- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 28 Nov 1929, p. 324-335
- Waugh, Professor W.T., Speaker
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- Item Type
- No appreciable change for the better in the relations between the component parts of the British Commonwealth in the three years since the speaker last addressed The Empire Club. Some of the dangers, some of the disruptive influences which it seems to the speaker are affecting the Commonwealth. A very quick review of the more obvious and publicized problems. The attitude of the British people toward the colonies or dominions. The waning of imperialistic fervour. The end of British enthusiasm about the Empire with the election of 1906. A remaining cool and considered regard for the values of the Empire. The ignorance about the Overseas Dominions of the English with some illustrative anecdotes. Reference to a review of the relations between the different Dominions since the War. Speculation with regard to a United States of Europe. One or two disruptive influence in the Dominions themselves. Anti-British feeling in parts of the Dominions. A greater effort to bring people together through intelligent travel. The risk of talking and arguing about equality of status. The desirability from the point of view of the whole human race that the Empire should continue.
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- 28 Nov 1929
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- SOME DISRUPTIVE INFLUENCES IN THE BRITISH COMMONWEALTH
AN ADDRESS BY PROFESSOR W. T. WAUGH, M.A., B.D.
28th November, 1929
PRESIDENT EAYRS introduced the speaker, who said: When I was talking to you three years ago my subject was General Wolfe, and I took advantage of that to draw from the history of General Wolfe's own day some warnings which I thought necessary concerning the position and prospects of the Empire. I reminded you that when the British conquered Canada there seemed no cloud whatever in the future of the Empire, its greatest danger being that arising from the French in North America having been overcome, and everybody broke forth into enthusiastic thanks to God, and into the most optimistic prophecies about the glorious future. Yet within a very few years Quebec, which had been taken through the instrumentality of Wolfe, was being again besieged, this time by rebellious British subjects, and it was being defended against them with the sympathy, passive, but it may be to some extent active, of the conquered French Canadians.
That transformation needed only sixteen years; and three years ago I said that it behooved us to be very careful lest we should become unduly optimistic about the prospects of the Empire of our own time, regarding which a good deal of rather reckless talk was just then going on because a week or two before the famous report of the Imperial Conference about Dominion status had been published, and people were calling it the Magna Charta, and I know not what besides. Now, in the three years that have elapsed since then, I think you will all agree there has not been any very appreciable change for the better in the relations between the component parts of the British Commonwealth. I do not think anyone would say that the ties uniting that Commonwealth had become any stronger in that time. One has only to look at the political history of such countries as Australia, or South Africa., or Britain itself, to see that whatever direction development may have taken, still they cannot be said to have made the British Commonwealth any stronger than it was three years ago.
I want today to talk very briefly about some of the dangers, some of the disruptive influences which it seems to me are affecting the Commonwealth. A mood of passive optimism is of all moods the most dangerous. You must not infer from what I am going to say that I am in any way hostile to the Empire, but I view with some concern the superficial, confident talk that is going on now. We have had a lot of it in this country in the last two or three years. We have had visits from a number of British statesmen, Mr. Avery, Mr. Baldwin, Mr. Churchill, Mr. Thomas, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, to mention only the more conspicuous, and on the occasion of every visit there have been great speeches extolling the Empire and pressing the harmony and unity that pervades it.
Now, it seems to me that the people who talk in that excessively optimistic way are overlooking some very important facts, facts that must be taken into account if we are to do the best we can for the preservation and promotion of the Empire. I want to mention one or two of these. I am not going to speak of certain very conspicuous disruptive influences that are always being referred to in the newspapers; there is no need to dwell upon them. For instance, I am not going to say anything about the attitude of the Whites in South Africa towards the natives, or the attitude of the Australians towards the immigration of colored peoples. They give rise to very difficult problems which certainly do not make for harmony and co-operation within the Empire, but they are very familiar to all of you, and they have been and still are being amply discussed in the press. I am not going to talk, either, about certain people who are frankly hostile to the Commonwealth, like many of the natives of India or a good many of the Irish. Nor shall I dwell upon certain races in the Commonwealth, that is, the Dutch in South Africa and the French here who, though they are not actively hostile or critical, or still less rebellious, they still cannot be expected to care very much for the British connection.
I want first of all to deal with certain disruptive influences that were caused by Great Britain. We are very often liable to forget that a rope joining two things together may be cut from either end; and I fancy the people in this country are too ready to assume that the British are eager to maintain the Commonwealth at all costs, that they are willing to make almost any concession in order to prevent the secession of the Dominions. Now, the course of history in Great Britain does not support such a view at all. The British temper is not naturally imperialistic, and the attitude of the British people toward the colonies or dominions, as a rule, has been one of a friendly indifference at best, and an impatient indifference at worst.
It is rather difficult for most of us to realize this fact, because during a period of 20 years there was a good deal of imperialistic fervour in Great Britain, and during those 20 years I fancy most of us were growing up and having our ideas formed. It is hard to understand that before that period started somewhere about 1885 most Englishmen, Conservative as well as Liberals, took it for granted that the Colonies would presently fall away, and that the utmost that British policy could hope to achieve was that there would be an amicable parting. It was Disraeli, and not any member .of the Manchester School, not any Little Englander, who first referred to those Colonies as a millstone about our necks; and although his views about the Colonies did change later on, still it is very significant that a man with his great outlook should ever have said anything like that.
Now, this imperialistic fervour boiled pretty high for a time. It rose to its climax, I suppose, in the year 1897, the year of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. It was still pretty hot a couple of years later when the South African war broke out, but then it cooled rapidly, as Joseph Chamberlain found to his cost. In the year 1902 Chamberlain came forward with his famous proposals of tariff reform. He was in favour of introducing protective duties in the interests of British manufacture, and he was also in favour of Imperial reciprocity, thinking that a system of preferential tariff within the Empire would help to bind its component parts more closely together. Well, as we all know, Joseph Chamberlain's program did not appeal to the British electors. It was hopelessly defeated at the general election of 1906. But from our point of view the significant thing about that election was that the Imperial issue played hardly any part. The electorate was not interested in the Imperial aspect of Chamberlain's proposal; all it cared about was the effect in England of the imposition of a tariff; would the workman's food cost him more? That was the question that was in the forefront of everybody's mind; that was the question on which the election was fought.
With the election of 1906 British enthusiasm about the Empire came to an end. The next few years, it is true, there was a good deal of talk about Imperial Federation. It came mainly from New Zealand and Australia, but if you follow the proceedings of the Imperial Conference during those years you will find that any proposals for uniting the Empire more closely by political bonds had cold water thrown upon them, first by the British Government, and secondly by the representatives of Canada.
Since the War Imperialistic enthusiasm in Great Britain has been very low. There is no desire whatever for expanding British territories, and interest in the Commonwealth frankly is not very fervent. I do not know whether you realize that there has never been a general election in Great Britain in which an issue affecting the Empire has decided the result; and at the present time, though Conservatives are beginning to talk about the promotion of Imperial trade, and suggest that that may be made a plank in their platform at the next election, still the party managers know well enough that that will not be a vote-catching card, because everybody will at once say, "If you are to do anything in this direction you will have to tax the people's food, and that the electorate will not stand."
You might say that while the Empire people do not, as a rule, feel enthusiastic about the Empire they have still a cool and considered regard for its values. Their interest may not be emotional, but at any rate it is intelligent. Well, I very much doubt whether there is much interest at all, cool or enthusiastic. What strikes me most when I talk to English people about the Overseas Dominions is their utter ignorance. Of course I encounter it most in relation to Canada, because Canada is the usual subject of our conversation, but one meets it in relation to other Dominions. My wife not long ago was talking to a lady in England who would be called, I suppose, an educated lady, and she knew that one of this lady's sons was somewhere abroad, and she asked the lady where he was, and the lady said, "Oh, he is in British Colombo." My wife looked rather astonished at this, and the lady hastened to add, "Yes, in British Colombo, in New Zealand, you know." (Laughter.) I fancy that the British know less about Canada than about any other Dominion, although it lies nearest. One gets some astonishing revelations. I remember when I was coming out here eight years ago, an educated lady, whom I knew very well, said she hoped I would not find the heat too trying; and not long ago I got a letter addressed to me, "McGill University, McGill, Ontario. (Laughter.) The point of that story is that it came to me from an organization in England that existed to show hospitality and entertainment to young men, particularly University students, from the British Dominions overseas. (Laughter.) A colleague of mine the other day got a letter from his Oxford College addressed to "McGill University, U.S.A." (Laughter.) A student of mine who wants to enter one of the women's colleges in Oxford applied for admission, and a week or two ago she got a letter back saying that her application would be considered favourably, but it was not quite in order; it would have to be made through Washington." (Laughter.) She had written from Montreal stating that she was an undergraduate of McGill.
Now, those letters did not come from ignorant and uneducated people, at least not from people who are supposed to be ignorant; they came from highly educated persons, members of one of the ancient universities, at any rate. Then of course it is an exceedingly common thing in England to find that the distinction between United States and Canada is wholly ignored. When I am over there my friends persisted in speaking of me as if I were living in the United States, although they know well enough that I reside in Montreal. Two or three years ago I heard the then Prime Minister of Great Britain, Mr. Baldwin, addressing the Anglo-American Historical Conference, and on the platform were several Canadians including myself, and in the audience a good many more; and he spoke for I suppose half an hour, and in the whole of that time he never betrayed any knowledge that the North American continent contained any but citizens of the United States. In fact, a good deal of his speech was based on the assumption that our continent was entirely populated by citizens of the United States; and I am happy to say that a gentleman, probably well known to most of you, Professor G. M. Wrong, who was on the platform, got up when seconding the vote of thanks and hit him stoutly over the head. (Laughter.) Then of course you will see some ignorant indifference in a good many English visitors whom we get here, particularly those who just run over the border for a little while in the middle of a lecturing tour in the United States. They clearly regard Canada as a kind of unimportant appendix to the American Republic. I have seen that over and over again. They come here unprepared for what they will find; they are careless of what they say, of what they see, and they think they can give us second-rate stuff. That is not true of all of them, but it is true of a great many, and I am afraid it is very significant of the British attitude towards the Dominions.
There is another danger, I think, from the side of England, and that is that they are not keen about the Empire, nor are they very much interested in it, and they know precious little about it. One day they are going to ask themselves, "what is the good of maintaining it?" and some people are asking themselves that already; they are asking, "are those Dominions that we are building up from time to time a liability or an asset? ? What about Imperial defence? If we get into a war can we count upon Dominion aid?" Well, of course they know that they can certainly reckon upon that. They might have known that for long enough, but it was brought home to the British people much more forcibly than ever before over the Charnak incident in 1922, and that made a very profound impression on British opinion, let me tell you. Then they observe that the Dominions now appoint their diplomatic representatives in foreign countries, and they are asking themselves, "now that the Dominions may create their own international disputes, why should we be expected to pay the bill for them? Why should we keep up a large navy, partly for the purpose of protecting those Dominions?" Some of the Dominions try to provide for their own defence, but none of them provide as heavily per head as the British taxpayer does, and they do something that is not contemptible; but there are other Dominions of which that cannot be said. Supposing this Dominion let us say, gets into a quarrel with the United States over a rum-running ship, a thing quite conceivable, and it came to a war, which is also conceivable, we must not blind our eyes to it, the British people might well ask, "why should we risk our navy? Why should we risk the lives of our men in a quarrel which has nothing to do with us?" And that is a question that is going to be asked more and more insistently in the near future.
I was lately reading a review of the relations between the different Dominions since the War. It was published by the Institute of International Affairs, and what struck me was that it was idle to talk about equality among the component parts of the British Empire, because there was no equality at all; Great Britain was in the position of rank inferiority; she bore the major part of the burden, and she has made concession after concession, and yielded point after point to the overseas Dominions. When I read that review I asked myself, how long will Britain stand it? And I do believe that if I still lived in Britain and looked at things from a purely national standpoint which is the easiest standpoint to assume, I should say, let Britain secede from the British Commonwealth. (Laughter.) And this is the thing I can only touch upon-what about the United States of Europe? It is only an idea as yet, but I believe it is an idea of which a great deal more is to be heard very soon, and if it takes practical form what is Great Britain going to do about-it? That is a very grave question for those who have the maintenance and unity of the Commonwealth at heart.
Now, I just want to briefly allude to one or two disruptive influences in the Dominions themselves. We may well ask ourselves whether there is any real enthusiasm over the Commonwealth in the Dominions outside of New Zealand and Newfoundland. There is some here and there, and how much? Australia adheres to the Commonwealth because it is to her interest to do so. South Africa, because she thinks that she is practically independent already, and formal secession from the Commonwealth would give rise to considerable domestic dispute. Then we came to Canada. Well, I wonder is there any real enthusiasm for the Empire outside of Ontario, which I agree does exist, and a certain part of British Columbia? I do not know, but I have been all over Canada from Cape Breton to Vancouver Island, and all I met or saw was very little enthusiasm, and I may say I was traveling, for a considerable part of my wanderings, under the auspices of an organization that exists to promote good imperial relations. The response that I detected was extremely disappointing.
Now, one reason why the Empire does not pull together quite as well as apart is that in many parts of it the English are strongly disliked. They are notoriously unpopular in Australia, and in Canada--well, when I have been traveling about I have had some queer things said to me. (Laughter.) There was a man in Saskatchewan, who was an exalted official in one of our great railways, I will not specify which, who within two minutes of being introduced to me said, "You know, we don't want Englishmen out here; what we like are Galicians and Lithuanians, and people like that. (Laughter.) And I had other things said to me, not quite so sensational, but nearly so; and I asked myself, when people say that sort of thing to my face what are they saying about Englishmen behind my back? (Laughter.)
I notice, too, among my own students of McGill a very pronounced anti-British feeling just now. I do not know whether you can trace the same thing at the university here, but it is certainly present with us. I have remarked it on many recent occasions and in many different connections. This attitude, I may venture to suggest, is very largely due to ignorance of England; and ignorance of England in Canada is very nearly as bad as the ignorance of Canada in England. (Hear, hear.) I wish that the visitors who go from Canada to England in such large numbers every Summer would arrange their itinerary a little more intelligently. Now, I have no doubt that when you gentlemen go across you behave in an eminently wise and reasonable way, but you know that a great many people do this kind of thing-they put themselves in the hands of a tourist agency, and they land in Liverpool, then they are taken to Chester, and they go to Stratford-on-Avon, then a great many go to Leamington, I never could understand why (laughter), then they go to Oxford, of course, and then they go to London, and around the west end a little bit, then they go off to the continent, and they think they have seen England, and they think they have seen the English people. They get an idea that England is very quaint, very charming, very old-fashioned, very easy-Bowing, quite delightful. (Laughter.) Well, I can tell you that to nine Englishmen out of ten Chester seems a very strange place, and Oxford seems absolutely comical, and the average places seem to the average Englishman grotesque. I think it seems very comical to the average Englishman who visits Oxford, but the average Canadian has been taught to accept them, and the average Englishman has not. (Laughter)
You see that I am taking a very one-sided view of things, because I do not pretend to be speaking judicially. I am simply representing one side of the case. The one great remedy, I think, for the mutual dislike that afflicts so many parts of the British Empire is a greater effort to bring the two peoples together through intelligent travel. If we could get more Englishmen out here who really saw the country and were not just taken about, being shown the things that their hosts think they ought to see, and if the Canadians who go to England would visit my native county-(laughter), they would not enjoy it very much; it is not beautiful, it is not attractive, but it is exceedingly important, for what Manchester thinks today England thinks the next day. (Laughter.) And Yorkshire, this reminds me of another point; you know what the English accent is; I don't. (Laughter.) But one reason why Canadians dislike Englishmen is that they are supposed to speak with an English accent, as far as I can make out. English accent is the kind of way in which certain people who have been at English public schools and then at Oxford are in the habit of talking. (Laughter.) To Canadians and other people in the Dominion such speech seems affected, and they dislike it accordingly. It is not affected at all, really; people who talk like that, as a rule, are talking quite naturally; but it does certainly offend the ear not only of people in Canada and Australia, but it offends the ears of the majority of Englishmen, too. (Laughter.) In Yorkshire, the birthplace of your President, there are thirteen different dialects still spoken-(laughter)-and there are lots more in other parts of England. The result is that to define an English accent is an exceedingly difficult thing, there are such a lot of them; and I think if Canadians and Australians and South Africans would grasp the thought that all Englishmen do not talk in a way that seems exceedingly affected they would like them all the better.
There are lots of things one might say, but there is one great danger that I might just mention in a very few words, and that is the risk of talking and arguing about equality of status. That is a danger that comes from the pride of the Dominions. As soon as we begin to discuss abstract terms and wrangle over them we are putting the Empire into great peril, especially when one of those terms has a mathematical connotation. To realize full equality of status in the strict sense of those words I think you must have either a Federal constitution for the Empire, and that hardly anybody wants, or you must have complete independence of its component parts.
As long as we do not argue about abstractions we may get along pretty well with the entente, tinged with ambition, that the Empire has now become. But if we begin defining, then we are on the brink of trouble. That is what the exceedingly wise statesman of the 18th century, Edmund Burke, was never tired of teaching, to leave abstractions alone, and stick to practical issues; and what happened in the American Revolution, and later in the French Revolution, bore out the wisdom of his contention, and I hope we shall lay it to heart, because if we do not I am quite certain it will lead to great trouble in this Empire of ours, an Empire which, believe me, I want to see maintained.
I have been pointing out certain dangers which, as it seems to me, threaten it, because it is only by facing those dangers that we can hope to remedy them. Although if I looked at things from a narrowly British or a narrowly Canadian point of view I might be disposed to let the Empire go, still when I try to look at it from the point of view of the whole human race I am convinced that it is very desirable that it should continue, (applause), and I hope that anything that I have said will not be construed as meaning that I take a contemptuous view of the Empire, or indeed that I despair of its future. I have simply been trying to point out some of the dangers in order that we may better guard against them. I must apologize for having kept you so long. (Loud applause.)
PRESIDENT EAYRS expressed the thanks of the Club to Professor Waugh.