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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 80

Ideals of empire: a public lecture delivered ... at the Athenaeum, Dunedin, on Tuesday, 5th May, 1908

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Ideals of Empire.

Dunedin: Otago Daily Times and Witness Newspapers Company, Limited.

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"Ideals of Empire."

I am afraid that the somewhat high-sounding title I have adopted for my lecture on this occasion may not clearly indicate to my hearers what is intended to form the subjectmatter of the lecture itself. It will accordingly be necessary for me at the outset to attempt to explain with some approach to precision the message I have to deliver to you this evening. In order to make this definition adequate, I fear that I shall have to go back for a year or two, and inflict upon you a short passage of autobiography.

It is now more than a quarter of a century since I left the Old World for the New—since I exchanged the shores of Scotland for those of New Zealand. During the last ten years of that period it has become increasingly borne in upon me that the problem of the near future—if not of the present—for the Anglo-Saxon race is how to bind Great Britain more closely to her dominions and dependencies beyond the seas. From time to time I have written, as a rule anonymously, on Imperial Federation. For me the subject appeared to possess a fascinating, yet elusive, attraction. Some few years ago—indeed, long before Preferential Trade had become a party by-word—I imagined that I had discovered a solution of the problem in the shape of Freetrade within the Empire, coupled with Protection against outside nations. An Imperial Zollverein then appeared to my limited understanding a simple—and indeed obvious—method of rendering more strong and durable the links that tied the Mother Country and her kindred nations together. Alas for the enthusiasm of ignorance! No sooner had I set myself doggedly to understand this new panacea in all its bearings than I found it so compassed about with difficulties of an economic nature, which votaries of the "dismal science" alone could appreciate, that I tore up my notes in disgust, convinced for the time being that the project was as impracticable as to me it had appeared alluring. About a year ago the Imperialistic idea forced itself upon my mind once more, and I took up my pen with the view of writing a magazine article on the subject from a New Zealand standpoint. Fortunately or otherwise, a pressure of professional work interdicted this new project, and the Premiers in Conference have come and gone without any enlightenment from page 4 me on the subject. What the ultimate results of that Imperial Conference may be it would be rash to predict, and I have no desire at present to pose as a prophet either of good or evil. At the same time, the recent Conference has served still further to impress on my mind certain ideas already present there in somewhat nebulous form, and the expression and development of these ideas will accordingly form the groundwork of my remarks to you to-night.

Pardon me for this long and egotistical digression, my sole excuse for which is that it serves in some measure to explain the genesis of the few rambling notes that I have been vain enough to describe as a "lecture," and to dignify with the title of "Ideals of Empire."

To proceed now to the task of defining my terms. We are all aware that, according to the dictionary, by an ideal is meant "the highest conception of anything." By this time you will doubtless have gathered that the "Empire" about which I am speaking is the British Empire. That Empire, like Gaul of old, is "quartered int three halves":—(1) The United Kingdom itself; (2) the great self-governing colonies, or perhaps I should now say "dominions"; and (3) British dependencies, such as India. These divisions do not include the Crown colonies and other miscellaneous possessions, and therefore are neither exhaustive nor exclusive, but they will answer my present purpose. By a simple mental process, accordingly, it may be ascertained that the subject matter of my remarks this evening is "the highest conception of the British Empire—one and indivisible." The subject is indeed a worthy one, but I sadly fear its treatment at my hands may fall far short of the ideal!

We have recently been, told on very high authority that it is our duty, as subjects of the British Empire, to "think imperially." If such be the case, it will be found necessary for most of us, as a preliminary step, to endeavour to think intelligently—to clear our souls of cant and commonplace, and then strive to ascertain with more or less lucidity the thoughts of Empire on which we ought to fix what we are pleased to call our minds. The task is not an easy one. Most of us have become so accustomed to thinking colonially, or provincially, or even parochially, that it is difficult at the bidding of Mr Chamberlain himself to readjust our mental focus and accommodate our vision to the dazzling glimpses of Imperialism. Prolonged existence in a small and isolated community, such as New Zealand, in some degree tends to unfit one for Imperial thought and action. In time we are page 5 too apt to become of those who think "the rustic cackle of their bourg, the murmur of the world." Perhaps the best antidote for the subtle poison which tends thus to narrow our minds and contract our sympathies is the intelligent study of the life work of such Empire-builders as the Earl of Dufferin, Cecil Rhodes, and Lord Cromer, men who in their day and generation were content—nay, were proud—to "scorn delights and live laborious days" in their task of welding our outlying dominions into component parts of the great Imperial chain.

The factors, then, with which we have to deal are three in number:—(1) A small, densely populated, highly civilised and wealthy manufacturing parent state, to which are attached by ties of more or less closeness (2) a number of semi-developed and sparsely populated self-governing colonies of vigorous growth and (3) several conquered countries of great extent and antiquity, and with a poor but teeming population—less highly developed socially and industrially than either the mother country or her distant "dominions." The problem before us is how best to combine more closely these varying elements of nationality into one homogeneous whole, so as (a) to promote and develop mutually their various products and industries, and (b) to protect all parts of this united Empire against foreign aggression and internal dissension.

The first idea which I wish to impress upon you here and now is that we are all citizens of the British Empire thus described. That is the central and inspiring thought from which we must start in search of our "Ideals of Empire." I do not know that this fact is sufficiently appreciated by the average man either in Old England or in New Zealand. Speaking for myself, I am a Scot by birth and training, a New Zealander by adoption, but, before all, and above all, and beyond all, I feel that I am a British subject—entitled to the rights, and bound by the duties, appertaining to the citizenship of that great and glorious Empire.

Flowing from this root idea there are many ideals. I shall not attempt to exhaust the list of these ideals to-night, but will content myself with enlarging for a little on one or two of the more obvious and important.

In the first place, then, the ultimate object or ideal of every patriotic British subject is, or should be, the union, in some form of federation, of all the English speaking races. How or when that ideal is to be attained need not concern us at present. The important point for us now is clearly page 6 and firmly to grasp and appreciate the idea itself. The advantages of such an union are apparent. It would at once create a world-power which could dictate terms to the other nations, and would ultimately in all probability ensure international peace, and possibly disarmament. If Great Britain and the United States (with their respective dependencies) were finally welded into one people, bound together by the ties of mutual self-interest as well as of blood, the new nation thus created would possess such a preponderating influence in wealth and in arms as to be able at will to crush any likely opposition—naval, military, or economic. I frankly admit that this magnificent ideal is too remote—too fantastic—to realise at present. At the same time the possibility of its ultimate attainment should always be kept steadily in view by every true citizen of the British Empire, who should at the same time, as one means towards this great end, do all in his power to foster friendly feelings, and to discourage anything approaching to jealousy or discord, between the members of the English-speaking races of the world.

Although the union (or, rather, reunion) I have suggested between the British people and their American cousins may for the present be unattainable, there is a large step in that direction which is not only possible, but in a sense imperative. That step, I need scarcely say is some closer bond of association between the Mother Country and her great self-governing colonies. How that closer bond is to be created, and how maintained, is not for me now to state. I am speaking at present as an idealist, and not as a practical politician. But it is quite clear to those who study the signs of the times that Great and Greater Britain Must be more closely bound together in the near future if the Empire is to maintain its past and present proud position among, the nations of the world. The days of the small, compact state are numbered. The tuture lies in the hands of the great World Powers, and that statesman who shall conceive and carry out a workable scheme for federating the Empire will earn the lasting gratitude of his fellow-Britons, from London to Melbourne, from Toronto to Calcutta!

Such are some of the ideals involved in true Imperial thinking. How these grandiose ideals are to be reduced to actuality remains for the practical statesmen of the present and future—both in England and her dominions. Theirs will be the great and strenuous task of moulding into some colossal federation the various States now constituting the British Empire, and (if possible) including within that coalition our cousins in the United States of America. The in- page 7 evitable and glorious result of such an union of States, bound together by ties sentimental indeed, but political and self-serving also, would be to evolve a veritable Dictator of the world. Truly a most desirable and indeed stupendous ideal, worthy of the best efforts of the most enlightened minds of our common race!

It would be the sheerest presumption on my part even to attempt to formulate a scheme for reducing to practical form so vast and complex a conception. That duty must be left to those better fitted for it by position and training. At the same time I desire to point out as clearly and concisely as I can some of the conditions which must precede and pave the way for the "Imperial Ideal" I have hinted at—some at least of the sacrifices we must be prepared to make before we can hope to attain so grand a consummation. I use the word "sacrifice' advisedly, for, if there is one thing obvious in this great Imperial problem, it is that all three partners—Great Britain, her dominions, and her dependencies—must be prepared to some extent to give up a portion or portions of their several rights to advance and ensure the common welfare. If we are to attain to anything truly great we must make correspondingly great efforts; if we are to achieve, it must be through sacrifice and possibly suffering.

Not once or twice, in this rough island story,
The path of duty proved the way to glory!

Not the primrose path of ease, of indifference, of arrogance or of self-seeking, but the hard and dusty road of toil, of self-sacrifice, of mutual forbearance and brotherly kindness. For we must never forget that Great Britain, together with her colonies and dependencies, form in a very real sense one family, and ought never to fail in the reciprocal duties of family affection. "United we stand, divided we fall" should be our Anglo-Saxon motto for the twentieth century. Perhaps in this commercial age it would be more characteristic to depict the British Empire as a great trading corporation, having its headquarters in England, but with branches controlled by the younger members of the firm in all the 'dominions' and dependencies of the Empire. The directors of such a concern would naturally sit in London and control its world-wide business—guided largely, no doubt, by confidential reports from their partners resident abroad. These foreign partners in their turn would doubtless loyally carry out the instructions received from headquarters, though often conscious that the local interests of their page 8 particular branch were to some extent being sacrificed for the good of the business as a whole, or possibly even for the benefit of some less prosperous off-shoot of the firm.

In order to attain any true ideal of federation, the various units of the Empire must, I think, submit themselves to some such form of national partnership. Great Britain shall inevitably remain the predominant partner, dictating the foreign policy of the component parts of the Empire, while leaving each State free to control its own internal affairs. In other words, an attempt must be made to reconcile the spirit of freedom with the desire for unity—two principles which go far to compensate and balance each other in our national existence. As I have said, it is essential, in order to ensure an united Empire, that each of the partners must be prepared at all times cheerfully to give up portions of their individual rights for the sake of the common weal. The great question, which lies as yet in the womb of the future, is whether our democratic States, with their Socialistic and somewhat selfish tendencies, will prove themselves capable of the conquest of petty jealousies, and possessed of the prolonged steadiness of purpose, requisite for the realisation of such a far-reaching aim. The teachings of modern history ought to encourage us in this task of Empirebuilding and Empire maintaining. United Germany is the work of the last generation. Within the last few years also Japan has given to the world an object lesson in the noblest form of patriotism, which Britons all over the world should take to heart and follow; unless, indeed, they are content to remain in that state of mind and body depicted by the Cockney poet:—

They eat, and drink, and scheme, and plod;
They go to church on Sunday;
And many are afraid of God,
And more of Mrs Grundy!

I for one do not despair in this direction. Our true ambitions—our national ideals—are even wider and higher than those of the Germans and the Japanese, and I can see no reason in the nature of things why they should not be attained and realised by the united and intelligent exercise of the same patriotic qualities.

I shall now for a time condescend to something a little more practical. One outcome of the recent Conference of Premiers has been clearly to demonstrate the necessity for some form of Imperial Council, with a central secretariat in London and corresponding branches all over the Empire The chief business of such a council must inevitably be to page 9 supervise and regulate within the Empire—(1) Trade, (2) defence, and (3) foreign affairs. (These names are not of necessity given here in order of merit!) I propose to deal briefly with these three topics in their order, so as if possible to ascertain how far each of them in turn is capable of realisation.

(1) As to trade, we are still a "nation of shopkeepers." Scince Napoleon's day, however, the British shop has increasingly become an emporium, deriving its goods and its customers from all parts and climates of the globe. For this emporium we have as determining factors a free-trading centre, surrounded by colonies—all more or less Protectionist—and at the same time by huge dependencies adapted for supplying foodstuffs and other raw materials for the world's markets. The question is how to frame a tariff, or series of tariffs, so as to give some measure of preference within the Empire, and in this way to stimulate production and manufactures of British origin. As I have already pointed out, the problem is an exceedingly complicated and difficult one. But that it must and can be solved I do not doubt. It is entirely a question for economic experts, of whom we have enough and to spare in Great and Greater Britain. I firmly believe that if the vexed question of Imperial preference were removed from the arena of party politics and referred to an independent committee of trained economists, it could be placed on a workable basis within a year or two. To ensure such a happy result, however, we must first have existing in all parts of the Empire that spirit of patriotic self-sacrifice to which I have already referred at length. Given such a spirit, the evolution of a practicable and beneficial system is only a question of time.

(2) Imperial defence stands on a somewhat different footing. The navy of Great Britain protects the Mother Country, her "dominions," and her dependencies alike. Up to the present time the contributions from the colonies have been ludicrously inadequate to the national insurance provided by the Union Jack. [Since these lines were written I am glad to note that New Zealand's Naval Subsidy is to be voluntarily increased from £40,000 to £100,000 a year.—W.C.M.] But with the advent of the proposed Imperial Council all that will doubtless be changed. Once we have a measure of representation on Imperial matters we must expect corresponding taxation, and no doubt for the future the self-governing colonies would have to bear a larger share of the cost of the British fleet. One has only to think for a moment of the possibilities involved in the page 10 withdrawal of the British squadron from Australasian waters to be convinced of the wisdom of cheerfully increasing our Naval Subsidy. What an easy prize would a country like New Zealand, with her harbours and coalfields, present to a foreign maritime Power were it not for the wholesome dread inspired by the ever-present ships and guns of His Britannic Majesty?

Our coastal defences, and territorial forces also, should be to some degree supervised and controlled by the newlycreated General Staff, so that each colony and dependency might form a link in the chain of Imperial defence. Again, it may be found in the not far distant future essential to the preservation of the Empire to prescribe some form of universal military training or service. The word "conscription" is not pleasing to our enlightened and luxurious ears, but its repetition may in the result prove preferable to the roar of hostile cannon on these peaceful shores. Fortunately, in New Zealand our excellent school Cadet system is paving the way for the best form of universal military training, while we have in our Militia Act a method whereby the more supine of our young men may be compelled if necessary to take up arms in defence of their native land. (Should an emergency arrive, however, I trust that our citizen soldiers may not act too literally on the obiter dictum of the late Lord Bowen that "Volunteers are not liable to go abroad except in case of invasion"!) Personally, I am a firm believer in all forms of manly sport, but I cannot help saying that if one-half of the energy and enthusiasm at present displayed towards football in this colony were diverted, and devoted to rifle-shooting and military drill, the necessity for any form of conscription would disappear. The recent war in South Africa has taught us what a latent force of excellent military material lies ready to our hands in Australasia. But here again we are met by the demand for that spirit of self-sacrifice and devotion to national duty which should at once underlie and crown the life work of every true son of the Empire.

(3) Regarding foreign affairs, another lesson in political charity has to be learnt by the loyal British subject in the Southern Hemisphere. We in New Zealand (as well as our cousins in Australia) are inclined to forget that we too must bear our share of the "white man's burden." Remote as we are from the world's centre, untrammelled as we fancy we remain from foreign, complications, we are far too apt to regard only our rights, and to forget our corresponding duties, as British citizens. To refer to recent and concrete page 11 examples, we growl at Downing street for its action, or inaction, respecting the New Hebrides, we pass most stringent laws for excluding the black and yellow races from our shores, and our navigation laws avowedly aim at compelling all British shipping in our waters to pay wages much higher than those paid by their Continental competitors. We forget that by so acting we are possibly imperilling the relations existing between Great Britain and France or Germany, that we are acting in a selfish and unjust spirit towards some hundreds of millions of our coloured fellow-subjects in India (not to speak of our Japanese allies!), and are effectively handicapping our sorely-burdened shipowners in their competition with bounty-aided rivals abroad. I freely admit that anomalies such as I refer to have arisen in the past as a rule from lack of political foresight, and not with any conscious desire to hamper the Imperial Government. For the future, however, such things should not be permitted to take place. The projected Imperial Council in itself should prove a check to any ill-considered local legislation—or even agitation—that might prove injurious to the common interests of our united Empire. There is to me something grand, and almost pathetic, in the spectacle of statesmen in England, distracted by the mäelstrom of party politics, devoting their best energies—and oft times their lives—to the task of directing the policy of this world-wide Empire in all its parts, enveloped as they are on every side by the ambitious, and often unscrupulous, diplomacy, of their great rival nations in Europe and elsewhere. Then in truth England always appears to me as depicted in the solemn and pregnant verses of the mid-Victorian poet:—

The weary Titan, with deaf
Ears, and labour-dimmed eyes,
Regarding neither to right
Nor left, goes passively by,
Staggering on to her goal;
Bearing on shoulders immense,
Atlantean, the load,
Well nigh not to be borne,
Of the too-vast orb of her fate!

At such a time, too, there seems to be truth and force in Matthew Arnold's complaint that the task of arraigning poor old Mother England, which should be left to her foes, is too often taken up by her sons. I for one do not believe that we in New Zealand, at all events, will do anything by word or deed to add to her manifold burdens. Rather should it be at once our duty and our privilege cheerfully to do what we can from time to time to aid in her great destiny of controlling and developing both Great and Greater Britain. page 12 Thus, and thus only, can we hope in any true sense to realise the Ideals of Empire, which I have been striving to unfold to you this evening.

My lecture now is almost ended. Like other sermons, lay or otherwise, it should conclude with what I believe is termed a "practical application." But such a conclusion is hard to find. As already indicated, I have been speaking hitherto as a pure idealist, and I fear to descend from the cloudy heights of rhetoric and poetry to the plain of facts and figures. To reduce my ideals to practical form is foreign to my present purpose, as well as beyond my ability. The framework of a scheme of Imperial federation such as I have hinted at must in the end be constructed by one of the master minds of the Mother Country. For an insignificant antipodean to attempt such a colossal task would indeed be remarkably like one joint of the tail trying to wag the entire animal! But it seems to me that at the recent conference our own Prime Minister struck the right note when he pointed out that one practical step towards closer federation was quicker and cheaper communication between Great Britain and her possessions abroad. Ignorance is too often the mother of disaffection; and I feel convinced that more rapid exchange of ideas, as well as of goods and passengers, would do much to tighten the bonds and improve the relations between all parts of this scattered Empire. The "All Red Route" is not a mere alliterative pleasantry, but a vital fact—of social as well as strategic significance. For this practical suggestion alone Sir Joseph Ward deserves the thanks of the Dominion, which assuredly did not suffer in reputation from his dignified and statesmanlike representation of our national views at the historical Conference of 1907. At the same time improved communication is only one means towards a great end—merely a preliminary step towards the framing of a practical project of Imperial Federation. The time is now ripe for such a scheme. Where is the man to be to capable of devising it and carrying it into effect? Who is to be the William Pitt of the present century? We have had political giants in the past—capable of conceiving and carrying through projects of, mighty moment. Surely among our younger statesmen is to be found someone of adequate largeness of vision, content to put aside for a time the tempting bait of party rewards, and prepared to grapple with and conquer the difficulties inseparable from this greatest of Imperial questions. This Empire-builder of the future must be a constructive and experienced statesman, endowed with sympathy as well as imagination, and having an adequte knowledge of the needs and aspirations of the several and page 13 divers communities which it will be his task to bring mora closely together. Whatever his political views may be, whether his name be Grey, or Churchill, or Curzon, I feel convinced that at no distant date the Man will be found ready to reduce into actuality some, if not all of the great Imperial ideals of which I have been speaking to-night.

The cynical (and indeed obvious) comment upon many of my somewhat didactic utterances this evening would be no doubt that they are largely counsels of perfection, that I have been indulging in that pleasing mental process known as building castles in the air—the "empty happiness" of the Greeks of old. Such criticism may or may not be true, but one thing certainly is true, that everyone of us Britons—whether in Old England or New Zealand—has his own duty clear before him. That duty is for each of us to realise his individual responsibility to the Empire—that great inheritance which has been handed down to us from our forefathers. British subjects all over the world should never forget that they are "citizens of no mean city." We should remember also that we now live in an age of fierce international competition—both in war and peace—unknown to our ancestor's, and that should we, through slackness or incapacity, prove unworthy of this glorious inheritance of Empire it will infallibly pass away from us into the hands of firmer and more competent rivals. Here, again, the cynic may shrug his weary shoulders and say: "What has all this got to do with us, insignificant units in a tiny Dominion?" To him I would reply, "You are a partner in that mighty joint stock concern known as the British Empire. Your share may be a small one, but your liability is unlimited!" Each one of us is answerable for his share. Surely, then, it is our bounden duty, however small our holding may be, to be zealous, industrious, intelligent partners, working together to the best of our ability for the common safety and the common profit! The task of our rulers is to see that the Empire does not outgrow its organisation, or (shall I say?) to modify the existing constitution in such a way as to escape the dangers by which we lost the United States. England must continue to be at once commercial and warlike. She must strive to conserve and perpetuate that community of race, of religion, and of interest by means of which she built up her mighty Empire, and by which alone she can hope to preserve it. Our duty as loyal British subjects, on the other hand, is to fit ourselves to be active, intelligent units in that world-wide organisation, to realise and dis- page 14 charge our individual responsibilities as working partners therein, and thus to become and remain Imperialists in the truest and most practical sense of the term.

So much, then, for our Imperial ideals. It is easy for the lazy and the cynical amongst us to sneer at high ideals—whether of life or of Empire. For the benefit and admonition of such lotus-eating persons I venture to quote the words of an eminent modern thinker, who has put my own views on the subject in language which I would in vain attempt to rival:—"Mixed with illusions our ideals may be, and even with fatuities. We may smile at times to think of them in retrospect. But let no one think that they are therefore shadows. Whatever they may become to dreamers, they are to all men of action, whether they be thinking of the betterment of family or parish, of city or of nation, nothing less than the efforts of the human spirit to apprehend that greater and more satisfying reality after which all finite spirits for ever strive."

And now I have come to the close of my lengthy and somewhat rambling remarks. My thanks are due to you all for your patience in listening to them so attentively. I am conscious that I have scarcely touched the fringe of a vast—an important—an inspiring subject. I am conscious, also, of many defects and shortcomings in this lecture, written, as it perforce has been, hurriedly and in the brief intervals of a laborious professional life. At the same time, if I have succeeded to-night in making some at least of my hearers more sensible of their duties, as well as their privileges, as citizens of this great and glorious Empire—if I have assisted you in any respect to think more Imperially than before—if, in fact, I have contributed in any way, however small, to help on the sacred cause of Imperial unity, then, indeed, I shall have the satisfaction of feeling that my labours have not been altogether in vain.

W. C. Macgregor.

7 Liverpool street, Dunedin, N.Z.,

Otago Daily Times Print.