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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 80

Forces of Disintegration

Forces of Disintegration.

But during the period in which this development of the several States of the Empire has been in progress other changes have taken place. In the United Kingdom and the several self-governing States the suffrage has been extended and the power of the democracy has increased in consequence. The tendency of measures of Parliamentary representation has been in the direction of "one man one vote," so that a voter in the lowest grade can exercise as much power at the ballot box as one in the highest. One consequence of this is that the choice of our rulers and therefore political power at the present day rests with the more numerous and less wealthy classes of the communities. The "political centre of gravity" has descended, and the future of the Empire lies not so much with its statesmen as with the working men—the democracies in the United Kingdom and in the other States of the Empire.

But men of this class have little or no time for the study of politics, as their energies are absorbed and their time occupied with those more immediate questions which page 5 affect their interests, their work, their homes and lives. The tendency of this natural pre-occupation will be to cause the wider issues to be neglected, and so it will be in the direction of disintegration. Again, as time goes on the younger and new generations arising in our oversea dominions will look on the lands of their birth as their native lands, and the term "Mother Country" as applied to England will cease to have any meaning for them, as it has already ceased for the young people now. Thus a second disintegrating force comes into play.

A third such force arises from immigration from foreign countries into the oversea dominions. This will in time produce a considerable proportion of settlers whose traditions are not those of the British race. For some years such immigration has been taking place from the Western parts of the United States to the Western Provinces of Canada.*

These forces of disintegration must be met by active work in the political education of the people by statesmen, politicians, and the Press—not only those of the United Kingdom but all within the oversea dominions of the King. If things are allowed to drift, these forces of disintegration will produce the inevitable result of gradually breaking up the Empire. "If we do not draw closer together we must inevitably drift apart." There is no use in going on deceiving ourselves and being deceived by such phrases as "laissez faire," "a policy of masterly inactivity," and so forth, which in most cases are used to cloak political incapacity or the shirking of duty. As Lord Milner said on the occasion alluded to:—

"Unless the public both here and in the Colonies are aroused to a vivid interest in the subject, timidity and vis inertice may prevail. The danger besetting the cause of Imperial Unity is not so much that men are in the abstract hostile to the idea, but it is apt to appear something academic, distant, unreal, the very reverse of what in truth it is, a matter of direct personal importance to the humblest citizen."

* That circumstance and the policy of an Imperial Customs for purposes of Defence enunciated by the late Mr. Hofmeyer are the proximate causes of the policy of Preferential Imperial Trade.

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But these forces of disintegration are materially intensified by reason of the fact that there is still a large number of politicians who look with complacency on the prospect of a natural severance of the oversea dominions from the Kingdom and the gradual breaking up of the Empire. They are afraid of entering into closer ties of trade relations lest they should introduce friction. Yet they did not hesitate to please a foreign State by giving what was asked without considering the views of our eldest Colonial State whose interests were at stake. This occurred when they framed the issues (including questions of Sovereignty) to be submitted in the recent arbitration with the United States concerning the disputes arising out of the treaties respecting the Newfoundland Fisheries, without previous consultation with Newfoundland itself.* They truly pursue a policy of decomposition in that and other Imperial questions, but if the other causes of disintegration be actively counteracted this one will in time disappear, for these men are very quick to accommodate their policy to the views of the electorate and to throw all responsibility on the latter by their theory of "the mandate."

From the foregoing considerations it will be apparent that in order to effect the closer union of the Empire, the subject must be discussed and considered, not only by our politicians and Statesmen, but by the individual members of each community concerned, for in the long run no solution of the problem can be final which does not receive practically the unanimous support of our Imperial Democracy, not only in the United Kingdom but throughout the King's dominions beyond the sea. The best, and indeed practically the only means of arousing interest, promoting co-operation, and educating ourselves in regard to this important subject lies in the friendly assistance of the Press throughout the Empire.

The issue was recently forced on our attention with regard to the future of British South Africa and the

* The happy termination of the dispute by the award of the Hague tribunal does not affect this point.

page 7 betrayal of the interests of Newfoundland; to-morrow it may arise in connection with New Zealand; or with Australia and the far East.