Eustace Percy Percy of Newcastle.

The responsibilites of the League online

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to Europe to be playing idly upon the dykes of


civilisation, we have taken the lead in estab-
lishing an international institution which lies
directly in the path of the flood. We have
pledged ourselves in honour to support, in fact
we have even initiated, a policy which faces in-
evitable failure unless it enlists in its defence
every quality of heart and brain in its advocates
for years to comeT And indeed it is only
Britain which can make this policy a success.
Our traditional aloofness from Europe has at
least this advantage, that we are not wedded to
the doctrine of nationality as a sacred dogma,
and we can see clearly, where our neighbours do
not see it, the fatal effect of giving to the League
the character of a crusade against revolution,
or a stonewall defence of national institutions.
Our fundamental pacifism, while it makes us
little trusted by many of our hard-pressed
friends in Europe, leads us at least to rule out of
account altogether as practical politics any
military adventures against social upheavals,
any attempt to suppress social heresies by the
sword. But we cannot merely stand aloof and
refuse to participate in such adventures. We
are committed by the League of Nations actively
to guide Europe in another direction, to offer
other alternatives, to formulate a policy by
which the European family of nations may be
saved. We cannot at the outset indulge in
philanthropic and intellectual luxuries like so
many of our labour friends whose views are
expressed in the Herald. We cannot proclaim
an academic sympathy for the less violent forms
of Bolshevism, and at the same time put our


strength behind the League of Nations. Our
very appearance in the Council of the League of
Nations is a pledge of our unalterable opposition
to the anti-nationalism of the social revolution-
aries. On the doorstep of the council chamber
we have to cast aside even the nobler irresponsi-
bilities of our mid- Victorian ancestors who could
remain official friends of Austria, while openly
proclaiming their sympathies with Mazzini and
Garibaldi. We are not committed to things
as they are, even to things as we have agreed
they should be by our signature of the Peace of
Versailles. On the contrary, we have recog-
nised that that Peace can only be tolerable if it
provides machinery for progressive change. But
we are committed to the task of changing things
as they are only by the methods of international
progress which we ourselves have laid down or
foreshadowed in connection with the constitu-
tion of the League. If we are alike to oppose
revolution and to oppose the use of international
force armed against it, the alternative to which
we must win European adherence must be
nothing less exacting than an anti-revolutionary
policy and an anti-revolutionary creed. Ours
must be a programme of action and a philosophy
which we can offer not only to the League of
Nations, but to Russia itself. We must know
why we support the existing international
order, why it corresponds with our desires, why
we can put our faith in the methods which it
offers for development and reform, what it is
we are defending and what it is we hope to gain.
We must apply to international relations the


principle which guides us in national affairs, the
principle of active reform to remove the causes
of unrest. We must show that trade and in-
dustry, those great staples of peaceful inter-
national intercourse, can be made the agents of
social prosperity and cohesion ; that the influx
of foreign capital, for instance, into " back-
ward " countries is not an affair of concession-
hunting or exploitation, and does not merely
serve to create or intensify the lines of social
cleavage between wealth and poverty. We
must above all show that the guardians of social
order have learnt no less, but more, from the
disaster which has overwhelmed the world than
the apostles of revolution ; that citizenship has
a meaning to us newer r.nd more fruitful than
the doctrine of the rule of the proletariat ; that
the enthusiasms and sufferings of war have
affected government policies no less profoundly
than they have moved the hearts of men.

Here is a task requiring qualities of ordered
thought and calculated action which have never
been an outstanding characteristic of the British
people, and it is surely a task for which we
are showing ourselves peculiarly unready at the
present moment. We have created a League
of Nations. With America, we are indeed its
authors. What has British and American his-
tory and character to offer towards the enter-
prise to which we are thus pledged ?


" Regni vero dignitas non est proprie honos sed onus,
non immunitas sed munus, noii vacatio sed vocatio, non
licentia sed publica servitus." Languet.



" If England persists in maintaining this neutral, passive,
selfish part, she will have to expiate it." Mazzini.

ENGLISHMEN have often been puzzled by their
reputation in foreign countries. They have
never understood how the national figure of
John Bull becomes translated in European
language into " perfide Albion/' And yet
British history for more than three hundred
years furnishes a fairly obvious explanation.
Since history is the schoolmaster to bring us
to politics, it may not be out of place for us at
this moment to examine our past record. If
we forget it, others will not.

In the temper of the present day, it is often
difficult to secure an audience for the teaching of
history because the popular mind tends to re-
gard everything that happened before the first
Reform Bill as the evil agitations and intrigues
of the dark ages. Many people feel that it is
useless and invidious to draw analogies between
the policy of Burleigh, Bolingbroke and Canning
and the attitude of the British democracy at the
present day. Yet, as a matter of fact, the mis-
takes of our ancestors proceeded just as largely



from mere common British indolence and self-
ishness as from ambitions of place or power.
One of the best known political writers of the
last generation, a liberal, and in many ways an
advanced thinker Walter Bagehot insisted on
more than one occasion that the chief evil of
British naval and military budgets was that
they were not based on any really sober or de-
tailed estimate of the foreign stuation. On
April 26, 1862, he intervened in the controversy
between Cobden and the government of the day,
by an article in the Economist, in which he
summed up the situation in the following
words :

" At present we are voting these vast sums upon grounds
which are inconclusive and irrelevant ; Mr. Cobden is
objecting to them for reasons which are equally so. He
tells us to disarm, but does not prove that there is no
danger ; we continue arming, but we do not ascertain
that there is danger. Neither course is wise nor rational
. . . Mr. Cobden always objects to armaments j soldiers,
he says, always advocate them. Unless we have a
business-like estimate of the danger, who can say which
of them is wise and which of them is unwise ? "

These words might equally well be applied to
the controversies which have raged recently over
the Government's Military Service Bill, or to
nine-tenths of the so-called foreign policy of
British statesmen from James I to Sir Edward
Grey. British foreign policy has only at rare
intervals been based on any careful judgment
of the actual situation in Europe, and this judg-
ment has been lacking because we have never
cared sufficiently about our neighbours to give


ourselves the trouble of following their affairs
consecutively or in detail.

There have been a few short but very great
eras when Britain has been looked up to by
the continent as a great leader, as the home
of statesmanship and the hope of the future.
It is a curious commentary on our supposed
leadership in the arts of peaceful government
that in every case these have been eras of war,
and in every case peace has brought with it a
sudden abdication of that leadership, a sudden
lapse of that statesmanship, a sudden disap-
pointment of those hopes.

It is fair to take the Elizabethan age as the
first of these periods in modern history, for
though Elizabeth's foreign policy was shifty and
selfish, though she refused to identify England
officially with the championship of the Reforma-
tion cause in Europe, the force of circumstances
and the spirit of adventure in her people did
push England forward into the position of a
bulwark against the designs of European im-
perialism. But this period was, from the point
of view of the continent, only the overture to
the great upheaval of the nations. The Armada
was for England an Armageddon, but for Europe
it was only a prelude to the Thirty Years' War.
The death of Elizabeth and the dawn of the
seventeenth century was marked by the abdica-
tion of British leadership in James I's Treaty of
Peace with Spain in 1604. During the whole
of the next forty years, British policy was one
of shifting negotiations and irresponsible media-
tion. Europe was in ruins, and in surveying


those ruins, British public men spoke with the
same two voices that have always marked and
marred our attitude towards Europe. The
voice of the balance of power, which in English
mouths has always meant something very
different from its meaning to continental peoples,
counselled Charles I, in the words of one of his
ambassadors, to use Gustavus, " the lion of the
north and the bulwark of the Protestant faith/'
as a tool useful for the moment which could
always be thrown away when its work was done.

' The King of Sweden is not to be considered
in his branches and fair plumes of one year's
prosperity, but in his root, and so he is not to be
feared. ... It is mere folly to make the seem-
ing care of the future hinder that course of
victory which God hath chosen by him, not to
set up a new monarchy, but to temper the
fury of tyranny and to restore the equality of
just government/' The voice of humanitarian
selfishness sounded in the words of Archbishop
Laud to Straff ord : " So a war and the mischief
which must follow be kept off, I shall care the

Now, this policy during these years may per-
haps have been fundamentally sound. England
indeed lost credit on the continent through a
course of diplomacy which could only appear
at once selfish, fussy and ineffectual. But it
may well have been right, both then and since

it might well be right even to-day to base
British policy on isolation from the troubles
and the designs of Europe. The only purpose of
this historical sketch is to indicate what in fact


the nature of our hi'storical policy has been,
and it is important here to note that the tra-
ditional British policy of isolation has always
rested upon a quite peculiar interpretation of
the principle of the balance of power, which has
naturally aroused the distrust and even the
contempt of European nations. A German con-
tributor to the " Cambridge Modern History/'
whose words were greedily caught up by British
pacifists in 1914, was wrong in history when he
asserted that von Billow had refused an offer of
alliance with England lest he should thereby be
made " the sword of England upon the con-
tinent/* but while he was wrong in history, he
faithfully represented a view of British policy
which has been ingrained in Europe by a long
course of British history. The doctrine of
isolation, combined with the doctrine of the
balance of power, has tempted England again
and again to throw into the balance, not her
own sword but the sword of continental allies.
English historians have quoted with relish the
savage words of Lord Malmesbury during his
German mission at the close of the eighteenth
century : " If we listened only to our feelings
it would be difficult to keep any measure with
Prussia. We must regard it as an alliance
with the Algerians whom it is no disgrace to
pay or any impeachment of good sense to be
cheated by." But we cannot complain if
Europeans in reply point to the frittering away
of British troops and the substitution of
subsidies for armed alliance which marred
the war policy of Malmesbury's master, the


younger Pitt, or if they remind us that the
Prussia against which Malmesbury inveighed so
bitterly had been called in, largely as a result
of his own efforts, a few years before to redress,
in the British interest, the balance of power in
Holland against French designs.

To continue our historical survey, we may
pass over lightly the temporary, and to a large
extent fictitious, restoration of British prestige
abroad by Cromwell and the descent of British
foreign policy to its nadir under Charles II.
We approach perhaps the greatest period of
British foreign policy in Europe. The wars of
William III and Marlborough against France
raised England to a position of supremacy on
the continent which might have placed her in
the forefront of European progress during the
succeeding century, when the seeds of change
were working in every European population
and in every centre of European thought. We
are accustomed to regard the eighteenth century
as a dead period in English life, and there is
much to support that view. Nevertheless,
England was in many respects the source from
which the liberal thinkers of Europe, notably
Voltaire, drew their original inspiration. More
important still, she had attained a measure of
experience and skill in the art of government
which was calculated to supply exactly that
steadying and formative quality to the cause
of progress in Europe for lack of which the
liberal statesmen of the continent failed to
impress Jiheir reforms in any enduring way
upon the* life of their countries, If to-day the


name of Pombal, " one of the most powerful
and resolute ministers that has ever held
office in Europe/' is practically forgotten ;
if the whole " group of active, wise and truly
positive statesmen " who governed Europe
between 1760 and 1780 seem now to have
laboured in vain ; if Turgot is only remembered
because his fall heralded the cataclysm of 1789,
it is in no small degree because, except during
the Seven Years' War, British policy held aloof
from Europe. England's influence on the con-
tinent might have profoundly altered the course
of history, but she preferred an isolation based
by the Whigs on an act of treachery perpetrated
by the Tories.

The Peace of Utrecht is perhaps the greatest
blot on the British record. We broke the most
solemn of treaties with Holland binding us not
to make a separate peace. We deserted not
only our Allies but the subject populations
whose insurrection we had encouraged. There
must indeed be few Englishmen to-day who
realise, as they read of the revolutionary spirit
in Catalonia, that they are watching in some
measure the effect of a British betrayal of
nationalism two hundred years ago. " We had
encouraged a brave people to rebel ; we had
even threatened them if they did not rebel ; and
when they did rebel we deserted them/' The
Minister responsible for this act of treachery
fell ; the dynasty changed. The Peace of
Utrecht and the seven years of restless negotia-
tion which succeeded it did, as a matter of fact,
result in the establishment of something like a


European system. The Triple Alliance between
England, France and Holland, concluded in
January 1717, was joined by Austria in 1718,
and by Spain in 1720, and an attempt was made
in a series of conventions and congresses,
not wholly unlike those that followed the
Napoleonic wars, to make the alliance of these
five great powers the basis of a settled European
peace. But British statesmen soon tired of
the effort. Again, they were perhaps justified.
Walpole was possibly right to withdraw more
and more from the quarrels of Europe. Europe
was indeed not yet ready for peace. Not only
autocratic traditions, but the aftermath of the
Reformation upheaval, the incoherent and
unsettled condition of large sections of Euro-
pean society and the ferment of ideas working
in it combined to render a permanent state of
peace difficult if not impossible. But though
Walpole's policy may have been wise, it was
selfish. Laud's voice sounds again in the
words of Walpole to the Queen in 1734 :
" Madam, there are fifty thousand men slain
this year in Europe and not one Englishman."
And, moreover, the aloofness of England was
artificial. She had not yet learned as we
have even now not yet" learned that she
cannot be securely at peace if Europe is at war.
The Seven Years' War demonstrated this truth,
and once again, under Chatham, she flashed
out into European leadership. The flash was
al brief one and was succeeded by the old

Our desertion of Frederick the Great in 1763


is not to be compared with our desertion of
Holland half a century before. We may dis-
avow to-day in the light of the subsequent
history of Prussia Chatham's rhetorical out-
burst of December gth of that year : " The
King of Prussia disavowed ! given up ! sacri-
ficed ! " We may be devoutly thankful that
we who, as Chatham said, could have allied
ourselves with no other Power in Europe than
Prussia or Russia, were not involved by any
such alliance in the partitions of Poland. Yet
in a sense the Peace of Paris marked a still more
definite step than previous treaties in the
abdication by Britain of leadership in Europe.
We deliberately turned our eyes away from the
continent to Asia and to the New World. W T e
definitely set our hands, with whatever ill-
success at first, to the building of our overseas
empire and withdrew from the cockpit of
Europe. And we did this at a moment when
Europe was emerging from the fictions of per-
sonal diplomacy into new policies and new
dangers. " It was the entry of Frederick the
Great upon the scene that instantly raised
international relations into the region of real
matter and changed a strife of dynasties,
houses, persons, into a vital competition between
old forces and principles and new." If the
Peace of Paris was marked by a better and
more honest statesmanship than the Peace of
Utrecht, the years that followed were infinitely
darker than the years of Walpole's ministry.
For twenty years England sank lower and
lower in the scale of nations, and in the eyes of


Europe. The rulers of Prussia and Russia both
expressed the belief that, in the words of
Bismarck more than a century later : " Respect
for the rights of other states ... in England
lasts only so long as English interests are
not touched. . . . The English constitution
does not admit of alliances of assured per-
manence." Britain, absorbed in the down-
fall of her American empire, washed her hands
of the conspiracies which partitioned Poland
and put a final end to any real balance of power
in Europe.

She was, however, to lead Europe once more.
Her statesmen were again to dominate the
councils of the European nations. But at
the Congress of Vienna, Castlereagh repeated
in one vital respect the policy of the Peace
of Paris. He excluded extra-European prob-
lems from the scope of the Congress and
laboured for little more than to establish in
Europe some peace which would permit England
again to turn her attention overseas. He
did indeed attempt, as Walpole had in a minor
way attempted a century before, to partici-
pate in a great alliance and a series of congresses
designed to guide and regulate the develop-
ment of European society. We have been
accustomed to regard Britain's abandonment
of this policy and her return to an attitude
of isolation in face of the tendencies of the
Holy Alliance as a great stroke of liberal
statesmanship, but the democracies of Europe,
looking back on the breach between Canning
and Metternich, may well ask whether British


statesmanship did indeed struggle long enough
or sincerely enough against those tendencies.
Napoleon, watching the state of Europe from St.
Helena, shewed his genius by a last prophecy :

" I do not think that after my fall and the disappearance
of my system there will be any other great equilibrium
possible in Europe than the concentration and federation
of great peoples. The first sovereign who in the midst
of the first great struggle shall embrace in good faith the
cause of the peoples will find himself at the head of all
Europe and will be able to accomplish whatever he wishes."

It was at best the achievement of a meaner
statesmanship to call in the New World to
redress the balance of the Old and that meaner
statesmanship shows clearly in the less often
quoted words of Canning in 1823 : " So things
are getting back to a wholesome state again.
Every nation for itself and God for us all. The
time for Areopagus and the like of that is gone


Until we come to the cataclysm of our own
days, no opportunity as great as this has
recurred, but we have had other more restricted
opportunities which we have missed no less
lamentably and for the same reasons. Even
Canning could not make British isolation a
consistent policy. He dabbled tentatively with
Russia in the Greek insurrection, but on his
death his successors drew back from those
responsibilities in Eastern Europe which were
to become the chief material of foreign policy
for the remainder of the century. Our falter-
ing course in the Eastern question, thus in-
augurated, was to drag its trail across British


statesmanship for nearly a hundred years.
The Crimean War did not give Britain any
leadership on the continent comparable with
that which she had enjoyed in the previous
periods at which we have glanced, but the
British Foreign Minister, Lord Clarendon, was
the dominant figure in the Congress of Paris.
In his own words, " the conditions on which
peace was made would have been different
if England had not been firm/' With this
dominant position we might have done much in
the Turkish Empire which we had fought to
defend, but the news of the peace brought
nothing but forebodings to our ambassador
at Constantinople.

" Here the peace," wrote Stratford Canning to Lord
Clarendon, " gives rise to many anxious thoughts. How
are the Sultan's reforms to be carried through the Allied
troops all gone, and no power of foreign interference
reserved ? How is the country to be kept quiet, if hopes
and fears, equally excited in adverse quarters, have to find
their own level ? What means shall we possess of allaying
the discordant elements, if our credit is to decline and our
influence to be overlaid by the persevering artifices of a
jealous and artful ally ? How can we hope to supply the
usefulness derivable from our command of the Contingents
and Irregulars if they are to be given up ? In short, when
I hear the politicians of the country remark that the
troubles of Europe with respect to this Empire are only
beginning, I know not how to reply."

Everyone knows how these forebodings were
realised, nor can Englishmen deny that the
state of Turkey in the last half century has
been only too largely due, not, indeed, so much
to British imperialism as to British indifference.
Our failure has been summed up in a few words


by an author who was, in his day, himself
responsible for British policy in the Near East :

" The only period during which Turkey has enjoyed
a real though transient measure of good government and
prosperity was the interval of twenty years between the
Crimean War and 1878, during which foreign influence
was strongest and foreign capital poured into the country.
Then was the time when England, supported by the
Young Turkish party, might have made use of her
unbounded popularity in Turkey to obtain pledges of
financial reform as a condition of financial assistance.
Instead, the native reformers wasted their energy in
futile agitation for popular institutions, and England
looked on while vast loans were recklessly squandered,
and a period of depression set in, which even the subse-
quent increase of investments in railways and the reduc-
tion of the interest on the public debt after the Russian
War proved powerless to arrest."

We cannot here discuss in detail the history
of the Eastern question from 1878 to the out-
break of the present war, but it is a history of

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Online LibraryEustace Percy Percy of NewcastleThe responsibilites of the League → online text (page 2 of 20)