The World Without the Empire
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 4 Dec 1947, p. 143-156
Philip, Percy James, Speaker
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Item Type
Recalling the war years. Now, seven years later, appraising the cost of that sacrificial defence of the world against Nazi domination. Recalling the speaker's yearly reports. The British Empire that has ceased to exist. Who and what are going to take the place of the British people and the Empire? A look at the British Empire. The standard of justice and freedom for the individual and independence of nationhood that characterized the Empire. The move towards self-government. Ground for hope that an English speaking association of free nations can be built which will again be able to speak with the authority and set the example of the Empire. The future now dependent on the successor states of the British Empire. The position of Scotland. Canada's commitment and contribution to the United Nations in comparison to her contributions to maintain the Empire. The continuing need for the Commonwealth. A look at what followed the break up of other Empires. Dangers ahead for India. A consideration of what has happened in India in relation to what has happened and is happening in the rest of Asia. The first real test of the United Nations in the decision to partition Palestine. A look back at the British Empire. The end of an era.
Date of Original
4 Dec 1947
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AN ADDRESS BY PERCY JAMES PHILIP, Ottawa Correspondent of The New York Times
Chairman: The President, Mr. Tracy E. Lloyd
Thursday, December 4, 1947


Seldom, if ever, in the history of The Empire Club of Canada has a speaker been invited for the eighth time as its Guest of Honour. Today our Speaker enters this Hall of Fame.

MR. PERCY JAMES PHILIP, Ottawa Correspondent of The New York Times, has been a welcome guest of our Club on each occasion, and no less on this his eighth appearance.

Our Speaker was born in Scotland and was educated at the George Watson College, Edinburgh-and later attended Oxford University. For twenty-one years Mr. Philip was correspondent for The New York Times and resident in France and since 1940 has been resident in Ottawa.

In 1940 our Guest prophesied that the winning of the war was going to be a long grim business and we can now appreciate that his prophecy has certainly been fulfilled.

Our Guest is well known indeed for his writing and nature sketches and it is interesting to recall that on the CBC network broadcast at the special ceremonies at Ottawa, inaugurating the new status of Canadian citizenship, that his poem, "This Canada of Ours". was sung by a chorus and was very well received. I have the song before me and I won't sing it for you today, but I thought

I would recite


To Canada, our fathers came, And gave the unknown land its name, This Canada of ours; God grant that we will never let That name be tarnished or forget The joy of building mightier yet This Canada of ours.

The eager rivalry and strife Of older nations brought to life This Canada of ours; They fought for what they thought was good; God in his mercy understood And formed into a brotherhood This Canada of ours.

In strength together we will stand, Defending our beloved land, This Canada of ours; And never shall it cease to be A nation where all men are free In harmony from sea to sea, This Canada of ours.

This was set to music by Robert Donnell and I thought the Club would be interested in this further recognition of Mr. Philip's talents.

Our Speaker is well known for his scholastic attainments, his comprehensive view, his keen balanced judgment and his reasonable deductions as applied to present world affairs and we are assured of a very fine address on the subject he has chosen--


Mr. Philip

When you first did me the honour, seven years ago, of inviting me to address the Empire Club, we were in desperate danger. We were fighting for survival against the fearful force of a maniac enemy: and we were alone. France had capitulated. Russia had divided Poland with the Nazis, defeated Finland and annexed the little Baltic countries. The United States, becoming slowly. conscious that Hitler's effort to dominate the world was not just something remote and unreal that you read about in the newspapers, or watched from a comfortable seat in a movie theatre, had advanced from a policy of cash and carry to one of lease lend. But the mass population of that great country was still neutral, in fact and in spirit. Canada was the only country on this continent which had understood the danger and dared to go to war for the preservation of freedom and decency in the world, without waiting to be attacked. That is something that will never be forgotten--in Britain, at least.

Over on the other side of the Atlantic, Hitler held all Europe from Norway to the Mediterranean, from Poland to the Pyrenees. England was being battered with bombs and besieged by submarines. It was not an agreeable or a hopeful situation.

Yet, my memory of those days is that we never for a moment lost heart, nor admitted that defeat could be possible. We fought patiently and shrewdly, letting the enemy waste his strength; and we endured, without weakening.

A lot of people nowadays claim that their countries won the war. It certainly took all of us to defeat Germany, Italy and Japan. But the final act in all endeavour is not the most important. It is what makes that final act possible that matters. The defeat of Germany was inevitable, once it had been shown that there was any people, or group of peoples, with the courage and capacity to stand and fight back. We were those people. It is something that others incline to forget, or prefer to minimize. Perhaps we do not advertise enough. But, that is natural. Mature people are always more modest than adolescents who must justify themselves with noise and boasting.

Now, seven years later, we have come to the time of reckoning. We can appraise the cost of that sacrificial defence of the world against Nazi domination.

In each of these yearly reports which I made to you about the war situation, I sought always to be factual and realistic. I told you in that first address that we could win, and would win, if we remained true to ourselves. In the years that followed I stuck to the facts of the situation and, as closely as I could I drew reasonable and not wishor a political apologist.

So, keeping to my role of reporter, I have chosen for my title and subject today: "The World without the Empire". It may sound a grim title, but that is the situation. The British Empire has ceased to exist. It is no longer, as it was, the arbiter of the world. We are not a unity. It is no use trying to minimize the fact, nor pretend that it has not happened. And it is no use also trying to place the blame. One might as well quarrel with the whole course of nature. Improvished as we are, outnumbered as we are, we in the islands could not afford any longer to act as protector, policeman, magistrate and guide to hundreds of millions of other people. The time has come when these peoples must rule themselves and defend themselves if they can. It is something which has been long foreseen. The other day I read a passage in Macauley in which he forecast that some day India would become independent. It has happened. The countries of the Empire are now self-governing communities. Only the fragments and the tradition remain of what was a great unity and a great force. It is on how long the tradition and voluntary working of that unity is maintained, that the future of the world depends.

I do not think that you, members of the Empire Club, will expect me to applaud this passing of the power and leadership which Britain and the Empire gave the world, or to support the theory, as some do, that such change necessarily means progress. There was regression and not progress when Rome was overwhelmed by the Goths and her authority and law were lost. It took a thousand years for civilization to begin to recover and take a new step forward.

We may hope, and we do sincerely hope, that such will not be the case now. I do not wish to appear pessimistic, as wishful thinkers sometimes say I am, but, while hoping for the best, I think it is the part of wisdom to follow the advice of Christopher Columbus: "Where you know nothing-place dangers", so that one can be prepared against them. Who, and what, are going to take the place of the British people and the Empire?

The Empire was never planned--as some think they can plan the new world authority which they believe can take its place. It just grew, out of the defeat of Spain, of Holland, of Napoleon and out of the character of the British people at home and those who went to distant lands, seeking new opportunity and carrying with them the beliefs, the habits and the institutions of their race.

Like all human endeavour, its history is stained. We were not perfect. We made mistakes. And yet, gentlemen, and yet, it is forced on my memory that even in our most jingo periods, when Britannia ruled the waves and all the rest of it, we did not abuse our power. We did not seek to impose our will and doctrines on other peoples by force, or economic pressure. We were rather respectfull of their ideas, religions and human rights. Ours was a humane rule. We did not destroy peoples, as some are now being destroyed in Europe. We created new ones.

We had one early experience of how riot to run an Empire. Some Englishmen, whose policy was questioned and opposed in their own country at the time, tried to dictate to other Englishmen who had settled in this Continent. They did not succeed. Those other Englishmen, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton and the rest successfully defended the maintenance of this Continent of those rights and privileges of free citizenship, which their and our ancestors had won at home against Norman, Stuart and Hanoverian kings. These American colonists were of the same breed as the Barons at Runnymead, forcing King John to sign Magna Carta, as Pym and Hampden opposing the levying of ship money, as the Earl of Chatham stating the citizen's case against the State, symbolized by the Crown: "The poorest man may, in his cottage, bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail, its roof may shake, but the King of England cannot enter: all his forces dare not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement".

Whatever else may be said and remembered about the Empire this will stand as the unshakeable truth, that its citizens have always been free within the law and the law was made by common consent. The State was the servant and never the master of the individual.

When Paul of Tarsus made his claim "Civis Romanus sum", he did so knowing that as a Roman he was placing himself under the protection of the law against the passions of his enemies. It was the same under our Empire. I remember a Rumanian friend of mine who spent some years in South Africa, telling me how he brought suit against the Johannesburg street car company. He was a foreigner and the case was a complicated one, for' it hinged on his ability to control a horse he was riding. "Are you a good horseman?" the magistrate asked. Coached by some English friends not to try to be smart, the plaintiff replied: "Not very good". He feared that by being truthful he had lost his case, but the magistrate took a different view. The Plaintiff, he said, had not sought to mislead the court and he gave a verdict in his favour.

It was only in a British country, my friend said, that one could ever hope and expect to find such fairness to an individual and above all to a foreigner, suing a public company.

They sneer some times in other countries at our national game of cricket, which we never compelled anybody else to play as a proof of good citizenship, at our old school ties and fair play traditions, but I wonder if, in this new world which is being made, there will be such a standard of justice, such freedom for the individual and such independence of nationhood as there was within the Empire.

I was a boy at the time of the Boer war, when opinion was divided in Britain, as all over the world. It was, we were told, an imperialistic war. Perhaps it was. But what stands out in my memory is the comment of an old German friend of my father's at the time when Mr. Lloyd George tried to address a pro-Boer meeting in Birmingham, and had to be smuggled out of the hall disguised in a policeman's cloak and helmet. "It is only in England", that German said. "that such a thing could happen, that the police would protect the freedom of the individual, to denounce the policy and actions of his government engaged in war'".

That was at the peak of our alleged imperialism. But there was freedom in the world, freedom for a man to speak his own opinion, freedom of trade, stability of currencies, with free circulation of gold, freedom from fear and 'whatever may be said about the great benefits of enlightened social legislation, there was no such hunger and want as there is today in Europe and Asia.

I need not emphasize the contrast between those days and now. I shall say only this, that we were not afraid of anyone, and no one was afraid of us. There was no concentration of wealth in one corner of the world, while the rest starved. The little nations lived confidently and the great grew greater, because of the pax Britannica. The world lived in faith and not in fear.

Out of the freedom of criticism which was permitted without question in England during the Boer war, came that magnificent gesture which gave self-government to the Union of South Africa and brought forty years later that tribute from Field Marshal Jan Christian Smuts that the British Commonwealth would forever remain an example and pattern to the whole world.

It was natural and inevitable that the lands which had been settled by people of British stock, where British traditions, laws, institutions and stubborn individualism were continued, should move quickly towards self-government. The only tie that binds them to the United Kingdom is the symbol of the crown, whatever some people in Chicago may believe. Even the tie of common interest has been weakened by recent events. You in Canada have certainly had the short end in these past few years. Yet the amazing thing, the magnificent thing, has been that Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand have remained-I won't say loyal-but affectionately attached to England in her distress.

In that occurrence, and the close tie of language and law between us and the U.S.A., there is ground for hope that an English speaking association of free nations can be built which will again be able to speak with the authority and set the example of the Empire. Mr. Churchill and Lord Halifax at Fulton did not get very far with the idea. It seems to be only in emergency that we unite. But we shall have to come to it. I wish to speak very frankly. The future now depends on you-the successor states of the British Empire. I shall not try to preach to you, nor tell you what to do-that kind of thing always raises our hackles, whether we are English, American, Canadian, Australian, or any British stock. I would prefer to point my moral another way.

The only country in the Empire which does not have home rule is my own country of Scotland. I am not complaining. There are a few professional home rulers among us, ambitious to become big shots in a small community. But, when I was home last year I asked a fair cross section of my countrymen, as uninformed Americans sometimes ask you, if they did not want to be free.

The answer that I most usually got in the pawky Scottish manner, partly ironic and partly common sense, was: "What would the poor English do without us?" A few others added--"and what would we do without the English?" For myself, certainly I would rather see Scotland taking her share as she has done in the past, helping keep order in the world, seeing that justice is done, protecting and developing trade and human well-fare, than huddling among her hills, content to benefit by what others have done without herself spending a soldier or a shilling to maintain that world of free self-respecting nations which the British Empire built. My countrymen have made the world their country. They have taken the larger view and helped bear the burden of others, and that seems to me a much better and greater thing than to stay at home nursing an independence which they could not by themselves assure.

The nations of the Commonwealth have twice in a generation gone voluntarily, magnificently to the defence of that system of order in freedom which the Empire was. But sometimes in Ottawa, when I hear people talking big about Canada's great overseas trade, I wonder what it would all have amounted to if it had not been for British guardianship of the freedom of the seas. That old saying of ours that trade follows the flag has been much reproached to us but the Gentleman Adventurers of Hudson's Bay, the Clives, the Cecil Rhodes and the British Navy, opened the way to every trading nation in the world and not just their own.

South Africa is Canada's third best customer, and yet how small a part has Canada played in the development of her sister Dominion. Oh! I know you were busy with other things. You had no surplus population; but I also notice that you are paying a great deal more in hard cash and hard work to keep the United Nations alive, than you ever contributed in normal times to maintaining the Empire. You are certainly accepting more commitments than membership of that other United Nations of the Empire ever imposed. You have plans for hemispheric and world peace defence--but shy away from any Empire plan.

I shall not labour the point, but the old story comes to my mind of the dog that dropped its bone in the water, while it snatched at the reflection-exchanging shadow for substance. I hope that will not be true in this case. Indeed, I am sure it will not, for you are prudent people with a notable record for making the best out of both hemispheres and all your associations. It is, however, worth while keeping in mind that separately, we countries of the Commonwealth are pretty small potatoes beside these giants the United States, the Soviet Union and even the ninety million Germans who live in central Europe. For our own preservation and the preservation of those things we believe to be true and right, we must stick together while each in his own way develops his strength. If we can do that, not just in emergency, we, shall still be a power and an influence in the world, but if we do not, if each seeks to go his own way, we shall all become of little consequence. There is no future for narrow nationalism, and narrow provincialism in this dangerous world.

We must not deceive ourselves. There are people all over the world who would like to see the Commonwealth disintegrate. The Kaiser and Hitler fed themselves on that hope. They were greatly disappointed. There are still some who see in the granting of self-government to India and Ceylon, of independence to Egypt and Burma, an opportunity for themselves. I wish I could believe in the purity of motive of some of those who have sought to hustle us out of Palestine and reach by pressure methods what they call a solution. I wish also that I could believe, as some seem to do, that national independence, what they call freedom, is a cure-all for the world's difficulties. It usually means disunity, rivalry and strife.

Let us look, just for a moment, at what followed the break up of other Empires. Athaulf the successor of Alaric the Goth in the Fourth century tried to restore the institutions of the Roman Empire and the rule of law when he found that the untameable barbarism of the Goths could not replace them. The South American republics have been indulging in little revolutions ever since they shook off what the Bolivars and O'Higginses called the shackles of Spanish Dominion. It certainly has not been the case that life in the succession states of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire has been happier since their union under the dual monarchy was dissolved.

These are not encouraging examples of the benefits to be derived from independence. Yet, once the ferment starts, there are only two ways to deal with it--either suppress it by force, or take the risk of granting it.

Ever since that unfortunate experience with the American colonists the British people have preferred the latter course. They themselves, in their little islands, have strongly preserved different national flavours. They have never long refused self-government to any people who showed that they were capable of self-government and would respect the rights of minorities among them.

I remember once a young Nazi lad, on the road to Nuremberg, asking me how many soldiers England kept in Canada and South Africa. When I told him none, he could not believe or understand it.

Even India was never held within the Empire, as the Germans and others would have held it, by military and police force. It was done by the art of government, which is a rare art and not to be confused with much legislation. It was done by honest administration and fair treatment.

Now the task of self-government has been handed over to the people of India themselves. The choice has been left to them, whether they remain within or separate themselves from the Commonwealth. As between British and Indian it has been done without violence, without bloodshed, a striking contrast in a world where formerly independent peoples are being held in terrorized subjection by those who dare tell us that theirs is the real democracy.

The King has abandoned his title of Emperor of India in a gesture of goodwill unprecedented in history.

But only the very foolish can shut their eyes to the dangers ahead. India will need help, not only the help that a few Englishmen like Lord Mountbatten can give her, but the sympathetic help of all the other countries of the Commonwealth-not just in words and congratulatory telegrams, but in real service.

The partition of that huge area and population into two States was not what we wanted. It was not what the idealist Mahondas Gandhi wanted. Partition was an arrangement, however, which was agreed to by both parties, unlike that which has been forced on Palestine by a majority of countries with little knowledge and no responsibility. Even so, it has not been possible to do it peacefully. There have been massacres and hate fighting between Mohamedans and Hindus. There are some fifteen million displaced persons now in India, seeking to establish new homes in one or other of the two States, who used to live, unafraid, side by side, except for an occasional fracas, secure in the knowledge that an impartial British justice would protect them.

Mr. Nehru has publicly accused the Pakistan authorities of having formented the tribesmens' attack on Kashmir. There is danger of war between the two Indias.

It is not for us to criticise. It is difficult enough for some of us who have had long experience of self-government to live at peace among ourselves with neighbours of a different race and different practice within the same religion.

But what has happened in India must be considered in relation to what has happened and is happening in the rest of Asia, if the risk and danger are to be appreciated. In China, the abolition of the old Imperial regime has been followed by incessant civil and foreign war. In Indonesia, Siam and Indo-China there are trouble and confusion, In defeated Japan, where the regime has been at least modified, the problem remains of a densely crowded population without outlet. There is no established authoritative government anywhere in Asia with its hundreds of millions of people of different races, different religions, different degrees of civilization, except along the northern strip of Siberia out of which the wind may blow at any moment southward. And who, now the British have gone, is going to prevent it?

The white Christian peoples of western Europe, of America and the South Pacific, in whose community and civilization we belong, are far outnumbered by the dense mass of the Asiatic peoples and Russia who have never known our kind of freedom, our kind of self-government and our standards of living. They are accustomed to masters, whether they are Manchus and mandarins, the sons of heaven or the British Sahib. Their recent experiments in our kind of democracy have not been fortunate for those who have tried them.

Among the leaders in India and in China are great and wise men, but it is still doubtful if the mass will ever respond to moderate legal government and will not constantly seek to return to government by a master who will protect them. Even in Europe we find the tendency to accept single rulers and single parties far more common than the capacity to develop and hold to that give and take, elastic compromise and comprehensive system we call democracy. It would be, perhaps, more practical on our part to admit, while we defend our own, that other systems of government may be necessary. They become our concern only when they abuse their power or threaten us.

In this uncertainty, who is going to replace the British magistrate, often with only a single policeman to maintain the law, who kept order and did justice in whole provinces of Asia and Africa?

For the United Nations the first real test has come with the decision to partition Palestine. Perhaps it is because I have seen so many artificial countries and regimes made and broken in one lifetime--Poland, Czechoslovakia, Lithuania, Estonia, the Austrian and Hungarian, even the German republics--that I cannot regard this piece of manipulation without misgiving. We can only wish it well and hope that those who are responsible will bear their responsibilities. At the moment it looks as if we, as usual, were to have to hold the bag and get the blame.

How to conclude? Looking back we can fairly claim that the Empire was no pomp and glory parade and no tyrannic imposition of a system. It was something that grew out of character and experience, that developed trade and the standard of human life, that spread education and dealt justly. It maintained order and peace without excessive display, or use of force. It fought successfully when attacked for the defence of its own and other people's national and individual liberty. It allowed every man who lived below the Union Jack to think, to speak and to worship as he thought right, and even to have his own national flag if we wanted one. Its rulers were no ego-maniacs who sought to impose their personal will, and their chosen ministers and magistrates were decent people who maintained the dignity of their office while they remained the servants and not the masters of the people.

Now it is finished. We are the end of an era. England is no longer the head of a great system. She has given their independence to all the peoples who composed the Empire. She will continue to do her part, but it is for them, each in their own way, to bear their own responsibility and do their part. It is on them that depends the maintenance of freedom, of justice and religion in the world. There never was a time when the prayer was more essential

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, Let we forget, lest we forget!

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The World Without the Empire

Recalling the war years. Now, seven years later, appraising the cost of that sacrificial defence of the world against Nazi domination. Recalling the speaker's yearly reports. The British Empire that has ceased to exist. Who and what are going to take the place of the British people and the Empire? A look at the British Empire. The standard of justice and freedom for the individual and independence of nationhood that characterized the Empire. The move towards self-government. Ground for hope that an English speaking association of free nations can be built which will again be able to speak with the authority and set the example of the Empire. The future now dependent on the successor states of the British Empire. The position of Scotland. Canada's commitment and contribution to the United Nations in comparison to her contributions to maintain the Empire. The continuing need for the Commonwealth. A look at what followed the break up of other Empires. Dangers ahead for India. A consideration of what has happened in India in relation to what has happened and is happening in the rest of Asia. The first real test of the United Nations in the decision to partition Palestine. A look back at the British Empire. The end of an era.