- The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 13 Apr 1933, p. 166-175
- Coupland, Professor Reginald, Speaker
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- England as a rock among the shifting sands of Europe. How England is dealing with her economic crisis. British statesmanship and British strength that has saved and is saving the 360 million people of India from suffering the same fate of China. British policy and British influence alone that prevents the Middle East from being like the Balkans. The British policy of adjusting to new ideas and principles of the post-war age, and the results of that policy. Forces of disintegration within the Empire, some of them internal: Canada's Maritime Provinces, South Africa, Western Australia, the Irish Free State. Also murmurs here and there of academic disputations about the right of secession, about the separation of the Crown into a group of personal kingships, about the possibility of neutrality in war. The speaker's response to such signs and forces. The speaker's contention that the British Empire has never been so strongly united as it is today. Two major reasons for maintaining not only the unity of the British Empire but also the closest co-operation between the British Empire and the United States. First, a discussion of the attack upon Democracy. Second, the attack on that system of collective international co-operation which we are hoping has left behind it forever the old international anarchy of pre-war days. A discussion of nationalism. Hope for the world that lies in the League of Nations. An examination of the widespread suspicion that the British Government is really no friend of the League. The need for caution. The possibility of a situation arising where England, in defence of the League, finds herself almost isolated. The need to "call in the New World to redress the balance of the Old" in order to save the League. Looking to hear the voices of Canada and the United States in support of England. Opposing the talk of the breaking up of the League.
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- 13 Apr 1933
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- THE BRITISH EMPIRE AND THE WORLD CRISIS
AN ADDRESS BY PROFESSOR REGINALD COUPLAND, C.I.E.
April 13, 1933
LIEUT.-COLONEL GEORGE A. DREW, the President, introduced the speaker.
PROFESSOR COUPLAND: Mr. Chairman, Gentlemen: It is with very great diffidence that I address this audience. I have the misfortune to be a professor, and professors, like prophets, are without honour in their own country. It is rather flattering to me to find so large a body of men who are playing a practical part in the world doing honour to this professor by coming and listening here today, but, as our Chairman said, it does so happen that my academic work has riot been purely academic. Together with my study of the history of the British Empire, I have had the privilege of travelling over a great part of it, and of taking part from time to time in discussions of imperial policy. And so today I want to say a few things, to give you a few opinions for what they are worth-the opinions of an itinerant professor.
One thing I need hardly tell you: in the words of Mr. Ramsay MacDonald as spoken at Geneva a few weeks ago: "We can almost hear the structure of civilization cracking around us". Do we also realize that while this cracking, destroying process seems to be so dangerously at work, a quarter of the world-that quarter which lies under the British Flag-is wonderfully stable? To my mind, the greatest factor of stability in the world today, I hesitate to boast about my own country, but surely among the shifting sands of Europe, England is a rock. (Applause.) Is any state riding better the economic hurricane that is sweeping across the world? We have got over our gold crisis; we have balanced our budget; we have made our vast voluntary conversion of our war debt; we are paying what we owe. (Applause.) We are bearing unprecendented loads of taxation, but it isn't only the taxpayers who are showing what courage in England means. I am amazed at the patience of the unemployed. You know, of course, they have the dole, but you don't suppose, of course, that the dole means a life of luxury or pleasure. The dole has been abused. It has been less abused since the system was readjusted by the present government. But for the average British working man and his family, the dole is only just enough to provide adequate clothes and adequate food, and clothes and food are not enough for the normal British working man. But, strange, it does not break his patience--his having nothing to do.
No, England will not crack! And it isn't only her own strain that British statesmen are bearing. What about the rest of the quarter of the world? It is British statesmanship and British strength that has saved and is at this moment saving the three hundred and sixty million people of India from suffering the fate of China. Behind that iron shield we are hoping that India may be able in the course of the next generation to take her place, satisfied and friendly, in the Commonwealth of Nations. It is British policy and British influence alone that prevents the Middle East from being like the Balkans.
It is sometimes said that in India and Egypt our policy since the War has been a policy of defeatism and withdrawal. On the contrary, it has been a wise policy of adjusting ourselves to the new ideas and principles of the post-war age. And what is the result? We have established an independence in India; we have introduced her to the League of Nations and we have concluded with her the friendliest alliance.
In Egypt we have for some years past ceased to interfere in the internal politics of the country. The only reason that we have not concluded a final treaty of alliance with Egypt is because she insists on refusing to continue the existing arrangement for the government of the Soudan. As to the southeast canal, we have promised to withdraw our British garrison to the banks of the Canal, pending the better organization of the Egyptian army and we have said that in twenty years time' if there is still a need of keeping any British troops on the southeast Canal rather than leaving the Egyptian army to defend it, in that case we are willing to refer it to the League of Nations-a piece of wide idealism which I do not think has attracted the attention of the world as much as it deserves. All that has not weakened, our position, or undermined the bulwarks of peace in the Middle East.
An old pupil of mine was travelling the other day through those areas of Syria and Palestine--I am afraid almost to say that he was travelling to inspect the methods of selling Ford cars (Laughter)--and he tells me--and that is just the sort of person who finds out what people think--that the prestige of Britain in all that country has never been so high and why? Because those people have discovered that when we promise to do a thing, we do it. (Applause.)
There remains, of course, the great call of the British Empire-that gallant company of equal sovereign states we have learned to call the British Commonwealth of Nations. There are observable here and there forces of disintegration-internal, some of them. It isn't so long ago, if I am right, that your Maritime Provinces were showing, to say the least of it, an uneasiness in the Federal structure. Natal, similarly, has been agitating for secession from the Union of South Africa. Western Australia demands the right to break away from the Commonwealth. And externally, as between one member of the Commonwealth and another, there is Ireland-to speak more accurately, the Irish Free State. I am not going to discuss the Irish controversy. I only want to ask you to believe-I am sure you will-though it may have been badly handled, though we must regret it and long for its termination, there are two sides to the case. Sometimes, from what one hears, one would suppose that in all the long, tragic sequel of Irish and Anglo-Irish disputes, the brutal Saxon England has always been in the wrong. That is not history. I would also observe this, that behind the controversy,, and to me the most regrettable feature, is the avowed declaration of Mr. De Valera that he is not content with the status of Canada. He must be a proud man, it seems to me, not to be content with that, and he really desires to secede altogether from the British Crown because he is under the illusion, I am sure a genuine illusion, that only by so doing can the Irish people he really happy or really good.
There are also, but I do not wish to stress this, there are also murmurs here and there of academic disputations--about the right of secession, about the separation of the Crown into a group of personal kingships, about the possibility of neutrality in war.
Well, take all those forces of disintegration together, give them their maximum weight, and they matter, in my humble opinion, very little. I find no great body of public opinion behind disruption. People are not so mad as to talk about disruption, to work for disruption, to put difficulties in the way of co-operation, to try to find out and emphasize those little affairs where we may differ, rather than make the most of the great bulk of affairs where we agree. Such a course seems lunacy in the face of the world crisis--a crisis which surely should call us all together rather than break us apart.
The British Empire, in my opinion, has never been so strongly united as it is today. As a result of that process of adjustment to which I referred just now, as a result of the final culmination of what" academically, we call the "process of isolation", the Dominions were put, for all the world to see, on a footing of equality. It is a good thing, to my mind, that this unity is so strong because there are two features of the crisis-two special features of it which stand a little apart from the economic crisis but on which, not being an economist, I am not qualified to speak, which relate closely to it and which are primarily political factors and are threatening the main principles on which our political life is based.
The first is the attack upon Democracy. Democracy stands threatened in; the world, on the right by Fascism, on the left by Sovietism. It is also attacked by those young, eager idealists who sometimes seem to me to think that nothing that existed before the War or before they were born is any good. To them, Democracy is just one more of our poor old moth-eaten Victorian illusions. Well, Democracy, let us remember, is still very young; in the true sense of the word it has only come into being in our own day. Infinite possibilities lie before it which have not yet been tried. I do not maintain that it is a perfect instrument of government as practised anywhere today. Clearly, it has got to adjust itself, like any other piece of political machinery to the movements of the age. It may have something to learn even from its enemies. I dare say that we might learn something of a closer communal spirit from the Soviet and by communal spirit I do not mean Communism. We might learn something of the value of the state from Fascism--something perhaps to check that excessive individualism which is notoriously the danger of Democracy. It may be that a prior task to making the world safe for Democracy is to make Democracy safe for the world.
Now, Democracy, though exposed to these dangers and to these criticisms, seems to me to be standing the storm pretty well. I can not speak for France- the only country left among the great countries of Europe which is still democratic. It is standing the storm in England. What of the United States? I had been told that American Democracy might easily crack if it were exposed to excessive strain. I was told that there were unstable, rather influential elements in the population that might give trouble in a really serious emergency.
Well, I landed at New York on March 4th. The impact of my personality on the United States was even more disturbing than the impact of George Bernard Shaw. (Laughter.) I had scarcely landed before all the banks in the United States were closed. And, so far from observing or hearing about any of those hysterical phenomena which I had been told possibly might occur in an emergency, I found myself again in almost exactly the same atmosphere as that of London in 1931, when we had our great crisis of falling off gold. The same sobriety and steadiness--anxiety, of course--but nothing like a panic and that, it was clear from the newspapers, was the case all over the United States. So, surely and it is difficult to exaggerate what a strain on the nerves the closing of all the banks is--it is a danger which your banking system, to the obvious envy of the United States, has prevented--since it has stood that strain, I can think of nothing which American democracy will not stand in future.
We are told again that Democracy is only saving itself by education, and as a matter of fact it is giving away under the stress of the world storm to dictatorship. What nonsense! It is the great merit of Democracy that in a time of emergency it can so stretch the elastic of its organization as to put into power a strong government and keep it there.
The position of Mr. Lloyd George during the Warbut observe this, it makes my point: not after it-the position of President Roosevelt today; the position of the National Government ire England, with its great majority behind it in Parliament-these are examples not of dictatorship but of leadership. Observe that they are not the perpetual domination of one class or of one party. Observe, that in due course of time, each one of these tyrannical dictators will have to answer again at the bar of public opinion. Observe that throughout the period of this iron rule, the press, the free voice of criticism is not stilled. Of course, those are not examples of dictatorship. On the contrary, it is just the acceptance of such leadership in a crisis which is the strength of Democracy.
As a don, as an historian, as one who once used to read and teach the classics, I cannot help going back to Thucydides and his expression of perhaps the first and greatest democracy in the history of Europe. "Democracy", he said, "is the choice by the people of the best leaders and the following of that choice when it is taken."
I believe, as you see, in Democracy. To that extent, I am Victorian. But I confess that it is threatened and that fact is the first of those two major reasons which I am putting to you for maintaining not only the unity of the British Empire but maintaining also, the closest cooperation between the British Empire and the United States.
I spoke of a second threatening factor in the world today, of a political character and r meant, of course, the attack on that system of collective international cooperation which we are hoping has left behind it forever the old international anarchy of pre-war days. Well, it is only too obvious that the whole of that postwar system centered around the League of Nations is under an attack from the revival of the old-fashioned, unregenerated--I almost said "barbarous"-nationalism. We all believe--I take that for granted--that in the League of Nations lies one of the great hopes of the world and I am a little disturbed to find, both in the United States and in Canada, a wide spread suspicion that the British Government is really no friend of the League.
Now, it occurs to me that that "false suspicion"--for it is wholly false--may arise from a mistaken understanding of the personality of a very distinguished man who is a Fellow of my College at Oxford--Sir John Simon--and I think it might help to remember that Sir John Simon is one of the most brilliant advocates of our day, and since it is the duty, even of a British Foreign Secretary, sometimes to state both sides of the case, he states them both so well that he leaves us in doubt sometimes as to which is the side on which he stands himself. But believe me, instead of England being no friend of the League, I am not sure that she is not the only friend the League has in Europe.
Look at the other great powers that sit at the Council Table. Is Japan the League's best friend? Is Italy? Is Germany? I' hope, I believe that France is a friend of the League but I sometimes wonder whether her friendship isn't coloured by the desire to use the League to maintain intact the Treaty of Versailles. And I am tempted to think sometimes that England is certainly the surest, perhaps the only safe friend that the League has in Europe.
And, remember, when you hear attacks on British policy as regards the League, the fact of her loneness. The smaller European states are always clamouring for a foreign policy to maintain the sanctity of the Covenant, for the application of its essential principles. and so forth and so on. Well, who is going to apply them? When they talk about keeping the sanctity of the Covenant, of maintaining the peace in the Pacific or elsewhere-1 should be surprised to hear that the Swedish navy was to be invited to undertake the task. I should be no less surprised to hear that Hong Kong is a colony of Switzerland. No" isn't it something like the process, vulgarly known as "handing us the baby"?
At any rate you see the need of caution. You see the possibility of a situation arising where England, in defence of the League, finds herself almost isolated. It sounds paradoxical, but it is the sort of thing that might any day occur in Europe and because of that, if we want to save the League-to repeat the old "cliche", which T suppose has been repeated some thousands of times in public speeches--if we want to save the League, we should "call in the New World to redress the balance of the Old". These smaller states in Europe--Belgium, Czechoslavakia, any one you like-are theirs the only voices we are to listen to about the League and all the problems that create the crisis of the world? The population of Canada is far greater than that of Belgium; the population of Canada and Australia combined is greater than that of Czechoslavakia. I, for one, would be glad to hear, above that discord and babel of foreign tongues, the voice of Canada reaching across Europe in unison with the voice of lonely England. Above all, I would be glad to hear the mighty voice of the United States.
Now, I am drawing to an end. I speak, as I said at the beginning, as a don; f have no contact with the art of practical statesmanship but surely, it is for the ordinary thoughtful men all over the world, in a crisis so great as this, to make the weight of his opinion such as is felt, how and when he can. And, as an ordinary man I do feel two things very deeply. I do not wish to be an alarmist. I think sometimes the idea that war is coming has a little touch of panic about it. I don't think that anybody really wants war in Europe. It would be folly to suppose that anybody in England wanted war, any more than anybody in Canada.
I think that this talk about the breaking up of the League is just the sort of talk that we can oppose. We should say, not that the League is breaking up, but that the League shan't break up, and as I look at this crisis, without, I hope, exaggerating it, I do feel these two things: that our real hope, I almost think our only hope of emerging from the clouds lies in the closer, more active, more vocal, if you wish, co-operation of the democracies of the British Commonwealth; and, secondly, the closer cooperation of the British Commonwealth with the United States.
I picture to myself, mankind impoverished, distracted mankind, being led back to peace and security and thereby also, presently, to prosperity, across an archway built up of British-American friendship and cooperation, and the great granite keystone of that arch is Canada. (Applause.)