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The Adventure of Living : a Subjective Autobiography By John St. Loe Strachey Characters: 30786

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


MY POLITICAL OPINIONS (Continued)

I have described how the policy of Home Rule adopted by the Liberal Party made me, as it did so many other people in the United Kingdom, first a Liberal-Unionist and then a Unionist without a hyphen. Unfortunately, however, the Unionist Party did not for very long offer me a quiet and secure political haven. Like the Duke of Devonshire, whom I always regarded during his life as my leader in politics, I had to weigh my anchor during the tempest caused by Mr. Chamberlain's scheme of Tariff Reform, and then seek safety in the ocean of independence. I am not going at length into the merits of the fiscal question, except to say that, though it was the only point on which I differed from the bulk of the Unionist Party, it was, unfortunately, the one other matter of policy in which I could not play the good party man and bow my head to the decision of the Party as a whole. I felt as strongly about the Tariff Reform as I did about the dissolution of the United Kingdom. Rightly or wrongly again, my opposition was based very much on the same essential grounds. I believed that the policy of Tariff Reform, if carried out, would end by breaking up instead of uniting the British Empire, which I desired above all things to maintain "in health and strength long to live." I held that to give up Free Trade would do immense damage to our economic position here and intensify our social conditions by impoverishing the capitalist as well as the manual worker; and, finally, that there was very great danger of any system of Protection introducing corruption into our public life. If four or five words, or sometimes even a single word and a comma, added to or taken away from the schedule of a Tariff Act can give a man or group of men a monopoly and tax half the nation in order to make them rich, you have given men too personal a reason for the use of their votes.

I can summarise my position in regard to Tariff Reform very easily. I am no pedant about Protection, and if it could be shown that the security of an island kingdom like the United Kingdom could only be made complete by Protection in certain matters, I should be perfectly willing to vote for measures to give that security. In other words, I would have voted for what has been called "a state of siege" tariff. I should have regarded it as an economic loss which must be borne just as must the charges of the Army and Navy, in order to ensure the safety and welfare of the realm.

But Mr. Chamberlain and his followers, though there was an occasional word or two about national security, did not base their appeal to the nation on the ground of national security. They based it on quite different grounds. They told us in effect, "If you want to maintain and develop your industries, if you want to prevent them gradually dying out, if you want to get the greatest amount of employment for workingmen, and also for capital,-in a word, if you want to increase the wealth of the nation, you must go in for Protection, i.e., Tariff Reform." Tariff Reform thus became a national "get-rich-quick" political war-cry. That, to my mind, was an appeal which had to be counter-attacked at once as the most dangerous delusion from which any people could suffer, and a delusion specially perilous to a country like England-a nation living, and bound to live, by trade and barter rather than by agriculture or the satisfaction of her own wants. England is a country to which the encouragement of every form of exchange is vital. But you cannot encourage exchanges under a system of Protection. Protection sets out to limit Exchange by forbidding half the exchanges of the world, that is, exchanges between persons of different nationalities and different locations.

If your object is to increase the national wealth, you must be a Free Trader. There is no other way. If, however, your object is national security-if you say, "I would rather see the nation safe than wealthy," then I fully admit there is a good case, not merely in theory, but very possibly in practice, for a certain amount of Protection. The existence of arsenals in which rifles, explosives, and other material of war can be made are obviously necessary, and no nation could safely see such essential industries depart from these shores on the ground that we could more economically make something else to exchange for rifles, guns, ammunition, and armour-plate made elsewhere. Again, since the existence of dye industries is so closely connected with the manufacture of explosives, I am perfectly willing to admit that it may be necessary to give Protection in this special matter. Again, it is possible, though I think it less clear than is generally supposed, that there may be one or two key industries which the experience of the War shows us it is worth while to maintain here, even if a subsidy is required for such maintenance. Finally, I think the experience of the War proved that we must see to it that our ability to feed ourselves, though it may be at short commons, for at least six months of the year, ought to receive due consideration.

I am as much opposed to war and as much in favour of peace as my neighbours, but I do not want my descendants some day when called upon to resist a threatened wrong to have to decide on peace, not on its merits but because they are at the mercy of an international bully; and remember we are not going to get rid of international bullies till we have got educated and reasonable democracies established throughout the world.

The world will be safe only when rid of populations so servile by nature that they are willing to allow themselves to be governed by men like the ex-German Emperor. True education and true democracy are the best anodynes to war.

But, as I have said, Mr. Chamberlain and the Tariff Reform Leaguers, though, of course, they occasionally spoke about security, really made their appeal on the old Protectionist ground that "Day by day we get richer and richer"-provided we limit our exchanges instead of extending them. When the Tariff Reform agitation had made me, as I have said, find safety in sea room with men like the Duke of Devonshire, Lord Cromer, Lord George Hamilton, Mr. Arthur Elliott, Lord Hugh Cecil, Lord Robert Cecil, and a number of very distinguished Conservative Unionists was well as Liberal Unionists, I experienced the full disadvantages, or rather the weakness, of independence in politics. We Unionist Free Traders, as we called ourselves, were not really strong enough to organise a party for ourselves, nor, indeed, did we think it advisable to do so, for, except in the matter of Tariff Reform, we were strongly opposed to the Liberal and Free Trade Party, and strongly in sympathy with the bulk of the Unionist Party. In a word, we Unionist Free Traders could not form a whole-hearted alliance with either of the two old parties. We detested the Irish policy followed by Mr. Asquith, its truckling to the Nationalists and its apparent determination to shed the blood of the people of Ulster, if that was necessary to force them under a Dublin Parliament. Again, we hated, and no man more than I, the socialistic legislation which the Asquith Government were willing to adopt at the bidding of the Labour Party. The mixture of coercion and cajolery which Mr. Lloyd George knew so well how to employ in his Radical days, in order to induce the House of Commons to accept his various measures, was particularly abhorrent to us.

It was not only the bad Irish policy of the Government, their flirtation with Socialism, and the Marconi business, that made me strongly opposed to Mr. Asquith's pre-War administration. I greatly disliked the foreign policy of the Liberal Government. It was a weak and timid compromise between half-hearted pacificism and inadequate preparation. I was confident, as must have been anyone who kept his eyes open, that Germany was preparing for war with this country as part of her world-policy, and I felt it likely that as soon as the widening and deepening of the Kiel Canal was finished, and so the effective strength of the German Fleet doubled, the first excuse would be taken to bring on the "inevitable" world-war. Therefore, I held that preparation for war was absolutely necessary. Adequate preparation might indeed avert war. The German Emperor wanted not so much war as victory, and the more we were prepared the more we should be able to say that we would not allow the conquest of Europe by arms, though we were quite ready to let Germany conquer by good trading, if she could. The British people, as a whole, had no jealousy of her splendid trade organisation and power of manufacture, and nothing could ever have induced them to make an unprovoked attack on Germany.

If we had adopted universal military service here; if we had even, as I wanted and urged in public, kept a couple of million of rifles in store here, ready for the improvisation of great military forces, Germany, however anxious to strike her blow, would probably have held her hand. We were tempting her to war by our want of preparation.

Unfortunately, Mr. Asquith and his Government, though full of anxiety and trembling at the prospect of what might happen, came to the disastrous decision not to make whole-hearted, but only half-hearted, preparations. They decided that, though they would not do enough in the way of preparation to make war impossible, they would do enough to give an excuse to the Potsdam war-party. For the rest, they would trust to the peace party-or alleged peace party-in Germany. In reality, there was no such peace party, or, if there was, it was an impotent thing. The servility of the German people rendered it quite unimportant! True democracy may be trusted in the matter of peace. Your tyrant whether he speaks with a popular voice, or whether he professes to be a God-given autocrat, is always a danger.

It was the slavish spirit of the German people and their willingness, though so intelligent and so highly organised, to let themselves be governed by a blatant Emperor of second-class intellect, which constituted the real danger to European peace. If Mr. Asquith had said to the people of this country, or, indeed, to the world, "We are going to be vigilant in our preparations till the German people have freed themselves and so given hostages for the peace of the world," he would, I believe, have had the support of all the best elements in English political life. He would not have used such crude language, but he could have made his meaning clear in courteous phrases. Instead of which, he took a line which, in effect, encouraged France, and so Russia, to stand up against Germany, and not to take her threats lying down, and yet did not insure against the obligations he was, in effect, incurring.

To say that preparation, as is sometimes said, would have precipitated war is a delusion. It might, I well believe, have precipitated it if the preparations had been delayed till 1913, but not if they had been undertaken, as they could have been quite easily, several years earlier, i.e., after the Agadir incident and when the trend of events was quite clear. Yet in January, 1914, Mr. Lloyd George thought it advisable to say that we had reached a period when we could safely reduce our Army and Navy. His speech was as provocative of war as any public utterance recorded by history.

Finally, I had a quarrel with the Liberal Government over Mr. Lloyd George's famous first Budget, which I thought, and still think, a thoroughly bad measure. But even here Fate did not allow me to range myself with my old party, the Unionists. I could not, any more than could Lord Cromer and many other of my political Unionist Free Trade associates, believe that it was wise from the constitutional or conservative point of view to try and fight the so-called "People's Budget" by invoking action in the House of Lords over a financial matter. I think the action of the Lords was bad from the legal point of view. I am sure it was bad from the point of view of political convenience. The country instinctively recognised that the Lords were indulging in a revolutionary action, and, though the English people are, I am glad to say, not frightened by the mere word "revolution," they have a feeling that, if revolutionary action is to be taken, it ought never to be taken by the representatives of Constitutionalism. That is just the kind of inappropriateness which always annoys English people. The result, of course, was that at the inevitable General Election the Unionists did not gain enough seats to justify their action, and thereupon Mr. Asquith and his followers undertook in the Parliament Act the abolition of the power of the House of Lords to insist on the people being consulted in matters of great importance. The Lords in recent times never claimed the veto power but only this right to see that the country endorsed the schemes of its representatives.

Then came another break with the Unionists for me and for those who thought like me. Lord Halsbury, Mr. Austen Chamberlain and their followers, chiefly the right, or Tory, wing of the Unionists, were strongly in favour of the Lords throwing out the Parliament Bill. It was known that if the Lords did throw the Bill out, Mr. Asquith would advise the King to create sufficient Peers (four hundred was the number calculated to be required) to pass the measure. Though it was unpleasant to be associated in this matter with the people who were most keen about Mr. Lloyd George's Budget, I had not the slightest hesitation as to what line of action I ought to take, and in The Spectator I urged with all the strength at my command that the Unionist Party had no business to set up as revolutionaries, which they in effect were doing by insisting that the Bill should only be passed by the creation of four hundred Peers. They, I urged, would appear before the public as the wreckers of the Constitution. The result of the line I took in The Spectator- a line not supported by the rest of the Unionist Press, or, at any rate, by only a very small section of it-was to call down a vehemence of denunciation on my head more violent than I, accustomed as I was to abuse from both sides, had ever before experienced. Happily, I am one of those people who find a hot fight stimulating and amusing and who, like Attila, love the certaminis gaudia, the glories and delights of a rough-and-tumble scrap. I and The Spectator were, I remember, denounced by name by Mr. Austen Chamberlain at a banquet of Die-Hards. Mr. Garvin in The Observer abused The Spectator in perfect good faith, I admit, but with characteristic intensity. I received dire threats from old readers of The Spectator, and finally I received gifts of white feathers to show what the country Die-Hards thought of me!

I felt quite certain, however, that not only was I right to speak my mind, but that in the last resort the common sense of what the Anglo- Saxon chronicler called "miletes agresti," and the new journalism "the backwoodsman peers," would turn out to be not for but against revolutionary action. And so it happened.

I did not actually go to the House of Lords to hear the debate, as I am one of those people who confess to be easily bored by what Lord Salisbury called "the dreary drip of dilatory declama

tion." I waited, however, pen in hand, to hear the result of the division, which was not taken till late on a Thursday night. A relative in the House had undertaken to telephone the event to me at the earliest moment, so that I should have plenty of time to chronicle a victory for common sense, or deplore the first step in an ill-judged constitutional revolution. When the telephone-bell rang and the figures of the division were given, they showed a majority against the rejection of the Bill. It was not a large majority, but it was sufficient, and I at once turned with a sense of real relief to write the funeral sermon on a round in the great political game which had been as badly played as possible by the Unionist leaders. I am still proud to think that The Spectator had taken a considerable share in preventing the crowning blunder. Throughout the crisis I had acted in the utmost intimacy and complete accord with Lord Cromer. He worked as hard with the Unionist chiefs in private as I did with the rank-and-file in public.

There were several curious episodes in this fierce quarrel of which I was cognisant; but these events, and also those connected with the Conferences on the Home Rule Bill, which was in progress when the War broke out, cannot be fully dealt with. In fifteen or twenty years' time either I or my literary executors may be able to disclose that portion of them with which I was specially concerned. Till then the memoranda and letters in which they are set forth must remain sealed books. For fear of misconception I ought perhaps to add that they disclose nothing dishonourable in any sort of way to any of the participants. Instead, they bear out Lord Melbourne's aphorism. A lady is reported to have addressed him in the following terms: "I suppose, Lord Melbourne, that as Prime Minister you found mankind terribly venal." "No, no, Ma'am; not venal, only damned vain." I might, during my inspection of the Arcana of the Constitution and my first-hand knowledge of our leading politicians, have been inclined to vary it, "Not venal, not self-seeking-only damned foolish, or damned blind."

Before I leave off reviewing my political views and actions, in which there are many things which I am exceedingly sorry not to print at full length, I desire a word or two in regard to my position towards the War. I want to say quite plainly and clearly that, though it would be out of place and wearisome to discuss the War and its origin here, I refuse absolutely and entirely to apologise for the War, or to speak as if I were ashamed of it, or of the part which, as a journalist, I played in regard to it before it came or while it was in progress. The War was not only necessary to secure our safety, but it was, I am as fully convinced as ever I was, a righteous war. Unless we had been willing to run the risk of being enslaved by Germany, or, if you will, unless we had been prepared to fight for our lives and liberties at the most terrible disadvantage, we were bound, both by reasons of safety and by reasons of honour, to prevent France being destroyed by Germany. If after all that had happened in the ten years before the war we had remained neutral, France and Russia would have felt, and with reason, that we had deserted them. It is, therefore, quite possible that, if Germany, after a rapid initial success, had proposed very generous terms, they might have patched up a peace at our expense, and in effect told Germany that she might have as much of the perfidious British Empire as she required. Germany would almost certainly have been willing to agree to such an arrangement. Her rulers, like Napoleon, knew that they could not rule Europe unless the naval supremacy of the British Empire was destroyed. In a word, it was quite clear that if we, France, and Russia did not hang together, we should hang separately.

That was the argument of convenience. The argument based on honour and justice was stronger still. The notion of allowing Belgium and France to be exposed to the risk of destruction while we watched in fancied security was absolutely intolerable. We could not say to France, though some people actually thought it possible, "This is not our quarrel. You must decide between Russia and Germany as best you can. We refuse to fight Russia's battles; though we would fight yours if you were wantonly attacked." But that was as foolish as it was selfish. France and Russia were bound to support each other against the foe they found so potent and so menacing;-a foe willing, nay, eager, to support that "negation of God erected into a system" called the Austrian Empire.

To be concise, France was bound in honour not to leave Russia in the lurch when she was attacked, and we were also bound in honour not to desert France. We had pursued, in the past, a policy which directly encouraged France, not only to make a stand against Germany, but to commit herself more and more to her Russian Allies and to regard, indeed, that alliance as part of the security of the world, part of the insurance against a German domination of Europe, part of the joint peace premium. First to back up France, as we did at Agadir and afterwards, and then suddenly to step aside with the cry of "Angela, there is danger. I leave thee," would have been so base that, had we perpetrated it, we could never have recovered our national self-respect. But self- respect is as essential to the welfare of nations as it is to the welfare of the individual.

The War was a terrible evil, and we have suffered very greatly, but I refuse absolutely to be apologetic in regard to our method of carrying it through. On the contrary, I think there is nothing in human history more magnificent than the way in which people in the British Empire steadily kept to their purpose and were willing to make any and every sacrifice to maintain the right. Here I appeal to a contemporary judgment which happens to be as impartial as the judgment of any future historian is likely to be. I mean the judgment passed on us by the firm if friendly hand of the American Ambassador, Mr. Page. Wonderful and deeply moving are his descriptions of the way in which the English people of all classes and of all political creeds and temperaments withstood the shock of the declaration of war and of its first dreadful impact. Speaking generally his descriptions of the years '14, '15, and '16-"Years which reeled beneath us, terrible years"-are as great and as memorable as anything ever recorded in human history. As a picture of a people undergoing the supreme test and seen in the fullest intimacy and absolutely at first-hand, it is equal to anything even in Thucydides. A noble passion inspires and consecrates the narration- vibrant with the sense not only of sorrow but also of exaltation and complete understanding. It was the happiest of accidents that one of our own race, and blood, and language should have been able to view the nation's sacrifice as he viewed it, and yet be able to speak as could only a man who was not actually participating in the sacrifice, and was not actually part of the nation. An American citizen of pure English language and lineage, like Mr. Page, could say things, and say them outright, which no Englishman could have said. The Englishman would have been checked and tongue-tied by the sense that he was plucking laurels for his own brow. Page's immortal letters-I am using the words with sober deliberation and not in any inflated rhetoric-stand as the best and greatest national monument for Britain's dead and Britain's living.

That noble attitude of the British people, that gallantry without pose or self-glorification, that valour without vain glory, that recognition that pity and truth must be shared by the conqueror with the conquered all were maintained by our people in war as in peace. There were tears for the sons of the enemy as well as for our own. In spite of endless provocations we kept our humanity and so our honour.

If our battle spirit became us, our spirit since then has been as worthy of the best that is in mankind. It is true that while making the Peace, we said and did many foolish things, both as far as the rest of the world is concerned and also in regard to our own interests; but we have a perfect right to say that all was done in honour and nothing in malice, in selfishness, or in that worst of all crimes and follies, the spirit of revenge. There is no justice in revenge. It is a hateful and premeditated negation of justice, the creature of ignoble panic, and not of faith and courage. It is pure evil.

I even refuse to bemoan the legacies of the War. The War has left us in poverty and in peril. But even though that poverty and that peril are largely the result of the mismanagement of those to whom we have entrusted the work of reconstruction, I am not going to sit down by the international roadside and rave about it. The way in which that social peril and that poverty have been borne by the vast majority of our population has been wholly admirable. I am optimist enough to see and salute a nobility of sacrifice in all classes which to my mind is earnest that the future of our half of the English-speaking race-of the other half no man need have any doubts-will be as great as was its past.

Could anything have been better than the way in which the rich, opulent, well-to-do classes of this country have taken the tremendous revolution in their lives and fortunes accomplished by the War? The economic and social change has been as great and almost as shattering as those wrought by any social revolution in the world's history. Yet they have hardly caused a murmur among those who have had to endure them.

The great country-houses of England, only some eight years ago its architectural and social glory, are passing rapidly out of the hands of their old owners. Some are destined to fall actually into ruin, some to become institutions, schools, hospitals, or asylums, and a few-but only a few-to pass into the hands of the new possessors of wealth-a body much smaller in numbers than is usually represented. There are thousands of families whose members, once rich, have now passed into a condition so straitened that only ten years ago they would have regarded it as utterly insupportable-a position to which actual extinction was preferable. Yet, Heaven be praised! this great social revolution has not caused one drop of blood, and very little bitterness or complaint. Coming, as it has come, as the result of a great national sacrifice, it has been accepted with a patriotism as great as that which accepted the sacrifice of the War. English people of all classes are tenacious of their rights, and one may feel certain that the class of which I am speaking, if they felt an injustice was being done them, would not have forfeited their property without a struggle. Of such civil strife, however, there has never been a thought. In a word, our revolution has come in the guise of a patriotic duty and sacrifice.

It was accompanied, strange to tell, by a sudden, and therefore unsettling, temporary great increase of material prosperity among the poorer part of the community. The sacrifices, moral and physical, though not material, made by the manual workers were, though not greater, every bit as great as those made by the rich and the well-to-do. They were borne by the working-classes with what one must admit showed, in one sense, an even greater nobility of conduct. Education made matters explicable to the prosperous, and especially to their women, whereas the greater part of the women of the manual workers, and a very large part of the men, had to take the reasons for the War wholly on trust. They had not been sufficiently forewarned of the danger, and the War burst upon them literally as a horrible surprise-a surprise which so soon meant for the women the sacrifice of all they held most dear.

Though there seems a likelihood that proportionately the material sacrifice may remain less great for the manual workers than for those who are above them in the economic scale, the loss caused by the world's destitution is bound to be great, even though it will not be revolutionary. Still, I am convinced that it will be met with equal courage, provided our rulers, through panic or through false ideas of expediency, do not feed the manual workers of the nation on a diet of mere flattery, sophistry, and opportunism, but rather instruct and inspire them to play a worthy part.

But, though I see how many and how great are the dangers that surround us, I believe that as a nation and an Empire we shall pass through the fiery furnace with unsinged hair. It has been said that the Almighty must favour the British Empire, for again and again some event which it is difficult to regard as a mere accident has saved it from destruction, or turned its necessity to glorious gain. I find no difficulty in agreeing and also have no desire to apologise for calling it the Will of God that our nation shall not perish. I admit, however, it would be more in the philosophic fashion to describe it as the resultant of the Life- Urge, or of "the Something behind the Somebody"-a formula which is possibly destined to take the place of Matthew Arnold's more polished "stream of tendency making for righteousness."

But when I say this of the new voices, I hope that no one will imagine that I speak cynically or even in sympathetic irony. It may well be that those who use the phrase "Life-Urge" in reality mean very nearly what I mean when I speak of "the Grace of Heaven." They, indeed, may be more honest and more sincere than I am in their reticence of language and in their determination not to deceive themselves, even by an iota. Their fierce preservation of the citadel of agnosticism, till they are sure, may make them unhappy and hard-pressed in spirit. It can never make them ignoble.

For myself, I am convinced that there is no better way of serving God, or of acknowledging the greatness of the issues of life and death than that splendid devotion to truth which will not allow even the minutest dilution,-which demands, not only the truth, and the whole truth, but nothing but the truth. Who dare blame these young "Knights of the Holy Ghost" who make their Gospel a demand for an absolute purity, who ask for the thing which has no admixture?

Does not our Lord Himself tell us, "Blessed are the pure in hearty for they shall see God"? And does not purity of heart mean no mixed motives, no substitutes, no easy concessions, no compromises, no arrangements, but only the truth and the light, single and undefiled?

But I fear I may seem to be losing touch with that of which I speak, or claiming some sort of monopoly of Divine guidance for my race and country. Nothing could be further from my thought. All that I do is to cherish the belief that the trend of events is towards moral and spiritual progress, and that the chief instrument of salvation will be the English-speaking race. In speaking thus, as a lover or a child, I am certainly not pointing to the road of selfishness. If the English- speaking kin is to take the lead and to bring mankind from out the shadow and once again into the light, it can only be through care, toil, and sacrifice-things little consistent with national selfishness or national pride.

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