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The Expansion of Europe - The Culmination of Modern History
by Ramsay Muir
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The causes of these ceaseless and ruinous wars were to be found partly in the total disregard of native custom, and in the hide-bound pedantry with which German-made law and the Prussian system of regimentation were enforced upon the natives; but it was to be found still more in the assumption that the native had no rights as against his white lord. His land might be confiscated; his cattle driven away; even downright slavery was not unknown, not merely in the form of forced labour, which has been common in German colonies, but in the form of the actual sale and purchase of negroes. Herr Dernburg, who became Colonial Secretary in 1907, himself recorded that he met in East Africa a young farmer who told him that he had just bought a hundred and fifty negroes; he also described the settlers' pleasing practice of sitting beside the wells with revolvers, in order to prevent the natives from watering their cattle, and to force them to leave them behind; and he noted that officials nearly always carried negro whips with them. These practices, indeed, were condemned by the German Government itself, but only after many years, and mainly because they were wasteful. Government representatives have told the Reichstag, as Herr Schleitwein did in 1904, that they must pursue a 'healthy egoism,' and forswear 'humanitarianism and irrational sentimentality.' 'The Hereros must be forced to work, and to work without compensation and for their food only. ... The sentiments of Christianity and philanthropy with which the missionaries work must be repudiated with all energy.' This is what is called Realpolitik.

Is it too much to say that the appearance of the spirit thus expressed was a new thing in the history of European imperialism? Is it not plain that if this spirit should triumph, the ascendancy of Europe over the non-European world must prove to be, not a blessing, but an unmitigated curse? Yet the nation which had thus acquitted itself in the rich lands which it had so easily acquired was not satisfied; it desired a wider field for the exhibition of its Kultur, its conception of civilisation.

From the beginning it was evident that the colonial enthusiasts of Germany had no intention of resting satisfied with the considerable dominions they had won, but regarded them only as a beginning, as bases for future conquests. The colonies were not ends in themselves, but means for the acquisition of further power; and it was this, even more than the ruthlessness with which the subject peoples were treated, which made the growth of the German dominions a terrible portent. For since the whole world was now portioned out, new territories could only be acquired at the cost of Germany's neighbours. This was, indeed, at first the programme only of extremists; the mass of the German people, like Bismarck, took little interest in colonies. But the extremists proved that they could win over the government to their view; the German people, most docile of nations, could be gradually indoctrinated with it. And because this was so, because the ugly spirit of domination and of unbridled aggressiveness was in these years gradually mastering the ruling forces of a very powerful state, and leading them towards the catastrophe which was to prove the culmination of European imperialism, it is necessary to dwell, at what may seem disproportionate length, upon the development of German policy during the later years of our period.

Filled with pride in her own achievements, believing herself to be, beyond all rivalry, the greatest nation in the world, already the leader, and destined to be the controller, of civilisation, Germany could not bring herself to accept a second place in the imperial sphere. She had entered late into the field, by no fault of her own, and found all the most desirable regions of the earth already occupied. Now that 'world-power' had become the test of greatness among states, she could be content with nothing short of the first rank among world-states; if this rank could not be achieved, she seemed to be sentenced to the same sort of fate as had befallen Holland or Denmark: she might be ever so prosperous, as these little states were, but she would be dwarfed by the vast powers which surrounded her. But the German world-state was not to be the result of a gradual and natural growth, like the Russian, the British or the American world-states. The possibility of gradual growth was excluded by the fact that the whole world had been partitioned. Greatness in the non-European world must be, and might be, carved out in a single generation, as supremacy in Europe had been already attained, by the strong will, efficient organisation, and military might of the German government.

It was natural, perhaps inevitable, that a nation with the history of the German nation, with its ruling ideas, and with its apparently well-tried confidence in the power of its government to achieve its ends by force, should readily accept such a programme. The date at which this programme captured the government of Germany, and became the national policy, can be quite clearly fixed: it was in 1890, when Bismarck, the 'no colony man,' was driven from power, and the supreme direction of national affairs fell into the hands of the Emperor William II. An impressionable, domineering and magniloquent prince, inflated by the hereditary self-assurance of the Hohenzollerns, and sharing to the full the modern German belief in German superiority and in Germany's imperial destiny, William II. became the spokesman and leader of an almost insanely megalomaniac, but terribly formidable nation. During the first decade of his government the new ambitions of Germany were gradually formulated, and became more distinct. They were not yet very apparent to the rest of the world, in spite of the fact that they were expounded with vigour and emphasis in a multitude of pamphlets and books. The world was even ready to believe the Emperor's assertion that he was the friend of peace: he half believed it himself, because he would have been very ready to keep the peace if Germany's 'rights' could be attained without war. But many episodes, such as Kiao-Chau, and the Philippines, and the ceaseless warfare in the German colonies, and the restless enterprises of Pan-German intrigue, provided a commentary upon these pretensions which ought to have revealed the dangerous spirit which was conquering the German people.

It is difficult, in the midst of a war forced upon the world by German ambition, to take a sane and balanced view of the aims which German policy was setting before itself during these years of experiment and preparation. What did average German opinion mean by the phrase Weltmacht, world-power, which had become one of the commonplaces of its political discussions? We may safely assume that by the mass of men the implications of the term were never very clearly analysed; and that, if they had been analysable, the results of the analysis would have been widely different in 1890 and in 1914, except for a few fanatics and extremists. Was the world-power at which Germany was aiming a real supremacy over the whole world? In a vague way, no doubt, important bodies of opinion held that such a supremacy was the ultimate destiny of Germany in the more or less distant future; and the existence of such a belief, however undefined, is important because it helped to colour the attitude of the German mind towards more immediately practical problems of national policy. But as a programme to be immediately put into operation, world-power was not conceived in this sense by any but a few Pan-German fanatics; and even they would have recognised that of course other states, and even other world-powers, would certainly survive the most successful German war, though they would have to submit (for their own good) to Germany's will. Again, did the demand for world-power mean no more than that Germany must have extra-European territories, like Britain or France? She already possessed such territories, though on a smaller scale than her rivals. Did the claim mean, then, that her dominions must be as extensive and populous as (say) those of Britain? Such an aim could only be obtained if she could succeed in overthrowing all her rivals, at once or in succession. And if she did that, she would then become, whatever her intentions, a world-power in the first and all-embracing sense. It is probably true that the German people, and even the extreme Pan-Germans, did not definitely or consciously aim at world-supremacy. But they had in the back of their minds the conviction that this was their ultimate destiny, and in aiming at 'world-power' in a narrower sense, they so defined their end as to make it impossible of achievement unless the complete mastery of Europe (which, as things are, means the mastery of most of the world) could be first attained. Certainly the ruling statesmen of Germany must have been aware of the implications of their doctrine of world-power. They were aware of it in 1914, when they deliberately struck for the mastery of Europe; they must have been aware of it in 1890, when they began to lay numerous plans and projects in all parts of the world, such as were bound to arouse the fears and suspicions of their rivals.

It is necessary to dwell for a little upon these plans and projects of the decade 1890-1900, because they illustrate the nature of the peril which was looming over an unconscious world. It would be an error to suppose that all these schemes were systematically and continuously pursued with the whole strength of the German state. They appealed to different bodies of opinion. Some of them were eagerly taken up for a time, and then allowed to fall into the background, though seldom wholly dropped. But taken as a whole they showed the existence of a restless and insatiable ambition without very clearly defined aims, and an eagerness to make use of every opening for the extension of power, which constituted a very dangerous frame of mind in a nation so strong, industrious, and persistent as the German nation.

In spite of the disappointing results of colonisation in Africa, the German colonial enthusiasts hoped that something suitably grandiose might yet be erected there: if the Belgian Congo could somehow be acquired, and if the Portuguese would agree to sell their large territories on the east and west coasts, a great empire of Tropical Africa might be brought into being. This vision has not been abandoned: it is the theme of many pamphlets published during the course of the war, and if Germany were to be able to impose her own terms, all the peoples of Central Africa might yet hope to have extended to them the blessings of German government as they have been displayed in the Cameroons and in the South-West.

In the 'nineties there seemed also to be hope in South Africa, where use might be made of the strained relations between Britain and the Boer Republics. German South-West Africa formed a convenient base for operations in this region: it was equipped with a costly system of strategic railways, far more elaborate than the commerce of the colony required. There is no doubt that President Kruger was given reason to anticipate that he would receive German help: in 1895 (before the Jameson Raid) Kruger publicly proclaimed that the time had come 'to form ties of the closest friendship between Germany and the Transvaal, ties such as are natural between fathers and children'; in 1896 (after the Jameson Raid) came the Emperor's telegram congratulating President Kruger upon having repelled the invaders 'without recourse to the aid of friendly powers'; in 1897 a formal treaty of friendship and commerce was made between Germany and the Orange Free State, with which the Transvaal had just concluded a treaty of perpetual alliance. And meanwhile German munitions of war were pouring into the Transvaal through Delagoa Bay. But when the crisis came, Germany did nothing. She could not, because the British fleet stood in the way.

South America, again, offered a very promising field. There were many thousands of German settlers, especially in southern Brazil: the Pan-German League assiduously laboured to organise these settlers, and to fan their patriotic zeal, by means of schools, books, and newspapers. But the Monroe Doctrine stood in the way of South American annexations. Perhaps Germany might have been ready to see how far she could go with the United States, the least military of great powers. But there was good reason to suppose that the British fleet would have to be reckoned with; and a burglarious expedition to South America with that formidable watchdog at large and unmuzzled was an uninviting prospect.

In the Far East the prospects of immediate advance seemed more favourable, since the Chinese Empire appeared to be breaking up. The seizure of Kiao-chau in 1897 was a hopeful beginning. But the Anglo-Japanese alliance of 1902 formed a serious obstacle to any vigorous forward policy in this region. Once more the British fleet loomed up as a barrier.

Yet another dream, often referred to by the pamphleteers though never brought to overt action by the government, was the dream that the rich empire of the Dutch in the Malay Archipelago should be acquired by Germany. Holland herself, according to all the political ethnologists of the Pan-German League, ought to be part of the German Empire; and if so, her external dominions would follow the destiny of the ruling state. But this was a prospect to be talked about, not to be worked for openly. It would naturally follow from a successful European war.

A more immediately practicable field of operations was to be found in the Turkish Empire. It was here that the most systematic endeavours were made during this period: the Berlin-Bagdad scheme, which was to be the keystone of the arch of German world-power, had already taken shape before our period closed, though the rest of the world was strangely blind to its significance. Abstractly regarded, a German dominion over the wasted and misgoverned lands of the Turkish Empire would have meant a real advance of civilisation, and would have been no more unjustifiable than the British control of Egypt or India. This feeling perhaps explained the acquiescence with which the establishment of German influence in Turkey was accepted by most of the powers. They had yet to realise that it was not pursued as an end in itself, but as a means to further domination.

But neither the great Berlin-Bagdad project, nor any of the other dreams and visions, had been definitely put into operation during the decade 1890-1900. Germany was as yet feeling the way, preparing the ground, and building up her resources both military and industrial. Perhaps the main result which emerged from the tentative experiments of these years was that at every point the obstacle was the sprawling British Empire, and the too-powerful British fleet. The conviction grew that the overthrow of this fat and top-heavy colossus was the necessary preliminary to the creation of the German world-state.

This was a doctrine which had long been preached by the chief political mentor of modern Germany, Treitschke, who died in 1896. He was never tired of declaring that Britain was a decadent and degenerate state, that her empire was an unreal empire, and that it would collapse before the first serious attack. It would break up because it was not based upon force, because it lacked organisation, because it was a medley of disconnected and discordant fragments, worshipping an undisciplined freedom. That it should ever have come into being was one of the paradoxes of history; for it was manifestly not due to straightforward brute force, like the German Empire; and the modern German mind could not understand a state which did not rest upon power, but upon consent, which had not been built up, like Prussia, by the deliberate action of government, but which had grown almost at haphazard, through the spontaneous activity of free and self-governing citizens. Treitschke and his disciples could only explain the paradox by assuming that since it had not been created by force, it must have been created by low cunning; and they invented the theory that British statesmen had for centuries pursued an undeviating and Machiavellian policy of keeping the more virile states of Europe at cross-purposes with one another by means of the cunning device called the Balance of Power, while behind the backs of these tricked and childlike nations Britain was meanly snapping up all the most desirable regions of the earth. According to this view it was in some mysterious way Britain's fault that France and Germany were not the best of friends, and that Russia had been alienated from her ancient ally. But the day of reckoning would come when these mean devices would no longer avail, and the pampered, selfish, and overgrown colossus would find herself faced by hard-trained and finely tempered Germany, clad in her shining armour. Then, at the first shock, India would revolt; and the Dutch of South Africa would welcome their German liberators; and the great colonies, to which Britain had granted a degree of independence that no virile state would ever have permitted, would shake off the last shreds of subordination; and the ramshackle British Empire would fall to pieces; and Germany would emerge triumphant, free to pursue all her great schemes, and to create a lasting world-power, based upon Force and System and upon 'a healthy egoism,' not upon 'irrational sentimentalities' about freedom and justice.

These were the doctrines and calculations of Realpolitik. They were becoming more and more prevalent in the 'nineties. They seem definitely to have got the upper hand in the direction of national policy during the last years of the century, when Germany refused to consider the projects of disarmament put forward at the Hague in 1899, when the creation of the German navy was begun by the Navy Acts of 1898 and 1900, and when the Emperor announced that the future of Germany lay upon the water, and that hers must be the admiralty of the Atlantic. At the moment when the conquest of the world by European civilisation was almost complete, two conceptions of the meaning of empire, the conception of brutal domination pursued for its own sake, which has never been more clearly displayed than in the administration of the German colonies, and the conception of trusteeship, which had slowly emerged during the long development of the British Empire, stood forth already in sharp antithesis.

The dreadful anticipation of coming conflict weighed upon the world. France, still suffering from the wounds of 1870, was always aware of it. Russia, threatened by German policy in the Balkans, was more and more clearly realising it. But Britain was extraordinarily slow to awaken to the menace. As late as 1898 Mr. Joseph Chamberlain was advocating an alliance between Britain, Germany, and America to maintain the peace of the world; and Cecil Rhodes, when he devised his plan for turning Oxford into the training-ground of British youth from all the free nations of the empire, found a place in his scheme for German as well as for American students. The telegram to President Kruger in 1896 caused only a passing sensation. The first real illumination came with the extraordinary display of German venom against Britain during the South African war, and with the ominous doubling of the German naval programme adopted in the midst of that war, in 1900. But even this made no profound impression. The majority of the British people declined to believe that a 'great and friendly nation,' or its rulers, could deliberately enter upon a scheme of such unbridled ambition and of such unprovoked aggression.



VIII

THE BRITISH EMPIRE AMID THE WORLD-POWERS, 1878-1914

Throughout the period of rivalry for world-power which began in 1878 the British Empire had continued to grow in extent, and to undergo a steady change in its character and organisation.

In the partition of Africa, Britain, in spite of the already immense extent of her domains, obtained an astonishingly large share. The protectorates of British East Africa, Uganda, Nigeria, Nyasaland, and Somaliland gave her nearly 25,000,000 new negro subjects, and these, added to her older settlements of Sierra Leone and the Gold Coast, whose area was now extended, outnumbered the whole population of the French African empire. But besides these tropical territories she acquired control over two African regions so important that they deserve separate treatment: Egypt, on the one hand, and the various extensions of her South African territories on the other. When the partition of Africa was completed, the total share of Britain amounted to 3,500,000 square miles, with a population of over 50,000,000 souls, and it included the best regions of the continent: the British Empire, in Africa alone, was more than three times as large as the colonial empire of Germany, which was almost limited to Africa.

It may well be asked why an empire already so large should have taken also the giant's share of the last continent available for division among the powers of Europe. No doubt this was in part due to the sentiment of imperialism, which was stronger in Britain during this period than ever before. But there were other and more powerful causes. In the first place, during the period 1815-78 British influence and trade had been established in almost every part of Africa save the central ulterior, and no power had such definite relations with various native tribes, many of which desired to come under the protectorate of a power with whom the protection of native rights and customs was an established principle. In the second place, Britain was the only country which already possessed in Africa colonies inhabited by enterprising European settlers, and the activity of these settlers played a considerable part in the extension of the British African dominions. And in the third place, since the continental powers had adopted the policy of fiscal protection, the annexation of a region by any of them meant that the trade of other nations might be restricted or excluded; the annexation of a territory by Britain meant that it would be open freely and on equal terms to the trade of all nations. For this reason the trading interests in Britain, faced by the possibility of exclusion from large areas with which they had carried on traffic, were naturally anxious that as much territory as possible should be brought under British supremacy, in order that it might remain open to their trade.

It is the main justification for British annexations that they opened and developed new markets for all the world, instead of closing them; and it was this fact chiefly which made the acquisition of such vast areas tolerable to the other trading powers. The extension of the British Empire was thus actually a benefit to all the non-imperial states, especially to such active trading countries as Italy, Holland, Scandinavia, or America. If at any time Britain should reverse her traditional policy, and reserve for her own merchants the trade of the immense areas which have been brought under her control, nothing is more certain than that the world would protest, and protest with reason, against the exorbitant and disproportionate share which has fallen to her. Only so long as British control means the open door for all the world will the immense extent of these acquisitions continue to be accepted without protest by the rest of the world.

In the new protectorates of this period Britain found herself faced by a task with which she had never had to deal on so gigantic a scale, though she had a greater experience in it than any other nation: the task of governing justly whole populations of backward races, among whom white men could not permanently dwell, and whom they visited only for the purposes of commercial exploitation. The demands of industry for the raw materials of these countries involved the employment of labour on a very large scale; but the native disliked unfamiliar toil, and as his wants were very few, could easily earn enough to keep him in the idleness he loved. Slavery was the customary mode of getting uncongenial tasks performed in Africa; but against slavery European civilisation had set its face. Again, the ancient unvarying customs whereby the rights and duties of individual tribesmen were enforced, and the primitive societies held together, were often inconsistent with Western ideas, and tended to break down altogether on contact with Western industrial methods. How were the needs of industry to be reconciled with justice to the subject peoples? How were their customs to be reconciled with the legal ideas of their new masters? How were these simple folk to be taught the habits of labour? How were the resources of their land to be developed without interference with their rights of property and with the traditional usages arising from them? These were problems of extreme difficulty, which faced the rulers of all the new European empires. The attempt to solve them in a high-handed way, and with a view solely to the interests of the ruling race, led to many evils: it produced the atrocities of the Congo; it produced in the German colonies the practical revival of slavery, the total disregard of native customs, and the horrible sequence of wars and slaughters of which we have already spoken. In the British dominions a long tradition and a long experience saved the subject peoples from these iniquities. We dare not claim that there were no abuses in the British lands; but at least it can be claimed that government has always held it to be its duty to safeguard native rights, and to prevent the total break-up of the tribal system which could alone hold these communities together. The problem was not fully solved; perhaps it is insoluble. But at least the native populations were not driven to despair, and were generally able to feel that they were justly treated. 'Let me tell you,' a Herero is recorded to have written from British South Africa to his kinsmen under German rule, 'Let me tell you that the land of the English is a good land, since there is no ill-treatment. White and black stand on the same level. There is much work and much money, and your overseer does not beat you, or if he does he breaks the law and is punished.' There was a very striking contrast between the steady peace which has on the whole reigned in all the British dominions, and the incessant warfare which forms the history of the German colonies. The tradition of protection of native rights, established during the period 1815-78, and the experience then acquired, stood the British in good stead. During the ordeal of the Great War it has been noteworthy that there has been no serious revolt among these recently conquered subjects; and one of the most touching features of the war has been the eagerness of chiefs and their peoples to help the protecting power, and the innumerable humble gifts which they have spontaneously offered. Much remains to be done before a perfect solution is found for the problems of these dominions of yesterday. But it may justly be claimed that trusteeship, not domination, has been the spirit in which they have been administered; and that this is recognised by their subjects, despite all the mistakes and defects to which all human governments must be liable in dealing with a problem so complex.

Administrative problems of a yet more complex kind were raised in the two greatest acquisitions of territory made by Britain during these years, in Egypt and the Soudan, and in South Africa. The events connected with these two regions have aroused greater controversy than those connected with any other British dominions; the results of these events have been more striking, and in different ways more instructive as to the spirit and methods of British imperialism, than those displayed in almost any other field; and for these reasons we shall not hesitate to dwell upon them at some length.

The establishment of British control over Egypt was due to the most curious chain of unforeseen and unexpected events which even the records of the British Empire contain. Nominally a part of the Turkish Empire, Egypt had been in fact a practically independent state, paying only a small fixed tribute to the Sultan, ever since the remarkable Albanian adventurer, Mehemet Ali, had established himself as its Pasha in the confusion following the French occupation (1806). Mehemet Ali had been an extraordinarily enterprising prince. He had created a formidable army, had conquered the great desert province of the Soudan and founded its capital, Khartoum, and had nearly succeeded in overthrowing the Turkish Empire and establishing his own power in its stead: during the period 1825-40 he had played a leading role in European politics. Though quite illiterate, he had posed as the introducer of Western civilisation into Egypt; but his grandiose and expensive policy had imposed terrible burdens upon the fellahin (peasantry), and the heavy taxation which was necessary to maintain his armies and the spurious civilisation of his capital was only raised by cruel oppressions.

The tradition of lavish expenditure, met by grinding the peasantry, was accentuated by Mehemet's successors. It inevitably impoverished the country. Large loans were raised in the West, to meet increasing deficits; and the European creditors in course of time found it necessary to insist that specific revenues should be ear-marked as a security for their interest, and to claim powers of supervision over finance. The construction of the Suez Canal (opened 1869), which was due to the enterprise of the French, promised to bring increased prosperity to Egypt; but in the meanwhile it involved an immense outlay. At the beginning of our period Egypt was already on the verge of bankruptcy, and the Khedive was compelled to sell his holding of Suez Canal shares, which were shrewdly acquired for Britain by Disraeli.

But financial chaos was not the only evil from which Egypt suffered. There was administrative chaos also, and this was not diminished by the special jurisdictions which had been allowed to the various groups of Europeans settled in the country. The army, unpaid and undisciplined, was ready to revolt; and above all, the helpless mass of the peasantry were reduced to the last degree of penury, and exposed to the merciless and arbitrary severity of the officials, who fleeced them of their property under the lash. All the trading nations were affected by this state of anarchy in an important centre of trade; all the creditors of the Egyptian debt observed it with alarm. But the two powers most concerned were France and Britain, which between them held most of the debt, and conducted most of the foreign trade, of Egypt; while to Britain Egypt had become supremely important, since it now controlled the main avenue of approach to India.

When a successful military revolt, led by Arabi Pasha, threatened to complete the disorganisation of the country (1882), France and Britain decided that they ought to intervene to restore order, the other powers all agreeing. But at the last moment France withdrew, and the task was undertaken by Britain single-handed.[7] In a short campaign Arabi was overthrown; and now Britain had to address herself to the task of reconstructing the political and economic organisation of Egypt. It was her hope and intention that the work should be done as rapidly as possible, in order that she might be able to withdraw from a difficult and thankless task, which brought her into very delicate relations with the other powers interested in Egypt. But withdrawal was not easy. The task of reorganisation proved to be a much larger and more complicated one than had been anticipated; and it was greatly increased when the strange wave of religious fanaticism aroused by the preaching of the Mahdi swept over the Soudan, raised a great upheaval, and led to the destruction of the Egyptian armies of occupation. Britain had now to decide whether the revolting province should be reconquered or abandoned. Reconquest could not be effected by the utterly disorganised Egyptian army; if it was to be attempted, it must be by means of British troops. But this would not only mean a profitless expenditure, it would also indefinitely prolong the British occupation, which Britain was desirous of bringing to an end at the earliest possible moment.

[7] See above, p. 164

The romantic hero, Gordon, was therefore sent to Khartoum to carry out the withdrawal from the Soudan of all the remaining Egyptian garrisons. On his arrival he came to the conclusion that the position was not untenable, and took no steps to evacuate. There was much dangerous delay and vacillation; and in the end Gordon was besieged in Khartoum, and killed by the bands of the Mahdi, before a relief force could reach him. But this triumph of Mahdism increased its menace to Egypt. The country could not be left to its own resources until this peril had been removed, or until the Egyptian army had been fully reorganised. So the occupation prolonged itself, year after year.

The situation was, in fact, utterly anomalous. Egypt was a province of Turkey, ruled by a semi-independent Khedive. Britain's chief agent in the country was in form only in the position of a diplomatic representative. But the very existence of the country depended upon the British army of occupation, and upon the work of the British officers who were reconstructing the Egyptian army. And its hope of future stability depended upon the work of the British administrators, financiers, jurists, and engineers who were labouring to set its affairs in order. These officials, with Sir Evelyn Baring (Lord Cromer) at their head, had an extraordinarily difficult task to perform. Their relations with the native government, which they constantly had to overrule, were difficult enough. But besides this, they had to deal with the agents of the other European powers, who, as representing the European creditors of the Egyptian debt, had the right to interfere in practically all financial questions, and could make any logical financial reorganisation, and any free use of the country's financial resources for the restoration of its prosperity, all but impossible.

Yet in the space of a very few years an amazing work of restoration and reorganisation was achieved. Financial stability was re-established, while at the same time taxation was reduced. The forced labour which had been exacted from the peasantry was abolished; they were no longer robbed of their property under the lash; they obtained a secure tenure in their land; and they found that its productive power was increased, by means of great schemes of irrigation. An impartial system of justice was organised—for the first time in all the long history of Egypt since the fall of the Roman Empire. The army was remodelled by British officers. Schools of lower and higher grade were established in large numbers. In short, Egypt began to assume the aspect of a prosperous and well-organised modern community. And all this was the work, in the main, of some fifteen years.

Meanwhile in the Soudan triumphant barbarism had produced an appalling state of things. It is impossible to exaggerate the hideousness of the regime of Mahdism. A ferocious tyranny terrorised and reduced to desolation the whole of the upper basin of the Nile; and the population is said to have shrunk from 12,000,000 to 2,000,000, although exact figures are of course unattainable. One of the evil consequences of this regime was that it prevented a scientific treatment of the flow of the Nile, on which the very life of Egypt depended. Scientific irrigation had already worked wonders in increasing the productivity of Egypt, but to complete this work, and to secure avoidance of the famines which follow any deficiency in the Nile-flow, it was necessary to deal with the upper waters of the great river. On this ground, and in order to remove the danger of a return of barbarism, which was threatened by frequent Mahdist attacks, and finally in order to rescue captives who were enduring terrible sufferings in the hands of the Mahdi, it appeared that the reconquest of the Soudan must be undertaken as the inevitable sequel to the reorganisation of Egypt. It was achieved, with a wonderful efficiency which made the name of Kitchener famous, in the campaigns of 1896-98. The reconquered province was nominally placed under the joint administration of Britain and Egypt; but in fact the very remarkable work of civilisation which was carried out in it during the years preceding the Great War was wholly directed by British agents and officers.

The occupation of the Soudan necessitated a prolongation of the British occupation of Egypt. But, indeed, such a prolongation was in any case inevitable; for the beneficial reforms in justice, administration, finance, and the organisation of the country's resources, which had been effected in half a generation, required to be carefully watched and nursed until they should be securely rooted: to a certainty they would have collapsed if the guardianship of Britain had been suddenly and completely withdrawn. The growing prosperity of Egypt, however, and still more the diffusion of Western education among its people, has naturally brought into existence a nationalist party, who resent what they feel to be a foreign dominance in their country, and aspire after the institutions of Western self-government. But it has to be noted that the classes among whom this movement has sprung up are not the classes who form the bulk of the population of Egypt—the fellahin, who from the time of the Pharaohs downwards have been exploited and oppressed by every successive conqueror who has imposed his rule on the country. This class, which has profited more than any other from the British regime, which has, under that regime, known for the first time justice, freedom from tyranny, and the opportunity of enjoying a fair share of the fruits of its own labour, is as yet unvocal. Accustomed through centuries to submission, accepting good or bad seasons, just or unjust masters, as the gods may send them, the fellah has not yet had time even to begin to have thoughts or opinions about his place in society and his right to a share in the control of his own destinies; and if the rule which has endeavoured to nurture him into prosperity and self-reliance were withdrawn, he would accept with blind submissiveness whatever might take its place. The classes among whom the nationalist movement finds its strength are the classes which have been in the past accustomed to enjoy some degree of domination; the relics of the conquering races, Arabs or Turks, who have succeeded one another in the rule of Egypt, the small traders and shopkeepers of the towns, drawn from many different races, the students who have been influenced by the knowledge and the political ideas of the West. It is natural and healthy that a desire to share in the government of their country should grow up among these classes: it is in some degree a proof that the influence of the regime under which they live has been stimulating. But it is also obvious that if these classes were at once to reassume, under parliamentary forms, the dominance which they wielded so disastrously until thirty years ago, the result must be unhappy. They are being, under British guidance, gradually introduced to a share in public affairs. But the establishment of a system of full self-government and national independence in Egypt, if it is to be successful, must wait until not only these classes, but also the classes beneath them, have been habituated to the sense of self-respect and of civic obligation by a longer acquaintance with the working of the Reign of Law.

Since the Great War broke out, the British position in Egypt has been regularised by the proclamation of a formal British protectorate. Perhaps the happiest fate which can befall the country is that it should make that gradual progress in political freedom, which is alone lasting, under the guidance of the power which has already given it prosperity, the ascendancy of an impartial law, freedom from arbitrary authority, freedom of speech and thought, and emancipation from the thraldom of foreign financial interests; and in the end it may possibly be the destiny of this ancient land, after so many vicissitudes, to take its place as one among a partnership of free nations in a world-encircling British Commonwealth of self-governing peoples.

The most vexed, difficult, and critical problems in the history of the British Empire since 1878—perhaps the most difficult in the whole course of its history—have been those connected with the South African colonies. In 1878 there were four distinct European provinces in South Africa, besides protected native areas, like Basutoland. All four had sprung from the original Anglo-Dutch colony of the Cape of Good Hope. In two of them—Cape Colony and Natal—the two European peoples, British and Dutch, dwelt side by side, the Dutch being in a majority in the former, the British in the latter; but in both the difficulty of their relationship was complicated by the presence of large coloured populations, which included not only the native African peoples, Hottentots, Kaffirs, Zulus, and so forth, but also a large number of Asiatics, Malays who had been brought in by the Dutch before the British conquest, and Indians who had begun to come in more recently in large numbers, especially to Natal. Difference of attitude towards these peoples between the British authorities and the Dutch settlers had been in the past, as we have seen, a main cause of friction between the two European peoples, and had caused the long postponement of full self-government. In the other two provinces, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, the white inhabitants were, in 1878, almost exclusively Dutch. The native populations in these states were no longer in a state of formal slavery, but they were treated as definitely subject and inferior peoples: a law of the Transvaal laid it down that 'there shall be no equality in Church or State between white and black.' Thus the mutual distrust originally aroused by the native question still survived. It was intensified by ill-feeling between the Boers and British missionaries. When Livingstone, the British missionary hero, reported the difficulties which the Boers had put in his way, British opinion was made more hostile than ever. Of the two Boer republics, the Orange Free State had enjoyed complete independence since 1854; and no serious friction ever arose between it and the British government. But the Transvaal, which had been turbulent and restless from the first, had been annexed in 1878, largely because it seemed to be drifting into a war of extermination with the Zulus. As a consequence, Britain was drawn into a badly managed Zulu-War; and when this dangerous tribe had been conquered, the Transvaal revolted. The Boers defeated a small British force at Majuba; whereupon, instead of pursuing the struggle, the British government resolved to try the effect of magnanimity, and conceded (1881 and 1884) full local independence to the Transvaal, subject only to a vague recognition of British suzerainty.

This was the beginning of many ills. The Transvaal Boers, knowing little of the world, thought they had defeated Britain; and under the lead of Paul Kruger, a shrewd old farmer who henceforth directed their policy with all but autocratic power, began to pursue the aim of creating a purely Dutch South Africa, and of driving the British into the sea. Kruger's policy was one of pure racial dominance, not of equality of rights. It was a natural aim, under all the conditions. But it was the source of grave evils. Inevitably it stimulated a parallel movement in Cape Colony, where Dutch and British were learning to live peaceably together. The Boer extremists also began to look about for allies, and were tempted to hope for aid from Germany, who had just established herself in South-West Africa. Full of pride, the Transvaalers, though they already held a great and rich country which was very thinly peopled, began to push outwards, and especially to threaten the native tribes in the barren region of Bechuanaland, which lay between the Transvaal and the German territory. To this Britain replied by establishing a protectorate over Bechuanaland (1884) at the request of native chiefs: the motive of this annexation was, not suspicion of Germany, for this suspicion did not yet exist, but the desire to protect the native population.

Kruger's vague project of a Dutch South Africa would probably have caused little anxiety so long as his resources were limited to the strength of the thinly scattered Boer farmers. But the situation was fundamentally altered by the discovery of immense deposits first of diamonds and then of gold in South Africa, and most richly of all in the Rand district of the Transvaal. These discoveries brought a rapid inrush of European miners, financiers, and their miscellaneous camp-followers, and in a few years a very rich and populous European community had established itself in the Transvaal, and had created as its centre the mushroom new city of Johannesburg (founded 1884). These immigrants, who came from many countries, but especially from Britain, changed the situation in the Transvaal; it seemed as though the majority among the white men in that state would soon be British.

A simple and primitive organisation of government, such as sufficed for the needs of Boer farmers, was manifestly inadequate for the needs of the new population, which included, in the nature of things, many undesirable elements; and it was natural that the mining population should desire to be brought under a more modern type of government, or to obtain an effective share in the control of their own affairs. But this was precisely what the Boers of Kruger's way of thinking were determined to refuse them. They were resolved that Boer ascendancy in the Transvaal should not be weakened. They therefore denied to the new immigrants all the rights of citizenship, and would not even permit them to manage the local affairs of Johannesburg. At the same time Kruger imposed heavy taxation upon the gold industry and the people who conducted it; and out of the proceeds he was able not only to pay the expenses of government without burdening the Boer farmers, but to build up the military power by means of which he hoped ultimately to carry out his great project. Thus the 'Uitlanders' found themselves treated as an inferior race in the land which their industry was enriching. They practically paid the cost of the government, but had no share in directing it.

The policy of racial ascendancy has seldom been pursued in a more mischievous or dangerous form. One cannot but feel a certain sympathy with the Boers' desire to maintain Boer ascendancy in the land which they had conquered. Yet it must be remembered that they were themselves very recent immigrants: the whole settlement of the Transvaal had taken place in Paul Kruger's lifetime.

The diamonds and the gold of the recent discoveries had produced in South Africa a new element of power: the power of great wealth, wielded by a small number of men. Some of these were, of course, mean and sordid souls, to whom wealth was an end in itself. But among them one emerged who was more than a millionaire, who was capable of dreaming great dreams, and had acquired his wealth chiefly in order that he might have the power to realise them. This was Cecil Rhodes, an almost unique combination of the financier and the idealist. If he was sometimes tempted to resort to the questionable devices that high finance seems to cultivate, and if his ideals took on sometimes a rather vulgar colour, reflected from his money-bags, nevertheless ideals were the real governing factors in his life.

He dreamed of a great united state of South Africa; it was to be a British South Africa; but it was to be British, not in the sense in which Kruger wished it to be Dutch, but in the sense that equality of treatment between the white races should exist within it, as in all the British lands. He dreamed also of a great brotherhood of British communities, or communities governed by British ideals, girdling the world, perhaps dominating it (for Rhodes was inclined to be a chauvinist), and leading it to peace and liberty. As a lad fresh from Oxford, in long journeyings over the African veldt, he had in a curious, childlike way thought out a theology, a system of politics, and a mode of life for himself; having reached the conclusion that the British race had on the whole more capacity for leading the world successfully than any other, he had resolved that it should be his life's business to forward and increase the influence of British ideas and of British modes of life; and he had systematically built up a colossal fortune in order that he might have the means to do this work. At the roots of this strange medley of poetry and chauvinism which filled his mind was an unchanging and deep veneration for the outstanding memory of his youth, Oxford, which in his mind stood for all the august venerable past of England, and was the expression of her moral essence. When he died, after a life of money-making and intrigue, in a remote and half-developed colony, it was found that most of his immense fortune had been left either to enrich the college where he had spent a short time as a lad, or to bring picked youths from all the British lands, and from what he regarded as the two great sister communities of America and Germany, so that they might drink in the spirit of England, at Oxford, its sanctuary.

His immediate task lay in South Africa, where, from the moment of his entry upon public life, he became the leader of the British cause as Kruger was the leader of the Dutch: millionaire-dreamer and shrewd, obstinate farmer, they form a strange contrast. The one stood for South African unity based upon equality of the white races: the other also for unity, but for unity based upon the ascendancy of one of the white races. In the politics of Cape Colony Rhodes achieved a remarkable success: he made friends with the Dutch party and its leader Hofmeyr, who for a long time gave steady support to his schemes and maintained him in the premiership. It was a good beginning for the policy of racial co-operation. But Rhodes's most remarkable achievement was the acquisition of the fertile upland regions of Mashonaland and Matabililand, now called Rhodesia in his honour. There were episodes which smelt of the shady practices of high finance in the events which led up to this acquisition. But in the result its settlement was well organised, after some initial difficulties, by the Chartered Company which Rhodes formed for the purpose. Now one important result of the acquisition of Rhodesia was that it hemmed in the Transvaal on the north; and, joined with the earlier annexation of Bechuanaland, isolated and insulated the two Dutch republics, which were now surrounded, everywhere except on the east, by British territory. From Cape Town up through Bechuanaland and through the new territories Rhodes drove a long railway line. It was a business enterprise, but for him it was also a great imaginative conception, a link of empire, and he dreamed of the day when it should be continued to join the line which was being pushed up the Nile from Cairo through the hot sands of the Soudan.

But Rhodes's final and most unhappy venture was the attempt to force, by violent means, a solution of the Transvaal problem. He hoped that the Uitlanders might be able, by a revolution, to overthrow Kruger's government, and, perhaps in conjunction with the more moderate Boers, to set up a system of equal treatment which would make co-operation with the other British colonies easy, and possibly bring about a federation of the whole group of South African States. He was too impatient to let the situation mature quietly. He forced the issue by encouraging the foolish Jameson Raid of 1895. This, like all wilful resorts to violence, only made things worse. It alienated and angered the more moderate Boers in the Transvaal, who were not without sympathy with the Uitlanders. It aroused the indignation of the Cape Colony Boers, and embittered racial feeling there. It put the British cause in the wrong in the eyes of the whole world, and made the Boers appear as a gallant little people struggling in the folds of a merciless python-empire. It increased immensely the difficulty of the British government in negotiating with the Transvaal for better treatment of the Uitlanders. It stiffened the backs of Kruger and his party. The German Kaiser telegraphed his congratulations on the defeat of the Raid 'without the aid of friendly powers,' and the implication that this aid would be forthcoming in case of necessity led the Boers to believe that they could count on German help in a struggle with Britain. So every concession to the Uitlanders was obstinately refused; and after three years more of fruitless negotiation, during which German munitions were pouring into the Transvaal, the South African War began. It may be that the war could have been avoided by the exercise of patience. It may be that the imperialist spirit, which was very strong in Britain at that period, led to the adoption of a needlessly high-handed tone. But it was neither greed nor tyranny on Britain's part which brought about the conflict, but simply the demand for equal rights.

The war was one in which all the appearances were against Britain, and the whole world condemned British greed and aggression. It was a case of Goliath fighting David, the biggest empire in the world attacking two tiny republics; yet the weaker side is not necessarily always in the right. It seemed to be a conflict for the possession of gold-mines; yet Britain has never made, and never hoped to make, a penny of profit out of these mines, which remained after the war in the same hands as before it. It was a case of the interests of financiers and gold-hunters against those of simple and honest farmers; yet even financiers have rights, and even farmers can be unjust. In reality the issue was a quite simple and straightforward one. It was the issue of racial ascendancy against racial equality, and as her traditions bade her, Britain strove for racial equality. It was the issue of self-government for the whole community as against the entrenched dominion of one section; and there was no question on which side the history of Britain must lead her to range herself. Whatever the rest of the world might say, the great self-governing colonies, which were free to help or not as they thought fit, had no doubts at all. They all sent contingents to take part in the war, because they knew it to be a war for principles fundamental to themselves.

The war dragged its weary course, and the Boers fought with such heroism, and often with such chivalry, as to win the cordial respect and admiration of their enemies. It is always a pity when men fight; but sometimes a fight lets bad blood escape, and makes friendship easier between foes who have learnt mutual respect. Four years after the peace which added the Transvaal and the Orange Free State as conquered dominions to the British Empire, the British government established in both of these provinces the full institutions of responsible self-government. As in Canada sixty years earlier, the two races were bidden to work together and make the best of one another; because now their destinies were freely under their own control. Yet this was even a bolder experiment than that of Canada, and showed a more venturesome confidence in the healing power of self-government. How has it turned out? Within five years more, the four divided provinces which had presented such vexed problems in 1878, were combined in the federal Union of South Africa, governed by institutions which reproduced those of Britain and her colonies.

In handing over to the now united states of South Africa the unqualified control of their own affairs, Britain necessarily left to them the vexed problem of devising a just relation between the ruling races and their subjects of backward or alien stocks; the problem which had been the source of most of the difficulties of South Africa for a century past, and which had long delayed the concession of full self-government. Nowhere in the world does this problem assume a more acute form than in South Africa, where there is not only a majority of negroes, mostly of the vigorous Bantu stock, but also a large number of immigrants mainly from India, who as subjects of the British crown naturally claim special rights. South Africa has to find her own solution for this complex problem; and she has not yet fully found it. But in two ways her association with the British Empire has helped, and will help, her to find her way towards it. If the earlier policy of the British government, guided by the missionaries, laid too exclusive an emphasis upon native rights, and in various ways hampered the development of the colony by the way in which it interpreted these rights, at least it had established a tradition hostile to that policy of mere ruthless exploitation of which such an ugly illustration was being given in German South-West Africa. An absolute parity of treatment between white and black must be not only impracticable, but harmful to both sides. But between the two extremes of a visionary equality and a white ascendancy ruthlessly employed for exploitation, a third term is possible—the just tutelage of the white man over the black, with a reasonable freedom for native custom. 'A practice has grown up in South Africa,' says the greatest of South African statesmen,[8] 'of creating parallel institutions, giving the natives their own separate institutions on parallel lines with institutions for whites. It may be that on these lines we may yet be able to solve a problem which may otherwise be insoluble.' It is a solution which owes much to the British experiments of the previous period; and the principle which inspires it was incorporated in the Act of Union. This is one of the innumerable fruitful experiments in government in which the British system is so prolific. Again, the problem of the relationship between Indian immigrants and white colonists is an acutely difficult one. It cannot be said to have been solved. But at least the fact that the South African Union and the Indian Empire are both partners in the same British commonwealth improves the chances of a just solution. It helped to find at least a temporary adjustment in 1914; in the future also it may contribute, in this as in many other ways, to ensure that a fair consideration is given to both sides of the thorny question of inter-racial relationship.

[8] General Smuts, May 22, 1917.

The events which led up to, and still more the events which followed, the South African War had thus brought a solution for the South African problem, which had been a continuous vexation since the moment of the British conquest. It was solved by the British panacea of self-government and equal rights. Who could have anticipated, twenty years or fifty years ago, the part which has been played by South Africa in the Great War? Is there any parallel to these events, which showed the gallant general of the Boer forces playing the part of prime minister in a united South Africa, crushing with Boer forces a revolt stirred up among the more ignorant Boers by German intrigue, and then leading an army, half Boer and half British, to the conquest of German South-West Africa?

The South African War had proved to be the severest test which the modern British Empire had yet had to undergo. But it had emerged, not broken, as in 1782, but rejuvenated, purged of the baser elements which had alloyed its imperial spirit, and confirmed in its faith in the principles on which it was built. More than that, on the first occasion on which the essential principles or the power of the empire had been challenged in war, all the self-governing colonies had voluntarily borne their share. Apart from a small contingent sent from Australia to the Soudan in 1885, British colonies had never before—indeed, no European colony had ever before—sent men oversea to fight in a common cause: and this not because their immediate interests were threatened, but for the sake of an idea. For that reason the South African War marks an epoch not merely in the history of the British Empire, but of European imperialism as a whole.

The unity of sentiment and aim which was thus expressed had, however, been steadily growing throughout the period of European rivalry; and doubtless in the colonies, as in Britain, the new value attached to the imperial tie was due in a large degree to the very fact of the eagerness of the other European powers for extra-European possessions. Imperialist sentiment began to become a factor in British politics just about the beginning of this period: in 1878 the Imperial Federation Society was founded, and about the same time Disraeli, who had once spoken of the colonies as 'millstones around our necks,' was making himself the mouthpiece of the new imperialist spirit. To this wave of feeling a very notable contribution was made by Sir John Seeley's brilliant book, "The Expansion of England." Slight as it was, and containing no facts not already familiar, it gave a new perspective to the events of the last four centuries of British history, and made the growth of the Empire seem something not merely casual and incidental, but a vital and most significant part of the British achievement. Its defect was, perhaps, that it concentrated attention too exclusively upon the external aspects of the wonderful story, and dwelt too little upon its inner spirit, upon the force and influence of the instinct of self-government which has been the most potent factor in British history. The powerful impression which it created was deepened by other books, like Froude's "Oceana" and Sir Charles Dilke's "Greater Britain," the title of which alone was a proclamation and a prophecy. It was strengthened also by the wonderful imperial pageants, like nothing else ever witnessed in the world, which began with the two Jubilee celebrations of 1887 and 1897, and were continued in the funerals of Queen Victoria and Edward VII., the coronations of Edward VII. and George V., and the superb Durbars of Delhi. The imaginative appeal of such solemn representations of a world-scattered fellowship of peoples and nations and tongues must not be underestimated. At first there was perhaps a suggestion of blatancy, and of mere pride in dominion, in the way in which these celebrations were received; the graver note of Kipling's 'Recessional,' inspired by the Jubilee of 1897, was not unneeded. But after the strain and anxiety of the South African War, a different temper visibly emerged.

More important than the pageants were the conferences of imperial statesmen which arose out of them. The prime ministers of the great colonies began to deliberate in common with the statesmen of Britain; and the discussions, though at first quite informal and devoid of authority, have become more intimate and vital as time has passed: a beginning at least has been made in the common discussion of problems affecting the Empire as a whole. And alongside of, and in consequence of, all this, imperial questions have been treated with a new seriousness in the British parliament, and the offices which deal with them have ceased to be, as they once were, reserved for statesmen of the second rank. The new attitude was pointedly expressed when in 1895 Mr. Joseph Chamberlain, the most brilliant politician of his generation, who could have had almost any office he desired, deliberately chose the Colonial Office. His tenure of that office was not, perhaps, memorable for any far-reaching change in colonial policy, though he introduced some admirable improvements in the administration of the tropical colonies; but it was most assuredly memorable for the increased intensity of interest which he succeeded in arousing in imperial questions, both at home and in the colonies. The campaign which he initiated, after the South African War, for the institution of an Imperial Zollverein or a system of Colonial Preference was a failure, and indeed was probably a blunder, since it implied an attempt to return to that material basis of imperial unity which had formed the core of the old colonial system, and had led to the most unhappy results in regard to the American colonies. But at least it was an attempt to realise a fuller unity than had yet been achieved, and in its first form included an inspiring appeal to the British people to face sacrifices, should they be necessary, for that high end. Whether these ideas contribute to the ultimate solution of the imperial problem or not, it was at least a good thing that the question should be raised and discussed.

One further feature among the many developments of this era must not be left untouched. It is the rise of a definitely national spirit in the greater members of the Empire. To this a great encouragement has been given by the political unity which some of these communities have for the first time attained during these years. National sentiment in the Dominion of Canada was stimulated into existence by the Federation of 1867. The unification of Australia which was at length achieved in the Federation of 1900 did not indeed create, but it greatly strengthened, the rise of a similar spirit of Australian nationality. A national spirit in South Africa, merging in itself the hostile racial sentiments of Boer and Briton, may well prove to be the happiest result of the Union of South Africa. In India also a national spirit is coming to birth, bred among a deeply divided people by the political unity, the peace, and the equal laws, which have been the greatest gifts of British rule; its danger is that it may be too quick to imagine that the unity which makes nationhood can be created merely by means of resolutions declaring that it exists, but the desire to create it is an altogether healthy desire. On the surface it might appear that the rise of a national spirit in the great members of the Empire is a danger to the ideal of imperial unity; but that need not be so, and if it were so, the danger must be faced, since the national spirit is too valuable a force to be restricted. The sense of nationhood is the inevitable outcome of the freedom and co-operation which the British system everywhere encourages; to attempt to repress it lest it should endanger imperial unity would be as short-sighted as the old attempt to restrict the natural growth of self-government because it also seemed a danger to imperial unity. The essence of the British system is the free development of natural tendencies, and the encouragement of variety of types; and the future towards which the Empire seems to be tending is not that of a highly centralised and unified state, but that of a brotherhood of free nations, united by community of ideas and institutions, co-operating for many common ends, and above all for the common defence in case of need, but each freely following the natural trend of its own development.

That is the conception of empire, unlike any other ever entertained by men upon this planet, which was already shaping itself among the British communities when the terrible ordeal of the Great War came to test it, and to prove as not even the staunchest believer could have anticipated, that it was capable of standing the severest trial which men or institutions have ever had to undergo.



IX

THE GREAT CHALLENGE, 1900-1914

At the opening of the twentieth century the long process whereby the whole globe has been brought under the influence of European civilisation was practically completed; and there had emerged a group of gigantic empires, which in size far surpassed the ancient Empire of Rome; each resting upon, and drawing its strength from, a unified nation-state. In the hands of these empires the political destinies of the world seemed to rest, and the lesser nation-states appeared to be altogether overshadowed by them. Among the vast questions which fate was putting to humanity, there were none more momentous than these: On what principles, and in what spirit, were these nation-empires going to use the power which they had won over their vast and varied multitudes of subjects? What were to be their relations with one another? Were they to be relations of conflict, each striving to weaken or destroy its rivals in the hope of attaining a final world-supremacy? Or were they to be relations of co-operation in the development of civilisation, extending to the whole world those tentative but far from unsuccessful efforts after international co-operation which the European states had long been endeavouring to work out among themselves?[9] At first it seemed as if the second alternative might be adopted, for these were the days of the Hague Conferences; but the development of events during the first fourteen years of the century showed with increasing clearness that one of the new world-states was resolute to make a bid for world-supremacy, and the gradual maturing of this challenge, culminating in the Great War, constitutes the supreme interest of these years.

[9] See the Essay on Internationalism (Nationalism and Internationalism, p. 124 ff.).

The oldest, and (by the rough tests of area, population, and natural resources) by far the greatest of these new composite world-states, was the British Empire, which included 12,000,000 square miles, or one-quarter of the land-surface of the globe. It rested upon the wealth, vigour, and skill of a population of 45,000,000 in the homeland, to which might be added, but only by their own consent, the resources of five young daughter-nations, whose population only amounted to about 15,000,000. Thus it stood upon a rather narrow foundation. And while it was the greatest, it was also beyond comparison the most loosely organised of all these empires. It was rather a partnership of a multitude of states in every grade of civilisation than an organised and consolidated dominion. Five of its chief members were completely self-governing, and shared in the common burdens only by their own free will. All the remaining members were organised as distinct units, though subject to the general control of the home government. The resources of each unit were employed exclusively for the development of its own welfare. They paid no tribute; they were not required to provide any soldiers beyond the minimum needed for their own defence and the maintenance of internal order. This empire, in short, was not in any degree organised for military purposes. It possessed no great land-army, and was, therefore, incapable of threatening the existence of any of its rivals. It depended for its defence firstly upon its own admirable strategic distribution, since it was open to attack at singularly few points otherwise than from the sea; it depended mainly, for that reason, upon naval power, and secure command of the sea-roads by which its members were linked was absolutely vital to its existence. Only by sea-power (which is always weak in the offensive) could it threaten its neighbours or rivals; and its sea-power, during four centuries, had always, in war, been employed to resist the threatened domination of any single power, and had never, in time of peace, been employed to restrict the freedom of movement of any of the world's peoples. On the contrary, the Freedom of the Seas had been established by its victories, and dated from the date of its ascendancy. The life-blood of this empire was trade; its supreme interest was manifestly peace. The conception of the meaning of empire which had been developed by its history was not a conception of dominion for dominion's sake, or of the exploitation of subjects for the advantage of a master. On the contrary, it had come to mean (especially during the nineteenth century) a trust; a trust to be administered in the interests of the subjects primarily, and secondarily in the interests of the whole civilised world. That this is not the assertion of a theory or an ideal, but of a fact and a practice, is sufficiently demonstrated by two unquestionable facts: the first that the units which formed this empire were not only free from all tribute in money or men, but were not even required to make any contribution towards the upkeep of the fleet, upon which the safety of all depended; the second that every port and every market in this vast empire, so far as they were under the control of the central government, were thrown open as freely to the citizens of all other states as to its own. Finally, in this empire there had never been any attempt to impose a uniformity of method or even of laws upon the infinitely various societies which it included: it not merely permitted, it cultivated and admired, varieties of type, and to the maximum practicable degree believed in self-government. Because these were the principles upon which it was administered, the real strength of this empire was far greater than it appeared. But beyond question it was ill-prepared and ill-organised for war; desiring peace beyond all things, and having given internal peace to one-quarter of the earth's population, it was apt to be over-sanguine about the maintenance of peace. And if a great clash of empires should come, this was likely to tell against it.

The second oldest—perhaps it ought to be described as the oldest—of the world-empires, and the second largest in area, was the Russian Empire, which covered 8,500,000 square miles of territory. Its strength was that its vast domains formed a single continuous block, and that its population was far more homogeneous than that of its rivals, three out of four of its subjects being either of the Russian or of kindred Slavonic stock. Its weaknesses were that it was almost land-locked, nearly the whole of its immense coastline being either inaccessible, or ice-bound during half of the year; and that it had not adopted modern methods of government, being subject to a despotism, working through an inefficient, tyrannical, and corrupt bureaucracy. In the event of a European war it was further bound to suffer from the facts that its means of communication and its capacity for the movement of great armies were ill-developed; and that it was far behind all its rivals in the control of industrial machinery and applied science, upon which modern warfare depends, and without which the greatest wealth of man-power is ineffective. At the opening of the twentieth century Russia was still pursuing the policy of Eastward expansion at the expense of China, which the other Western powers had been compelled to abandon by the formation of the Anglo-Japanese alliance. Able to bring pressure upon China from the landward side, she was not deterred by the naval predominance which this alliance enjoyed, and she still hoped to control Manchuria, and to dominate the policy of China. But these aims brought her in conflict with Japan, who had been preparing for the conflict ever since 1895. The outcome of the war (1904), which ended in a disastrous Russian defeat, had the most profound influence upon the politics of the world. It led to an internal revolution in Russia. It showed that the feet of the colossus were of clay, and that her bureaucratic government was grossly corrupt and incompetent. It forbade Russia to take an effective part in the critical events of the following years, and notably disabled her from checking the progress of German and Austrian ascendancy in the Balkans. Above all it increased the self-confidence of Germany, and inspired her rulers with the dangerous conviction that the opposing forces with which they would have to deal in the expected contest for the mastery of Europe could be more easily overthrown than they had anticipated. To the Russian defeat must be mainly attributed the blustering insolence of German policy during the next ten years, and the boldness of the final challenge in 1914.

The third of the great empires was that of France, with 5,000,000 square miles of territory, mostly acquired in very recent years, but having roots in the past. It rested upon a home population of only 39,000,000, but these belonged to the most enlightened, the most inventive, and the most chivalrous stock in Christendom. As France had, a hundred years before, raised the standard of human rights among the European peoples, so she was now bringing law and justice and peace to the backward peoples of Africa and the East; and was finding in the pride of this achievement some consolation for the brutality with which she had been hurled from the leadership of Europe.

The fourth of the great empires was America, with some 3,000,000 square miles of territory, and a vague claim of suzerainty over the vast area of Central and South America. Her difficult task of welding into a nation masses of people of the most heterogeneous races had been made yet more difficult by the enormous flood of immigrants, mainly from the northern, eastern, and south-eastern parts of Europe, which had poured into her cities during the last generation: they proved to be in many ways more difficult to digest than their predecessors, and they tended, in a dangerous way, to live apart and to organise themselves as separate communities. The presence of these organised groups made it sometimes hard for America to maintain a quite clear and distinctive attitude in the discussions of the powers, most of which had, as it were, definite bodies of advocates among her citizens; and it was perhaps in part for this reason that she had tended to fall back again to that attitude of aloofness towards the affairs of the non-American world from which she seemed to have begun to depart in the later years of the last century. Although she had herself taken a hand in the imperialist activities of the 'nineties, the general attitude of her citizens towards the imperial controversies of Europe was one of contempt or undiscriminating condemnation. Her old tradition of isolation from the affairs of Europe was still very strong—still the dominating factor in her policy. She had not yet grasped (indeed, who, in any country, had?) the political consequences of the new era of world-economy into which we have passed. And therefore she could not see that the titanic conflict of Empires which was looming ahead was of an altogether different character from the old conflicts of the European states, that it was fundamentally a conflict of principles, a fight for existence between the ideal of self-government and the ideal of dominion, and that it must therefore involve, for good or ill, the fortunes of the whole globe. She watched the events which led up to the great agony with impartial and deliberate interest. Even when the war began she clung with obstinate faith to the belief that her tradition of aloofness might still be maintained. It is not surprising, when we consider how deep-rooted this tradition was, that it took two and a half years of carnage and horror to convert her from it. But it was inevitable that in the end her still more deeply rooted tradition of liberty should draw her into the conflict, and lead her at last to play her proper part in the attempt to shape a new world-order.

We cannot stop to analyse the minor world-states, Italy and Japan; both of which might have stood aside from the conflict, but that both realised its immense significance for themselves and for the world.

Last among the world-states, both in the date of its foundation and in the extent of its domains, was the empire of Germany, which covered considerably less than 1,500,000 square miles, but rested upon a home population of nearly 70,000,000, more docile, more industrious, and more highly organised than any other human society. The empire of Germany had been more easily and more rapidly acquired than any of the others, yet since its foundation it had known many troubles, because the hard and domineering spirit in which it was ruled did not know how to win the affections of its subjects. A parvenu among the great states—having only attained the dignity of nationhood in the mid-nineteenth century—Germany has shown none of that 'genius for equality' which is the secret of good manners and of friendship among nations as among individuals. Her conversation, at home and abroad, had the vulgar self-assertiveness of the parvenu, and turned always and wholly upon her own greatness. And her conduct has been the echo of her conversation. She has persuaded herself that she has a monopoly of power, of wisdom, and of knowledge, and deserves to rule the earth. Of the magnitude and far-reaching nature of her imperialist ambitions, we have said something in a previous chapter. She had as yet failed to realise any of these vaulting schemes, but she had not for that reason abandoned any of them, and she kept her clever and insidious preparations on foot in every region of the world upon which her acquisitive eyes had rested. But the exasperation of her steady failure to achieve the place in the world which she had marked out as her due had driven her rulers more and more definitely to contemplate, and prepared her people to uphold, a direct challenge to all her rivals. The object of this challenge was to win for Germany her due share in the non-European world, her 'place in the sun.' Her view of what that share must be was such that it could not be attained without the overthrow of all her European rivals, and this would bring with it the lordship of the world. It must be all or nothing. Though not quite realising this alternative, the mind of Germany was not afraid of it. She was in the mood to make a bold attempt, if need be, to grasp even the sceptre of world-supremacy. The world could not believe that any sane people could entertain such megalomaniac visions; not even the events of the decade 1904-14 were enough to bring conviction; it needed the tragedy and desolation of the war to prove at once their reality and their folly. For they were folly even if they could be momentarily realised. They sprang from the traditions of Prussia, which seemed to demonstrate that all things were possible to him who dared all, and scrupled nothing, and calculated his chances and his means with precision. By force and fraud the greatness of Prussia had been built; by force and fraud Prussia-Germany had become the leading state of Europe, feared by all her rivals and safe from all attack. Force and fraud appeared to be the determining factors in human affairs; even the philosophers of Germany devoted their powers to justifying and glorifying them. By force and fraud, aided by science, Germany should become the leader of the world, and perhaps its mistress. Never has the doctrine of power been proclaimed with more unflinching directness as the sole and sufficient motive for state action. There was practically no pretence that Germany desired to improve the condition of the lands she wished to possess, or that they were misgoverned, or that the existing German territories were threatened: what pretence there was, was invented after war began. The sole and sufficient reason put forward by the advocates of the policy which Germany was pursuing was that she wanted more power and larger dominions; and what she wanted she proposed to take.

On the surface it seemed mere madness for the least and latest of the great empires to challenge all the rest, just as it had once seemed madness for Frederick the Great, with his little state, to stand up against all but one of the great European powers. But Germany had calculated her chances, and knew that there were many things in her favour. She knew that in the last resort the strength of the world-states rested upon their European foundations, and here the inequality was much less. In a European struggle she could draw great advantage from her central geographical position, which she had improved to the highest extent by the construction of a great system of strategic railways. She could trust to her superbly organised military system, more perfect than that of any other state, just because no other state has ever regarded war as the final aim and the highest form of state action. She commanded unequalled resources in all the mechanical apparatus of war; she had spared no pains to build up her armament works, which had, indeed, supplied a great part of the world; she had developed all the scientific industries in such a way that their factories could be rapidly and easily turned to war purposes; and having given all her thoughts to the coming struggle as no other nation had done, she knew, better than any other, how largely it would turn upon these things. She counted securely upon winning an immense advantage from the fact that she would herself fix the date of war, and enter upon it with a sudden spring, fully prepared, against rivals who, clinging to the hope of peace, would be unready for the onset. She hoped to sow jealousies among her rivals; she trusted to catch them at a time when they were engrossed in their domestic concerns, and in this respect fate seemed to play into her hands, since at the moment which she had predetermined, Britain, France, and Russia were all distracted by domestic controversies. She trusted also to her reading of the minds and temper of her opponents; and here she went wildly astray, as must always be the fate of the nation or the man who is blinded by self-complacency and by contempt for others.

But, above all, she put her trust in a vast political combination which she had laboriously prepared during the years preceding the great conflict: the combination which we have learned to call Mittel-Europa. None of us realised to how great an extent this plan had been put in operation before the war began. Briefly it depended on the possibility of obtaining an intimate union with the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a control over the Turkish Empire, and a sufficient influence or control among the little Balkan states to ensure through communication. If the scheme could be carried out in full, it would involve the creation of a practically continuous empire stretching from the North Sea to the Persian Gulf, and embracing a total population of over 150,000,000. This would be a dominion worth acquiring for its own sake, since it would put Germany on a level with her rivals. But it would have the further advantage that it would hold a central position in relation to the other world-powers, corresponding to Germany's central position in relation to the other nation-states of Europe. Russia could be struck at along the whole length of her western and south-western frontier; the British Empire could be threatened in Egypt, the centre of its ocean lines of communication, and also from the Persian Gulf in the direction of India; the French Empire could be struck at the heart, in its European centre; and all without seriously laying open the attacking powers to the invasion of sea-power.

It was a bold and masterful scheme, and it was steadily pursued during the years before the war. Austro-Hungary was easily influenced. The ascendancy of her ruling races—nay, the very existence of her composite anti-national empire—was threatened by the nationalist movements among her subject-peoples, who, cruelly oppressed at home, were more and more beginning to turn towards their free brothers over the border, in Serbia and Rumania; and behind these loomed Russia, the traditional protector of the Slav peoples and of the Orthodox faith. Austro-Hungary, therefore, leant upon the support of Germany, and her dominant races would be very willing to join in a war which should remove the Russian menace and give them a chance of subjugating the Serbs. This latter aim suited the programme of Germany as well as it suited that of Austria, since the railways to Constantinople and Salonika ran through Serbia. Serbia, therefore, was doomed; she stood right in the path of the Juggernaut car.

The acquisition of influence in Turkey was also comparatively easy. Constantinople is a city where lavish corruption can work wonders. Moreover Turkey was, in the last years of the nineteenth century, in bad odour with Europe; and Germany was able to earn in 1897 the lasting gratitude of the infamous Sultan Abdul Hamid by standing between him and the other European powers, who were trying to interfere with his indulgence in the pastime of massacring the Armenians. Turkey had had many protectors among the European powers. She had never before had one so complaisant about the murder of Christians. From that date Germany was all-powerful in Turkey. The Turkish army was reorganised under her direction, and practically passed under her control. Most of the Turkish railways were acquired and managed by German companies. And presently the great scheme of the Bagdad railway began to be carried through. The Young Turk revolution in 1908 and the fall of Abdul Hamid gave, indeed, a shock to the German ascendancy; but only for a moment. The Young Turks were as amenable to corruption as their predecessors; and under the guidance of Enver Bey Turkey relapsed into German suzerainty. Thus the most important parts of the great scheme were in a fair way of success by 1910. One of the merits of this scheme was that as the Sultan of Turkey was the head of the Mahomedan religion, the German protectorate over Turkey gave a useful mode of appealing to the religious sentiments of Mahomedans everywhere. Twice over, in 1898 and in 1904, the Kaiser had declared that he was the protector of all Mahomedans throughout the world. Most of the Mahomedans were subjects either of Britain, France, or Russia—the three rival empires that were to be overthrown. As General Bernhardi put it, Germany in her struggle for Weltmacht must supplement her material weapons with spiritual weapons.

To obtain a similar ascendancy over the Balkan states was more difficult; for the Turk was the secular enemy of all of them, and Austria was the foe of two of the four, and to bring these little states into partnership with their natural enemies seemed an all but impossible task. Yet a good deal could be, and was, done. In two of the four chief Balkan states German princes occupied the thrones, a Hohenzollern in Rumania, a Coburger in Bulgaria; in a third, the heir-apparent to the Greek throne was honoured with the hand of the Kaiser's own sister. Western peoples had imagined that the day had gone by when the policy of states could be deflected by such facts; especially as the Balkan states all had democratic parliamentary constitutions. But the Germans knew better than the West. They knew that kings could still play a great part in countries where the bulk of the electorate were illiterate, and where most of the class of professional politicians were always open to bribes. Their calculations were justified. King Carol of Rumania actually signed a treaty of alliance with Germany without consulting his ministers or parliament. King Ferdinand of Bulgaria was able to draw his subjects into an alliance with the Turks, who had massacred their fathers in 1876, against the Russians, who had saved them from destruction. King Constantine of Greece was able to humiliate and disgrace the country over which he ruled, in order to serve the purposes of his brother-in-law. These sovereigns may have been the unconscious implements of a policy which they did not understand. But they earned their wages.

There were, indeed, two moments when the great scheme came near being wrecked. One was when Italy, the sleeping partner of the Triple Alliance, who was not made a sharer in these grandiose and vile projects, attacked and conquered the Turkish province of Tripoli in 1911, and strained to breaking-point the loyalty of the Turks to Germany. The other was when, under the guidance of the two great statesmen of the Balkans, Venizelos of Greece and Pashitch of Serbia, the Balkan League was formed, and the power of Turkey in Europe broken. If the League had held together, the great German project would have been ruined, or at any rate gravely imperilled. But Germany and Austria contrived to throw an apple of discord among the Balkan allies at the Conference of London in 1912, and then stimulated Bulgaria to attack Serbia and Greece. The League was broken up irreparably; its members had been brought into a sound condition of mutual hatred; and Bulgaria, isolated among distrustful neighbours, was ready to become the tool of Germany in order that by her aid she might achieve (fond hope!) the hegemony of the Balkans. This brilliant stroke was effected in 1913—the year before the Great War. All that remained was to ruin Serbia. For that purpose Austria had long been straining at the leash. She had been on the point of making an attack in 1909, in 1912, in 1913. In 1914 the leash was slipped. If the rival empires chose to look on while Serbia was destroyed, well and good: in that case the Berlin-Bagdad project could be systematically developed and consolidated, and the attack on the rival empires could come later. If not, still it was well; for all was ready for the great challenge.

We have dwelt at some length upon this gigantic project, because it has formed during all these years the heart and centre of the German designs, and even to-day it is the dearest of German hopes. Not until she is utterly defeated will she abandon it; because its abandonment must involve the abandonment of every hope of a renewed attempt at world-supremacy, after an interval for reorganisation and recovery. Not until the German control over Austria and Turkey, more complete to-day, after two and a half years of war, than it has ever been before, has been destroyed by the splitting up of Austria among the nationalities to which her territory belongs, and by the final overthrow of the Turkish Empire, will the German dream of world-dominion be shattered.

But while this fundamentally important project was being worked out, other events, almost equally momentous in their bearing upon the coming conflict, were taking place elsewhere. It was the obvious policy of Germany to keep her rivals on bad terms with one another. The tradition of Bismarck bade her isolate each victim before it was destroyed. But the insolence and the megalomania of modern Germany made this difficult. German writers were busily and openly explaining the fate marked out for all the other powers. France was to be so crushed that she would 'never again be able to stand in our path.' The bloated and unconsolidated empire of Britain was to be shattered. The Russian barbarians were to be thrust back into Asia. And what the pamphleteers and journalists wrote was expressed with almost equal clearness in the tone of German diplomacy. In face of all this, the clumsy attempts of the German government to isolate their rivals met with small success, even though these rivals had many grounds of controversy among themselves. France knew what she had to fear; and the interpolation of a few clumsy bids for her favour amid the torrent of insults against her which filled the German press, were of no avail; especially as she had to look on at the unceasing petty persecution practised in the lost provinces of Alsace-Lorraine. Russia had been alienated by the first evidences of German designs in the Balkans, and driven into a close alliance with France. Britain, hitherto obstinately friendly to Germany, began to be perturbed by the growing German programmes of naval construction from 1900 onwards, by the absolute refusal of Germany to consider any proposal for mutual disarmament or retardation of construction, and above all by the repeated assertions of the head of the German state that Germany aspired to naval supremacy, that her future was on the sea, that the trident must be in her hands. Should the trident fall into any but British hands, the existence of the British Empire, and the very livelihood of the British homeland, would rest at the mercy of him who wielded it. So, quite inevitably, the three threatened empires drew together and reconciled their differences in the Franco-British agreement of 1904 and the Russo-British agreement of 1907.

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