THE PRESENT CHALLENGE TO BRITISH IMPERIALISM
AN ADDRESS BY H. L. STEWART, PH.D., M.A., (OXON.) F.R.S.C.
Thursday, 5th November, 1936
PRESIDENT: Gentlemen, we welcome as our guests at the head table, and at our meeting generally, distinguished members of three great modern educational institutions, the university, the press and the radio. Our guest speaker today is very active in disseminating knowledge, education in all of these three institutions. He is a Professor of Philosophy at Dalhousie University. He is the Editor of the "Dalhousie Review," and he is world news commentator over CRCT every Sunday evening on the radio. Dr. Stewart's address today will be on the subject: "The Present Challenge to British Imperialism." Dr. Stewart.
DR. H. L. STEWART: Mr. Chairman, Members of the Empire Club of Canada: The subject which I have to discuss is so extensive and so complicated that I shall avert take up time with either introduction or peroration. It is a few quite simple, but to my mind very urgent reflections, that I want to set before you as concisely as I can.
Let me, however, in a word or two, say how much I appreciate the honour and value the opportunity which your invitation has brought me.
As your Chairman has indicated, I have for a considerable time devoted such energy and leisure as I could spare from professional work to the study of international questions and conflicts. Among these the prospects of what is generally called British Imperialism are, at the moment, causing an anxiety, a misgiving, I think I might say an alarm that are distinctly new. I want to speak to you about the difference in public attitude on this matter that has developed within recent years. It is not, indeed, altogether new. By no means. But it is new in some very significant respects. The old familiar phrases, the old familiar thoughts about the British Empire seem strangely remote from the characteristic way in which our present generation thinks and expresses itself. This applies at least as much to the way in which British Imperialism is now advocated as to the way in which it is assailed. Epithets of ancient abuse have become almost as obsolete as the language of ancient compliment, because both alike have come to appear superficial. It is a change, I am sure, for good, although-like so many changes that are good--it is temporarily disagreeable. Eulogists and detractors have alike been startled into more fundamental thinking. Our Empire creed has been forced to a wholesome restatement by the experience of these last tremendous years which have cast such fierce light upon the roots of things.
Gentlemen, yours is surely the kind of audience to which, on a subject of this character, fraught with such consequence for the great values, a speaker would desire to address himself. The Empire Club of Canada, by its record, by its tradition, by its very name, assures me how vital is such an interest to you.
By the challenge to British Imperialism I mean, this
The small Island whose explorers, settlers, soldiers and sailors have brought so great a part of the globe under British control or under predominantly British influence is being summoned as never before to justify, to abate or to share these world-wide pretensions. The press of many countries, including sections by no means unimportant of the British press, provides my evidence. It is impossible to mistake the new tone which has entered into diplomatic exchange between London on the one side and at least three great capitals--Berlin, Rome, Tokio--on the other. Sometimes affecting the 'disguise of formal compliment, at other times proceeding, quite brusquely, to say what is wanted, these diplomatists have struck a new note. For example, five years ago, when the world economic crisis began to be felt with 'its full force in Japan, and Japanese foreign trade fell by over 30 per cent in the course of the year, it was decided at Tokio that the only way out was by annexation of Manchuria. To British remonstrances the answer was given that by just the same logic of economic necessity or ambition the growth of the British Empire has to be 'defended, and when the League of Nations--at British prompting--applied to Japan the censures of a more austere morality, the Japanese replied by withdrawal from the League. From Italy we heard alike mocking retort when the Abyssinian adventure was, condemned in the English press. Is it then possible, Mussolini asked an English journalist, that your countrymen have adapted a moral rule which would represent their own record for 300 years as one of international brigandage, and their national heroes--from Drake to Cecil Rhodes-as sordid buccaneers? Some weeks ago Hitler's voice sounded again in the chorus. Addressing the annual Nazi Convention at Nuremberg, he exclaimed: Think how Germany has to work to wrest a few square kilometers from the ocean and from the swamps, while others are swimming in a superfluity of land. Then he spoke of what he could do with Russian territory if he had it--with the raw material of the Ural Mountains, with the Siberian forests, with the wheatfields of the Ukraine.
That this restless discontent in three great Powers will not exhaust itself in recriminations of 'diplomacy is now clear. Japan has acted, Italy has acted, Great Britain in both cases protesting in vain. How, much further the Italian and the Japanese aggressiveness will proceed, whether these Empire-seekers will be satisfied--as they put it--to do elsewhere what Great Britain has so often done, or whether they will attempt to wrest from Great Britain some part of her long established Dominions beyond the seas, few will undertake to predict. It is enough for our purpose to observe the manifest uneasiness in Egypt, in the Soudan, in Australia. One often hears that the Mediterranean, which Mussolini likes to call Italy's own sea, may soon be so dominated in its narrower parts by Italians aircraft and submarines as to be rendered no longer available for British navel passage via Suez to the East. The possibility of this has led the British Government to take up with the Government of South Africa the question of restoring the old Eastward route via the Cape of Good Hope. Statements, obviously inspired from official sources, are setting forth how much the inconvenience and the costliness of this longer route have been exaggerated, and how many compensating advantages really belong to it as compared with the passage by Suez. That argument seems more fitted to reconcile the British public to a choice already made than to determine the alternative which shall be chosen. Italian interference on the rebel side in the Spanish Civil War has, of course, deepened this alarm, for anyone can guess the price that would be exacted for such timely help. What further value would belong to Great Britain's hold upon Gibraltar, and how long could that hold be preserved, if Spain had "gone Fascist" and had conceded to Italy on the coast of Spanish Morocco enough for effective submarine base and air base?
A like, and indeed a complementary, peril to British Imperialism lies in the German demand for return of those colonies in Africa which the Fatherland had to give tip by the terms of Peace in 1919. Hitler has made it plain that for this the reawakened spirit of the German people is ready and eager to fight. For the Cameroons, Togoland, German South West Africa, German East Africa, (renamed, since the war, Tanganyika)--for all this, not merely on grounds of sentiment and national 'prestige, but to assure a constant supply of the indispensable raw material for German manufacture. Now suppose that this is seriously meant. With what composure could Great Britain await the German reoccupation of Tanganyika by which, with Italians already in control of Libya, the encirclement of Egypt and the Soudan would be made complete? What in that case would become of those communications by air which have of late been so perfected and .are now so essential, not only as between Great Britain and India or Australia, but as among the different British-controlled areas in Africa itself? It is not the "All-Red Route" or the "Cape to Cairo Railway" alone, the dream of a generation ago, that is endangered. It is that new peril of the air which threatens British Imperial interests as they were never threatened in days gone by.
The menace, too, is not wholly from outside. German insistence upon return of the African colonies has powerful support, for example, in the English newspapers controlled by Lord Rothermere. That veteran journafist, Mr. J. L. Garvin, too constantly lends the weight of his influence to the plea that Great Britain's right to keep what she holds overseas is .no stronger than the right of Italy and Germany to the overseas expansion they now demand. Look at the editorial columns of The Day Mail or The Observer on any occasion when such international issue is raised. Lord Rothermere has published over his own name a definite argument that Togoland, the Cameroons and Tanganyika, held for the last fifteen years by Great Britain under mandate from the League, be now forthwith surrendered. From Tanganyika comes a desperate message that the British settlers there will never submit to any such transference, and that they are already organizing, after the fashion of Ulster twenty years ago, against what they think a great betrayal. The British Minister for the Dominions has delivered a sharp, categorical denial of alarmist rumors. "We are not," he says, "quitting anywhere--either in Tanganyika or anywhere else." But the alarm is insufficiently allayed by this, as all readers of such organs as The National Review and all who have observed the doings at the recent Conservative Convention in Margate must full realize. Amid such menaces from without, answered by such cooperative agitation within, Great Britain may fairly ask what is the mood of those Dominions upon which hitherto she has been able always to count.
Here again we are confronted with a situation that is new. When Germany and Italy and Japan complain that Great Britain is an international monopolist, and protest that monopolies established by a world power need restraint under some measure corresponding to the Anti-Trust Laws, they stir in not a few Dominion quarters an acquiescent response. My own correspondence, from radio listeners in all parts of Canada, tells me how widespread is the agreement that the so-called "Hungry Powers" have a grievance. They came late, I am reminded, into the enterprise of colonization: nearly all that was worth having had already been picked up; a few Powers, notably Great Britain, France, Belgium, Portugal, Holland, had divided among themselves most of the areas attractive for settlement, for raw material or for commerce; when satiated with all the choicest spoils, says one picturesque correspondent, these Powers had the effrontery to intimate that the game is now over, and to set up what they cabled a "Covenant of the League of Nations" for ensuring the territorial status quo.
Such misgivings about the justice of British predominance in the world is combined just now with sombre reflection on the breakdown of the League of Nations, and with many a doubt as to whether the sacrifice of the Great War--thus fast losing what seemed to be its glorious fruit--was not a sadly mistaken heroism. Things, my correspondents tell me, are now worse than ever. The literature of enthusiasm to which that war period gave birth has become too depressing to recall. Every hope, every forecast, every high resolve for a new international order sounds in one's ears like a satire on the situation as it has developed. Very obvious is the consequence of this for what is called British Imperialism. That creed was always mocked by the occasional cynic, the sort of person who delights in those American magazines which have coined, an unsavoury name for their still more unsavoury purpose when they speak of "debunking," and which have made British Empire effort a special example of capitalist hypocrisy throughout the world. But they have been reinforced by others whose quality of mind and heart is more creditable. Those who delight to disbelieve in the uprightness of any human purpose are stimulated by the discovery of others, not few, who have been as they think disillusioned by trial. They falter where they firmly trod. And the inference is the same, however reached. British Imperial cooperation is being disparaged, discouraged, resisted in too many parts of the British Dominions on the ground that its purposes have been shown selfish or futile, and that wisdom after all lies in the American policy of isolation. It was set forth perhaps with most pungent force when Mr. Bernard Shaw avowed his own disposition to an interviewer in Florida. "Europe," he said, "is in a hell of a mess, but I don't give a damn."
Now, is there any reply to these considerations, which I have endeavoured to state not in some artificially weakened dilution, but in their strongest and, most persuasive form?
Let me present this case under a similitude, inadequate and faulty like all similitudes, but useful--when received under such limitations and warnings-to make an argument clear. What Communists demand in the world of domestic revolution, the so-called "Hungry Powers" demand in 'international change. The challenge is similar in its superficial plausibility. It is similar in the passion, often unreasoning, which it excites in two sorts of zealots -the sort it inspires and the sort it enrages. It is similar still more strikingly in this, that intermediate between the enraged and the inspired there is a great multitude with an instinctive feeling that the demand is wrong, but wholly at a loss to say how or why. And finally, it is similar perhaps most of all in respect of the fundamental ruin, masked, by imposing but transient attractions, which it would inflict if successful, particularly in the end on, those whom it promises to benefit. Let me develop these points in turn.
A Communist dwells upon the flagrant inequalities of the heritage to which men are born. He speaks of social handicap, of the desperate struggle for such scanty recompense that is the fate of the many, over against the ease with which the material goods of life are garnered by a few. He puts a question, much more readily ignored or suppressed than answered, about the justice of this. He summons us to am investigation of how private property arose; to an enquiry into the source of great fortunes; and he invokes the authority of works of historical research which lend much colour to his indictment. He parades before us the record of long and successful fraud achieved within the law, arid challenges us to show how the forcible transference of advantage which he desires would be less creditable than the forcible establishment of which he complains. Nothing else in the strange paradox of Nazi or Fascist eloquence is quite so odd as the Communist spirit which so often appears in these professed champions against Communism. It must surely have been some reminiscence of the rhetoric of his house-painting days which prompted Hitler's outburst on Germany slaving to reclaim areas of swamp land while other Powers, favoured by the accident of birth, are swimming in plenty!
In like manner the Communist dwells upon the now clearly demonstrated need for rectifying these inequalities by force. He ridicules the pretence of those more favoured by fortune that the game of acquisition must be considered at an end, or that its rules must be more sternly drawn at the moment when the great prizes are securely in their own hands. He calls his enterprise "class-war,"--after the analogy of international conflict, and in the very spirit of Mussolini or Hitler he points out what May well be quite true, that there is no record of the party in unfair possession giving up its privileges except under force. I think the parallel will not fail when we pass from what I have called the language of menace without to the language of misgiving within. A very great proportion of the comfortable classes in society must be counted with those born to the prestige of high national citizenship as doubtful about the justice of their privileges and with a sense of guilt about the enjoyment of them.
But now look, for a moment, at another side of the picture. If the case against British Imperialism is like the case against private property in respect of plausible strength, the resemblance is no less marked, and I think it is considerably more important, in respect of fundamental weakness.
What is the matter with Communism as a social scheme? To most of us the deterrent is found less by analysis of intrinsic meaning than by forecast of probable consequences. We reflect upon what would be fairly sure to happen if the State attempted to over-ride by compulsory equalization in goods the vast inequalities of talent, of diligence, of the temper essential to success which Nature has ordained and law cannot abolish. We think of the fecundity in artifice with which those of better brain, .no matter how they were handicapped by law, would still outwit those of poorer brain, showing an intensified bitterness born of the class struggle in whose ruthlessness they had been bidden to believe. We remember how Communism rests upon that most degrading of all assumptions about human nature, the assumption of sheer selfishness as basic and of all the apparent altruisms as but selfishness in disguise. We combine with a disgusted refusal to entertain this slander upon our race a very considerable fear of what might happen in the attempt to act upon it: for we have commonly observed that cynical disparagement of human pretence to virtue is the prelude to some enterprise of personal corruption. Finally, when we hear that things are to be made perfect by wider and wider extension of State control, we feed like putting our fingers 'in our ears. "Leaving things to the government--alas," said that keen Socialist, Mr. H. G. Wells, in one of his more candid moments, "that means leaving it to the politicians." The anti-Communist objects to that proposal, disbelieving in politicians for the same reason Coleridge gave for disbelieving in ghosts. "I have seen," he said, "too many."
I scarcely need to dwell upon the closeness of this analogy for the case of international redistribution. Picture if you can a Conference, at Geneva no doubt, where the assignment of land to nations on more equitable basis than that which natural evolution has yielded would be taken up by delegates from every racial group. The picture that comes before us is that of each representative facing a huge terrestrail globe, with economic and geographical statistics in some work for handy reference by his side, and rival schemes emerging in such senseless chaos as would make the records of the Tower of Babel seem luminous and intelligent. Mazzini once said that nations are citizens of humanity even as individuals are citizens of a nation. Cannot you foresee how all that has 'developed of class war among social groups would be shown on a hugely intensified scale, and how the difficulty put with such picturesqueness about the Communist reform of property as that of "unscrambling eggs" would be many times worse for the creation of an international scheme flawlessly just?
The analogy from Communism is one that I should like to press further still. When we have shown, as we think adequately, that the remedies it prescribes would prove far worse than any social grievance it would cure, we are still a long distance from being finished with the problem it has raised. If not this solution, then what other solution? For it is idle to pretend that the inequalities of life are yet anywhere near to adequate adjustment. In like manner the case for what are cabled the Unsatisfied or Hungry Powers leaves us with a large residum still to explain or a large demand of reason still to meet. I suggest that it will have to be dealt with as the corresponding plea for underprivileged classes has been progressively dealt with in social legislation. We are as far as ever, in Great Britain, in the United States, in France, in Canada from meeting the appeal of the less fortunately born by a wholesale pooling of property and a new assignment on equal terms. But we are likewise indeed far removed from the temper of three or four, even of one or two generations ago, in inflexible insistence that the inequality of classes shall preserve all its old ruthless consequence for individuals. It has been our effort, and in no small degree the effort has been accomplished, to provide opportunities not visionary, but altogether practical, by which all men-however handicapped by the circumstances of birth-may achieve a success proportionate to their talents.
Must not the like be undertaken internationally? To make it altogether concrete--I suggest that the coming League Conference on greater accessibility of raw materials, which Great Britain took the lead in urging at last session in Geneva, holds the brightest promise for the future. Everyone knows, though hardly anyone will yet say it, that the key to the situation lies in reform of tariffs. Germany, Italy, Japan can get all the raw material and all the foodstuffs they can use, in this world where production of primary commodities has of late been excessive, if they have money to purchase. But they cannot purchase unless they can sell, and they cannot sell when the tariff wall remains unscalable. "Economic Demobilization" that is Premier Blum's new term: and he has done much beyond coining a new term: he has set the example of a new policy. Last Tuesday in the United States the overwhelming, the unprecedented endorsement of the other great nation which matters most for this world reform was given to the leader least bound by the prejudices which have impeded it and most aflame with the enthusiasms which inspire it. The German Finance Minister spoke the other day in language whose implication seemed to be that here indeed lies the hope of settlement. Greet Britain, by all her past, less wedded by far than other powers to the Economic Nationalism which might stand in the way, is suited for this leadership. You remember, perhaps, how half a century back Joseph Chamberlain warned the English possessing classes that they had better make up their minds in time to pay what he called "ransom" by timely concession of part of their privileges for lease to retain the remainder. It was an unpleasant word, with a piratical ring. But it had the Chamberlain directness and clarity. Perhaps another "ransom," this time an international one, may soon be forthcoming. If it is, we may remember with satisfaction that what was thought fifty years ago to be piratical pillage in social change we now regard as simple justice. I suspect that a like revision of the fears and resentments, the discontents and protests of today will mark the spirit of British and Canadian thinkers a century hence.
All this challenge, gentlemen, as I have called it, has a peculiar significance for us because fifteen years ago, when proposal of a League committee to consider the question of easier access to raw materials was pressed -at Geneva, the Canadian delegate was among those who strongly opposed it. The proposal came from Italy, and it has even been suggested that if Italy had met with more generous response on that occasion she might not have had recourse to the sinister alternative of obtaining her raw material otherwise. That, I must say, seems to me a fantastic conjecture. Italian, militarist policy is just now shaped by one whose desire is far less for justification than for pretext, one for whom if a particular pretext is cleared away another will soon be found, one who has made his own, the rule of his favorite philosopher, Friedrich Nieztsche : "It has been said by them of old time that a good cause will justify even war: but I say unto you that a good war will justify any cause."
It should, however, be remembered that the more unreasonable the demand of the enemy we have to meet, the more important it is to be reasonable ourselves. Outrageous enemies and outrageous demands are the more effectively resisted when we have deprived them of their element of rational complaint. And when this has been done, as Great Britain is today taking the initiative towards 'it, our faith in British imperial policy--so wide in scope, so generous in concession, so penetrating in its vision of what lies ahead--should be greater than ever. It is in this respect that the challenge which T took as title for my address becomes the stimulus to a wiser and a nobler pride.
Gentlemen, I cannot close without reminding you of the special force with which this should come home today to Canadians so close to the anniversary of Armstice. It is the last meeting, I understand, of your Club until we shall have kept again that day so laden with memories of achievement and of sacrifice. It is the day when, most of all days of the year, we think of what was made possible by sustained cooperative effort among the self-governing countries bound together by a great partnership for what we call the British way of life. We do well to make sure from time to, time that we understand its basis and from time to, time to revise its implications, but Heaven forbid that for a moment we should think of weakening it. Never have we had quite so much reason to be proud of what together we have accomplished and guarded; never did that strange blend of order and freedom of individual rights and collective efficiency, mean quite so much as in, these days when Nazi and Bolshevist and Fascist competitors have made us so conscious of what we have so long enjoyed. We know, how much of the volume of reproach to, which it has been subjected comes from sources we may discount. The jealousy of unsuccessful, rivals, the exaggerated alarms of the nervous played upon by a sensation-loving press, a certain morbidness of self-criticism at a time of universal disappointment! Nor do we pretend that, unlike our British predecessors whose strength came so much from the flexibility of mind with which they learned' and improved so much, our British generation, is without need or power to improve and to learn. My plea to you today is for no obstinate attachment to ancient 'mperial ways; quite the reverse. But it is with .all the emphasis and earnestness I can command for this, that we go forward together, that we heed not the voice sounding in too many quarters for an independent or a nationalized Canada. Together we have achieved in the great past. Together we have to meet a future laden with perils. In the only sense in which nationality or independence is valuable, we have them both; those who still assail our ears with complaint about that are but re-vexing the ghost of long dead controversies, or feverishly battering at an open door. Canada is faced with no question about asserting her freedom of choice. But she has always the very grave and responsible question of what she is going to choose: By all her past experience, by the vision of what has yet to be done and may yet be done for the great human values through keeping the old British partnership, not least by the spectacle of world alternatives working so disastrously on every hand, her decision should surely be dear. We cannot afford to choose wrongly, or to choose too late. And the omens seem to me to indicate that a decisive choice, not without difficulty, will have to be taken before long.
(Applause.) PRESIDENT: Dr. Stewart, I am sure it is quite unnecessary for me to add by way of thanks any words to the demonstration given by this large assembly of our membership. Your subject has, indeed, been one of vital interest. Your address has raised considerations of great importance to all Canadians, more particularly perhaps to the members of the Empire Club, which stands for Canada and the United Empire. Dr. Stewart, I thank you for Corning here today and giving us this address.