The Empire In A Changing World
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 16 Mar 1944, p. 362-373
Smith-Ross, James, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
The nine empires in the world: British, American, Russian, German, Japanese, Chinese, Dutch, French, Arab. The expected decline to seven, the leaders being the American, the Russian, and the British. Asking ourselves what the position of the British Empire will be in the next thirty years. The movement in the world of ideas. The League of Nations as an outward manifestation of this movement towards Internationalism, behind which are all the forces of culture. The instinct for personal enrichment. The nature of war, and of men. The whole civilizing process as an attempt to reduce or to eliminate friction. The vital question: "Will the Empire have to defend itself by force or by reason?" Russia's future intentions. China's intentions. Other areas of conflict. How to eliminate war. A sketch of the sort of world in which these questions will have to be faced and answered. The speaker's thoughts on the world of tomorrow. Learning the lessons of war. The difficulty of estimating how much progress will be made towards Internationalism. Transportation, education, and other factors that will affect progress. Canada's role in the immediate future. How the speaker would fashion the Empire if he could. The question of Empire solidarity. Paying homage to Britain.
Date of Original
16 Mar 1944
Language of Item
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Chairman: The President, Mr. W. Eason Humphreys.
Thursday, March 16, 1944

MR. HUMPHREYS: It is because of a changing world that this Club endeavours to present the views of men and sometimes of women who by reason of their calling or experience are qualified to discuss matters of import.

Because we are citizens of Canada and of the British Empire (perhaps I should say we are also world citizens) it is essential that we practice responsible thinking, especially in these days, to aid or temper that thinking Mr. James Smith-Ross discusses with us today, "The Empire in a Changing World."

Mr. Smith-Ross was born in Egypt some 34 years ago but while still a boy went to England where he was educated.

Although our guest has been associated with the business world it is quite obvious that travel, writing and the press was his ambition. As a young man he worked with the Amalgamated Press, then he wrote several books, one entitled Catherine o f Russia.

Smith-Ross has travelled a good deal, visiting England every year since war broke out. Nowadays he is general managed of the magazine New World Illustrated which, apart from its well known merits has the distinction of being the first popular bilingual magazine to be printed in both French and English.

Mr. Smith-Ross had accepted our invitation to speak to us later on in the season but when, on Tuesday last, Mr. Will Rogers telephones to say he would be detained in Washington on very important government business, our guest generously agreed to advance his date. Not only on that account are we grateful to him but also for his assistance in the matter of our invitation to Mr. Will Rogers who, by the way, will visit us on April 6th. Thank you Smith-Ross. Now will you speak to us on "The Empire in a Changing World". Gentlemen: James Smith-Ross.

MR. SMITH-Ross: Thank you very much for the honour you have done me, in asking me to speak to you here today. Whoever does so stands in the shadow of some of the world's greatest speakers. It was here that I heard justice Sir Norman Bircket, whom I regard as probably the greatest speaker in the English language, address his eloquent plea, that we should be on our guard against interference with civil liberties. It was here that I first saw the grand manner of Sir Cedric Hardwicke, the wizardry of Mr. Mitchell Hepburn, and the earnestness of Mr. Drew. I'm afraid, like Mr. Churchill, all I can promise you is sweat and tears; I've left out the blood, I hope that won't ensue.

The title of my address is "The Empire in a Changing World," and perhaps I should make it quite clear that the Empire I'm referring to is the British Empire.

There are, as you probably know, nine empires in the world. Perhaps it would be as well if we enumerated them. There's ours, of course, the American, the Russian, the German, the Japanese, the Chinese, the Dutch, the French, and though in a less well defined form, the Arab Empire. There was a tenth, also somewhat ill deformed, but happily we were able to deal with that. Of these nine, the German and the Japanese will almost certainly be eliminated in the fullness of time. That will leave us with seven, and among these, the leaders will undoubtedly be, first the American, by a slight edge over the Russian. A very good second will be the Russian and third, the British Empire. As far as I am able to discern, the American went ahead of us at about the turn of the century, roughly. Russia, between the two wars. Now it's only reasonable that we should ask ourselves what our position is going to be in the next thirty years. Things apparently are moving very fast and great changes can be wrought in that time.

Now whilst this growth of Empires has been going on, there's been another movement, not so much in the physical world perhaps, as in the world of ideas in people's minds, and that is a movement towards Internationalism. A movement towards the accepting of men's interdependence and the idea, that if you allow a man to be killed in China, sooner or later you have to defend yourself against the same evil force that destroyed him.

The League of Nations was an outward manifestation of this movement towards Internationalism. I think one can say, that behind the growth of Empires there are all the forces of nature, whilst behind the movement towards Internationalism there are all the forces of culture. Selfishness is a natural instinct. It draws men's loyalties first to themselves and their families, then to their street, village or town, province, state, country, and whatever larger system they care to choose. Out of this selfish instinct for personal enrichment has come the growth of empires in the past. On the other hand, men's reasoning has made it increasingly clearer, that unless they increase the sum total of men's wealth, they can only expand their empires at the cost of others, who, sooner or later, retaliate. This process of retaliation has been going on since the beginning of time. Men are constantly at war. Wars such as this one merely give the struggle a visible and dramatic form, and, like all dramas, they tend to distract attention from basic realities. The basic reality in this case, as I said, is that men fight all the time. Now, though men and empires have an instinct for personal enrichment, they also have a desire to enjoy their riches in peace. It seems slightly incompatible in view of what I said about the retaliation that it creates. So the truth seems to be this, that selfishness lies behind the growth of Nationalistic empires and a desire for peace behind the movement towards Internationalism. The curious thing seems to me to be this, that both lead in the final analysis to somewhat the same thing, and that is the super world state. But the difference between these two super states, one formed out of force and the other out of reason, is, that the empire formed out of force must be constantly on guard and vigilant, to defend itself against force, since this is the rule by which it was formed. At the moment it ceases to be strong and vigilant, it's knocked down and smashed and replaced by another empire. On the other hand, the super world state created by men's desire for peace and based on Internationalism, does not have to defend itself, since it was built by man's volition. Some people say, well, how can you create a world state without war, since you can't maintain life without friction, this is an elemental law. Well, quite right, the whole civilizing process has been an attempt to reduce or to eliminate friction.

I hope you won't consider my approach to this subject too academic. I think I have dealt with what I consider to be basic principles affecting the Empire. Will the Empire have to defend itself by force or by reason? I think that is the vital question; I think that is the hub of the problem confronting us. Do we defend ourselves by force or by collaboration and reason? What will Russia's future intentions be? As I've said, she's growing tremendously powerful, and what will China's intentions be when her potential strength has been developed to its fullest extent? And then there's France; what will be her mood when she regains her freedom and seeks to restore her pride? And the Negroes, than whom no one has a better cause to revolt. I think it was Lin Yu Tang, whom many people regard as a very wise man, who said that the Japs slogan "Asia for the Asiatics", sounds very sweet to an Asiatic. Now, when the Japs have gone, will anybody else use that slogan "Asia for the Asiatics?" Will some ghastly accident of nature create among them a man who will speak to them about the master race as Hitler has done to the Germans? What it amounts to is this. Have we the right to hand to our children a state based on the assumption that force will never again be used?

Now there was a time when people said slavery couldn't be abolished because it had always existed, but slavery was abolished by men of faith and courage, and so can wars. The big question is, how? Some people say education is the medium by which it will be done. Well, that might well be so, but the Germans were one of the most educated people in the world. We must answer these questions and I think we have to answer them as if each one of us occupied a position of responsibility. We have to face the responsibility of decision.

Before I give you my views as to how we should answer them, I should like to sketch for you, as well as I can, the sort of world in which I think these decisions will have to be made. I think the problem of unemployment is going to be solved to a great extent. This will tend to bring backward nations with a large population into prominence. A great number of nations that were formerly agrarian will industrialize. Britain, I think, will have to grow more food and manufacture less articles for export. The dominant nations, industrially, and in almost every other sphere, will be the United States and Russia, and, I think, in all comparisons made, as to greatness in almost every sphere, the comparisons will be more and more between Russia and the United States. Europe, although it's likely to continue to be a place of turmoil, I write off almost completely. I think Russia will dominate the eastern part of Europe and England will do what she can to form alliances in the west. Germany, if she has any choice at all in the matter, will, I think, allign herself with Britain.

France, I think, will play a lonely role for some time. She is anxious to reassert her self-esteem, and I think she will probably have a certain amount of strife and we may see there a certain amount of cruelty, based on the age-old cry of expedience.

Holland, I think, will try to play an individualistic role, and so also the Scandinavian countries. From these two I think we shall hear a plea for the revival of the League of Nations, because it seems, to small nations, that the League gives them the chance to develop in the way they consider good for themselves.

I think we shall see a revival of something like the League of Nations, but basically, it will be influenced by the strength of the three leading powers. Britain, though she may resent the role, and however much it may be untrue to make the comparison, will be admired much like Rome and Greece are admired. She will be honoured and respected everywhere, and since she enjoys things of the spirit more than things of the flesh, I would think that she will accept the honour with humility.

We should, I think, now examine why the British Empire slid from first to third position in terms of physical strength. Basically, the reason seems to be that she thought of the Empire as so many separate units, rather than a single body. The emphasis has been too much on British, and too little on an empire of people of all races of the world, much like the people of the United States, where it is not infrequent to see a Greek with his arm around an Italian singing "Our Country 'Tis of Thee". But there are other reasons: I think that at a vital time in her history she cared more for form than for research and discovery. I think she failed to broaden the' class from which she chose her leaders.

There were, as we all know, some unhappy sights in England between the two wars. I'll give you one or two pictures that made an impression on my mind. I remember walking down Tottenham Court Road in London one day, many of you will know it, when I saw a gaunt, hungry looking dishevelled man, striding down the street singing "Old Soldiers Never Die". It seems to me that I was observing a man's last effort to avoid the breaking of his spirit by hunger. I remember seeing the people struggling outside the labour exchanges for ditch diggers jobs and labourers. There were in England, all the time that I was there, something like six, seven or eight distinct classes, and they were extremely hidebound as the Upper class, the Middle class, the Lower class. There were even finer distinctions than that. There was a lower middle and an upper middle and then there was the artisan class, and there were fences around each and it wasn't easy for a man to go from one class to the other. They had rules that made it difficult. The thing became locked and lost its spirit of experiment.

Even now, after all the lessons of this war, it is by no means certain that everyone in England has learned the lessons of the war. But happily, I think there are enough who have. Notwithstanding all these things, had Britain possessed a larger country, a country the size of this one, she would I think, still have been leader in the world, but there's almost no room for expansion in England. She has almost reached the limits of her physical progress within that country. The requisites of physical greatness as it is understood, are, a vast territory, enormous numbers of people, mineral wealth, great industrialization, and above all, a spirit of inquisitiveness. Britain has these only in part. That being the case, it's all very well to talk glibly about the evils of the balance of power, but Britain is in a position where she has to redress the balance of power against herself. My view is this, that unless the Empire administrative system is changed, Washington will become the centre of the English speaking world.

If this happens, Britain will become merely an outer bastion of defence. She will probably enjoy greater peace during the years to come than she has known for many years past. Any would-be Caesar will realize that the United States is the hard core of our defence system, and to attack a point in the perimeter would be merely to give us time to prepare.

Trying to estimate how much progress will be made towards Internationalism is difficult, simply because one does not know what Russia is going to do. Whether she will always make her policies in collaboration with the other democracies. We don't know what shape things will take in the Orient, nor de we know what America's mood will be.

Some people feel that cheap and fast transportation and educational facilities will accelerate the movement towards Internationalism. Well, it might be so, but I don't expect startling over-night changes. To change emotional convictions is very hard, particularly when those convictions have been ingrained since childhood. If you've ever tried to convert a Catholic or a Protestant, you will know how difficult it is. Whilst we are thinking of all these problems, the United States also is thinking. How is she thinking? She knows she has a close friend in the north; must of the nations of the south are friendly to her too, although there are some danger spots there that might spread. She must defend the whole hemisphere. She knows this though above all, that to any would-be world conqueror, not Britain now, but the United States has become the big apple. Like any rich man she has a problem of defence.

Is the United States capable of dealing with any combination of nations opposed to her? I doubt it. She needs Britain and she needs as many democratic partners as she can find.

The United States must maintain her friendship with Britain, and beyond that, I think she will try to spread the idea of democracy as far as she can. I think her ex ports will decline after a time and her principal export will be technical knowledge and machine tools. She will have to stand by and see the world grow stronger.

I think we shall probably witness, after the war, a great battle of propaganda, aimed at making people realize qualities and virtues of the democratic states. Let us therefore, try to make a summary of the world as I have sketched it, some time after the war end.

There will be three powerful Empires, possibly a League of Nations, a great number of sectional quarrels, a strengthening of China and India, whom I have not mentioned yet (that will be a vital problem for the Empire). There will be the reconstruction of Europe, the strengthening everywhere--a slight strengthening perhaps--of peoples' sovereignty. I think we shall see excellent signs out of the United Nations Administration on things like food, currency, transportation. Britain, as I said, will try to strengthen her influence in Western Europe. In face of all this, we have to deal with the curious fact that a wave of Nationalism is going through Canada at the moment. In its simplest form, it seems like a curious revival from the past. We are, as you know, appointing ambassadors, and Mr. King's pronouncements give one a distinct impression that there is this movement towards Nationalism.

Everyone wants Canada to have the right and honour due to a nation. If Canada wants to separate herself none can stop her. But isn't there a bigger role for this country?

I think so. I've always thought of Canada not so much as a nation as almost a world itself. I was always proud of our International outlook and our comparative freedom from the worst prejudices of Nationalism. I always thought this was one point in the world from which the world could be viewed objectively. I always felt that it was almost a form of emancipation. But if we want to develop strong Nationalist feelings, then we must play the game according to the rules. We must accept the responsibility, we have to increase our people enormously to achieve any rank at all. We have to have an army, navy and air force, vast industrialization. We must be prepared to compete in the world markets, and, above all, to contribute something to the ideas of the world. I would encourage this, of course, but as I said, my view of Canada is, that she has a very large role to play far beyond that.

Perhaps this would be a good point at which to tell you how I would seek to fashion the Empire, if I had the making of it. I would approach our problem with the assumption that we have five relationships to settle.

The relationship between ourselves within the Empire, that with Russia, that with Europe and that with the rest of the world. I would assume that whilst it is quite all right for individuals to take chances, empires have no right to do so. Therefore, the Empire must assume basically, that she might have to defend herself without outside help. Then I would try to do everything possible to ensure that that would never arise. Someone, I think it was Trotsky, once said, that one of the most important things in the world, was the fact that the United States and the British Empire speak the same language.

It seems to me, that we not only speak the same language in words, but that we do to a great extent in ideas. I would try very hard to achieve a union with the United States. I think my chances would be poor. Failing that, I would aim at the closest possible co-operation. Then we must do everything humanly possible to draw Russia into a democratic sharing of world responsibility. I think we shall have to be extremely patient, and in some ways tolerant, and give her all the time necessary to develop some of her institutions. I would offer Holland, France, Belgium, Norway, common citizenships with us in the Empire. I don't think that they would accept, but I think the offer would condition their minds for a possible renewal of the offer later on. I wouldn't break up Germany, but would do my best to democratize her. If one dare say it at such a time as this, I think she has many qualities, among them that of courage and industry, despite the fact that she has been misled. I would join a World League of Nations, settle currency, food, transport, health and educational problems through that medium. And this suggestion I would particularly like to make: I think we should form a Central Democratic Information Bureau, with world agencies, and try to make as many people as possible know about democracy.

To revert to the question of Empire solidarity, me must, I think, have a central administration on at least five things; foreign policy, defence, broad economic policies, immigration and education. I don't personally subscribe to the idea of perigrinating council, speaking as a business man, it seems to me rather like having a head office that shifts from town to town and you never know where it's going to be next. It is here particularly, that I would like to make my most earnest plea for the forming of an Empire Council here in Canada. You say--why Canada? Well, I think a great deal depends on the atmosphere surrounding a new venture. Here there is a youthful spirit, there's a largeness and an expansiveness. Whereas, if this council were to meet in London I think it would be weighed down by the thought of centuries. There's another reason why I would have it here. I think it would give us a better chance of an ultimate fusion with the United States, and I think this fusion must come sooner or later. For the sake of form, if people want it so, I think His Majesty the King could establish his residence here part of the time. In my view, Canada would give the British Empire a thousand years of progress. I think, when this council is formed, we should offer the United States a number of seats on it. Not one or two, because I think then too much importance is attached to the things said by the people who hold those seats. I would give them ten or twenty; let's have a community of them, and perhaps, a little later, we could make a similar offer to Russia.

Perhaps I should explain to you, that I am a Federal Unionist. In case you don't know what that is, a book was written not so very long ago by Clarence Steit, in which he advocated a world system somewhat similar to the American Constitution. I believe in it. I think it will have to come ultimately if men are to live together in peace. But I believe we must proceed on the principle of gradualism. The movement of Internationalism, and in fact an international body might then emerge from either of the two sources, the League or a council such as the one I suggested should be formed in Canada. I believe if an Empire Council were formed here with young people with vision and willingness to try new ideas, we could make a wonderful thing of this Empire. We have learned that government can supplement the efforts of industry, to maintain full employment, and out of that knowledge I think a tremendous advancement could come. We in Canada are young and keen and full of spirit of inquiry and enterprise. Let them give us a chance to help run the Empire, and we will show them what can be done, and if it pleases anybody, we will even wear our old school ties the while we do it.

I could not end my talk without paying proper homage to Britain. It is there that I received my apprenticeship in the art and the business of living, and though it is quite true that I suffered many hardships there, it is also true to say that I had times of happiness almost beyond my capacity to name. What lessons she taught me, or tried to teach me, I believe she did well, and when the time came for her to do her duty by the Empire, I think she did it with dignity and with great gallantry. There is in Britain, in my view, despite all her faults, a spiritual grandeur and a greatness of stature such as the world has never seen before.

Thank you so much.

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The Empire In A Changing World

The nine empires in the world: British, American, Russian, German, Japanese, Chinese, Dutch, French, Arab. The expected decline to seven, the leaders being the American, the Russian, and the British. Asking ourselves what the position of the British Empire will be in the next thirty years. The movement in the world of ideas. The League of Nations as an outward manifestation of this movement towards Internationalism, behind which are all the forces of culture. The instinct for personal enrichment. The nature of war, and of men. The whole civilizing process as an attempt to reduce or to eliminate friction. The vital question: "Will the Empire have to defend itself by force or by reason?" Russia's future intentions. China's intentions. Other areas of conflict. How to eliminate war. A sketch of the sort of world in which these questions will have to be faced and answered. The speaker's thoughts on the world of tomorrow. Learning the lessons of war. The difficulty of estimating how much progress will be made towards Internationalism. Transportation, education, and other factors that will affect progress. Canada's role in the immediate future. How the speaker would fashion the Empire if he could. The question of Empire solidarity. Paying homage to Britain.