyard Kipling described in story and in verse. It was the concept of Empire that inspired the creation of this Club more than half a century ago.
I do not know if Kipling will be numbered among the greatest of English poets: only the passage of time can decide that. At the moment, few people read him, and there is a tendency to assume that he wrote of an empire ruled by Colonel Blimps that is something out of a past that we should like to forget. In point of fact, whether he is a great poet or not, he wrote clearly and accurately of the ideals of the empire that he praised. He could not have done otherwise and remained the widely-read apostle of empire that his contemporaries knew him to be.
Do you remember his description of Tommy Atkins, the typical British soldier, and his reaction to the attitude of the civilian?
"Yes, makin' mock of uniforms that guard you while you sleep Is cheaper than them uniforms, and they're starvation cheap; And hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're going large a bit Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit."
No German poet could have written that. No German would have dared to treat a soldier as Tommy Atkins was treated regularly in London. The British Empire was certainly not militaristic.
Do you remember the Ballad of East and West that is so often truncated in quotation?
"Oh East is East, and West is West, And never the twain shall meet, Till Earth and Sky stand presently At God's great judgment seat;
But (notice that But) there is neither East nor West Border nor breed nor birth,
When two strong men stand face to face, Though they come from the ends of the earth."
No Belgian, no Russian, poet would have dared to suggest that "natives" were as good as their national soldiers that colour and religion and race were of no importance, that (as Burns expressed it) "a man's a man for a' that"!
Every Canadian knows the poem that celebrated his country's tariff act of 1897
"A nation spoke to a nation, A Queen sent word to a Throne: 'Daughter am I in my mother's house, But mistress in my own. The gates are mine to open, As the gates are mine to close, And I set my house in order', Said Our Lady of the Snows."
Familiarity and repetition have dulled the significance of those words--but let us remember clearly that in 1897 no colony or dominion of any other imperial power would have dared to suggest that "the gates are mine to open, as the gates are mine to close". France has often been praised for its colonial policy, but no French poet would have suggested anything as preposterous as this in regard to Algeria or Tunis.
I could continue this pattern of quotation: there is so much in Kipling that is worth reading as a description of the ideals of the British Empire as they were understood not only by statesmen but by the man in the street. I shall mention only that Recessional which Kipling would not sell or allow to be published for royalties. He sent it to the Times for free publication, as an article of faith and a dedication:
"The tumult and the shouting dies; The Captains and the Kings depart:"
[they had been in London for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee]
"Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice, An humble and a contrite heart. Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, Lest we forget! For frantic boast and foolish word Thy mercy on Thy people, Lord!"
Was there one poet of any empire who, in the hour of its great glory, could pen such lines?
This is not a lecture on Kipling. I have quoted him only because he, more than any other man, reflected unspoken thoughts in the minds of his contemporaries--and found singing words in which to set them forth. The ideals of Empire that he expressed, on behalf of his generation, were revolutionary. They were not based on commercial profit in the traditional sense but on three fundamental ideas that were integrated with one another. In the first place, Britain felt it necessary to acquire and maintain strategic bases throughout the world, partly in order to service the trade routes on which the prosperity and, indeed, the life of the people of Britain depended and partly, as the shadows of war grew ominous, to prepare for Armageddon, so that Britain might continue to play its part in the defence of the free world. In the second place, this Empire of Kipling was shot through with the profound conviction that colonial areas should in due course be dowered with the rights, the liberties and traditional independence of Englishmen, that they should be trained in the traditions of democracy so that ultimately they might govern themselves. In the third place, this concept of Empire was founded on the recognition of "the white man's burden". This is an easy joke nowadays, and calls to mind some of Mr. Low's cartoons of Colonel Blimp. It calls to mind also sad examples of colonial exploitation which masqueraded under this principle, but as in so many other of Kipling's phrases, this one has a deeper meaning if one goes back to read again the poem in which the phrase was coined:
"Take up the White Man's burden No tawdry rule of kings But toil of serf and sweeper- The tale of common things. The ports ye shall not enter, The roads ye shall not tread, Go make them with your living, And mark them with your dead!"
No generation of mankind ever lives up fully to its ideals. George Bernard Shaw had some truth when he remarked epigrammatically that nobody knew whether Christianity would work because no generation had ever tried it. Certainly examples can be found where British practice fell short of British ideals, but the record is still clear that money and manpower were poured out for more than half a century by the United Kingdom to aid and assist the development of colonies and dominions. People did not think this strange, or unduly charitable, in an Empire or a Commonwealth; it is the natural responsibility of a stronger partner to help the weak. Let me add, moreover, that even if practice did fall short of ideals, Kipling, who stated those ideals so clearly, was the most popular writer in the English language at the end of the nineteenth century and undoubtedly reflected the concept that was in the mind not only of statesmen but of the man in the street. Let me add, too, that Britain's strategic vision did contribute to the peace of the world throughout the troubled period from 1865 to 1914. It contributed, too, to the defence of the free world in two great wars, at colossal cost to the people of Great Britain. Let us remember, also, that most of what were once Colonies and Dominions are today sovereign states.
The fourth and present stage in the concept of the British Empire is the logical and successful outcome of the third. As I have just said, all of the Dominions are today sovereign states, determining their own policy not only internally but in the realm of international affairs. Ireland and India have, indeed, become Republics within the framework of the Commonwealth, and foresworn constitutional allegiance to the Crown. In terms of wealth for internal development and external defence, most of these Dominions now feel themselves entirely independent of Great Britain and, if they do not have confidence in their own resources, feel that they can rely upon the great resources of the United States.
What is the future of the Commonwealth in these circumstances? People are usually too polite to state ideas clearly and bluntly. Many of our political ideas are the roseate, and pleasantly vague, visions of half remembered yesterdays, but if we are going to attempt to think about the future it is important that our ideas should be as precise as we can make them. If, then, I may be blunt: much of the discussion in various parts of the Commonwealth at the present time boils down to this: We, [Canada, India or some other country] have grown wealthier and more important, compared to the United Kingdom; we no longer need the assistance that Great Britain gave us in the past; is it worth while keeping up the old friendship? Our new neighbour, the United States, is much richer than Great Britain, and might be more generous. What shall we do about it?
Such bluntness is uncomfortable, but we must face reality if we want to appraise the future. Such a statement, moreover, is defensible in terms of the oldest concepts of Empire that I have mentioned: an Empire or a Commonwealth is worth the profit that you get out of it. We are conscious, however, that this concept of profit is greatly out of date in terms of the development of British political theory, and that such an approach to the future of the British Commonwealth is sadly below the ideals that were envisaged by the men who created this Empire Club of Toronto more than half a century ago.
How are we going to answer this blunt question? Canada's answer is of outstanding importance, not only to ourselves but to every other part of the British Commonwealth and, I think, to the rest of the world. Canada is the oldest self-governing Dominion. It is far and away the wealthiest, both in terms of aggregate national production and in terms of per capita national income. It is the closest, both geographically and in terms of mutual understanding, to the United States.
Canada can afford to make decisions with much greater freedom than any of the other nations that compose the Commonwealth. We are too inclined, even today, to think of ourselves as a small second-rate power, inevitably following the lead either of the United States or of Great Britain. But I can assure you that any Canadian who travels away from this Continent into the Middle East, Asia, Africa or Australia, and talks with people in those areas, obtains a completely different viewpoint. I can still remember the amusement of the foreign minister of a small country in the Middle East, who had asked me about Canada's foreign policy, when I explained to him that we were a small country that did not have an independent foreign policy but followed the lines suggested by our more powerful friends. When he saw that I really meant what I said, he became serious and pointed out to me that at the present time Canada is perhaps the fourth or fifth greatest power in the world in terms of resources. He went on to point out that, from the angle of its international prestige, its rating is even higher, because Canada has no history of colonialism or aggressive war. He mentioned to me that General Burns, who is so splendidly doing a difficult job in the Middle East, is a man of outstanding ability but the fact that he is a Canadian helps
him immeasurably. Canada has a reputation for integrity and ability that has been demonstrated by the representatives that our Government has sent to all parts of the world. It is also admired for its generous aid to nations that are less wealthy.
All of us realize that Canada cannot escape from the responsibilities of its position. Our northland is the frontier of democracy, and if war should come (which Heaven forfend!) the attack on this Continent will move across Canada. We are the Lords of the Marches--the defender of the outward bastion. In a more hopeful sense, we know that our future is involved in the future of the whole free world, that our prosperity depends upon trade, that our resources can only bring us optimum wellbeing if we are able to develop on the basis of them an industrial and trading organization that is geared to the needs and habits of every corner of the world. We know these things. We are not isolationist. We recognize that Canada has responsibilities to the rest of the world. The question that we must think about is the precise way in which those responsibilities are to be discharged.
To some Canadians it is enough that we play a part and, on several occasions, a very distinguished part in the affairs of the United Nations. They assume that this new organization of states is going to provide the machinery for the solution of all the problems that vex the world. It is wise, however, to remember that the League of Nations did not in its generation achieve peace throughout the world, nor was it effective in staving off the second World War. Even at this moment we in Canada, like millions of people throughout the world, are waiting to see whether the United Nations (successor to the League of Nations) is going to take a firm and constructive stand in the Middle East and help the world towards a peaceful solution of the difficult problems that vex that area.
The difficulty of the United Nations is not due to any lack of desire. In the Assembly, and in the Council, Canada finds herself with many like-minded people, representatives of nations that are eager to attain a peaceful and prosperous world. The difficulty lies in the fact that the United Nations, like any omnibus international organization, includes all of the parties to the dispute. The representatives of the western world are confronted across the table by the representatives of the communist world. The power of veto can paralyze action. In many senses, the meetings of the United Nations are more comparable to the assemblies of a peace conference than to the normal activities of a parliament, or a city council, or a club composed of like-minded people eager to find a constructive solution. I might add, in parenthesis, that the present situation of the City Council of Montreal, with its dispute between two executive committees and the attempt to use a veto for the purpose of preventing action, is closer to the pattern of the United Nations than it should be!
In a world of contrasting philosophies and opposing interests, the association of like-minded people in intimate contact for the achievement of a common cause is the only hope of constructive progress. In the field of international affairs, the only association of that kind that is possible in our generation is the British Commonwealth.
Let us remember its structure. We hear the phrases so often that their meaning becomes blurred, but each of them is significant. Every member of the British Commonwealth is a sovereign state, proud of its independence and conscious of its right to leave the Commonwealth at any moment that it should so decide. These sovereign states are not bound by treaty, by tariffs or by force. They comprise an infinite diversity of peoples, of geography, of religions, of habits and of economic development. They are united only by a common tradition, a common ideal--the realization that the individual is more important than the state, that freedom is more important than generous rations, that "man shall not live by bread alone". In such an association there will, inevitably, be irritations. There are people in Canada (and I am sure in Great Britain) who disapprove of the British policy in regard to Suez (even though history may be kinder to Anthony Eden than his contemporaries have been). There is concern, and some serious opposition, to the treason trials and the policy of apartheid in South Africa. There is widespread dislike among some Canadians of the socialism of the Government of England, or that of New Zealand. These differences and defects, regrettable as some may think them, are much less important than the fundamental things that we hold in common. No man, no nation, is perfect. No man, unless he be a megalomaniac dictator, expects all other people to do exactly what he wishes. We like our friends, and bind them to us with cords of affection, in spite of their minor idiosyncrasies.
If we hope to preserve for our children the freedom to make up their own minds, even the freedom to make their own mistakes, the Commonwealth is the only organization on which we can rely with complete confidence. It is built on the traditions that are the foundation of our Canadian society, of the society of every other Dominion and, let us remember, of the society of our great neighbour, the United States. It is elastic. We can admit to its association countries such as our NATO allies, which share the same conviction. We can even ask the United States to resume its place as a charter member, and meanwhile work in closest partnership with that country.
It is the idea of partnership, of the sharing of ideals and burdens, which is the essential ingredient that we must keep continually before our minds. Peace cannot be preserved in the world by the unilateral action of anyone great power: peace and progress depend upon cooperation, honest friendship, and mutual trust. Let us remember that if we cannot make the Commonwealth work as a partnership of free peoples for the progress of mankind, we are very unlikely to make the United Nations, or any other international association, work more successfully. If, on the other hand, the nations of the Commonwealth and those that share our ideals are continually conscious of the traditions that bind our destinies together, if we stand solidly together and work together in a common determination to preserve our liberties, we shall be acting worthily as the inheritors of the finest ideals that made the third phase of the British Empire's evolution memorable in terms of the history of human progress.
This means more than words. Canada is now a responsible member of the Commonwealth, wealthy in its own right and no longer dependent. If we inherit the concept of Empire, in its idealistic sense, we must remember that this concept was based upon the practical realization of strategic objectives in a military sense, and on the practical implementation of developmental policies for the poorer areas in an economic sense. We shall have, from time to time, to provide money and to provide men, to help the poorer parts of the Commonwealth develop. We shall have to spend time and energy working out with them policies appropriate to the preservation of our common institutions and our way of life. We must be patient, remembering that it is much harder to work out common policies when all the members of the group are more nearly equal in strength than it is when one is the outstanding leader and pays the bills. We shall require persistence, as well as patience, courage and vision. Is not the ultimate reward worth all this effort just as much today as it was sixty years ago? If we can preserve the Commonwealth, if we can, as a Commonwealth, work in association with the United States and other powers that share our ideals, if we can make this association function as a group of friends, and refrain from carping, backbiting criticism of another which destroys spontaneous affection; then it is clear that no better method is available for the protection and development of the ideals that are our heritage. It is equally clear that, in such circumstances, no force on earth can threaten our welfare.
THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Dr. C. C. Goldring, Past President of the Club.