Classic History Books


The History of England by A. E. Pollard

crystallized in Imperial Federation. Imperial Conferences have become regular, but we may not call them
councils; no majority in them has power to bind a minority, and no conference can bind the

mother-country or a single dominion of the crown. As an educational body the Imperial Conference is

excellent; but no one would venture to give powers of taxation or of making war and peace to a conclave

in which Great Britain, with its forty-four millions of people and the navy and army it supports, has no

more votes than Newfoundland, with its quarter of a million of inhabitants and immunity from imperial

burdens.

Education is, however, at the root of all political systems. Where the mass of the people know nothing of
politics, a despotism is essential; where only the few are politically educated, there needs must be an

aristocracy. Great Britain lost its American colonies largely through ignorance; and no imperial

organization could arise among a group of states ignorant of each other's needs, resources, and

aspirations. The Imperial Conference is not to be judged by its meagre tangible results; if it has led

British politicians to appreciate the varying character and depth of national feeling in the Dominions, and

politicians oversea to appreciate the delicacies of the European diplomatic situation, the dependence of

every part of the empire upon sea-power, and the complexities of an Imperial government which has also

to consider the interests of hundreds of millions of subjects in India, in tropical Africa, in the West

Indies, and in the Pacific, the Conference will have helped to foster the intellectual conditions which

must underlie any attempt at an imperial superstructure.

For the halcyon days of peace, prosperity, and progress can hardly be assumed as yet, and not even the
most distant and self-contained Dominions can afford to ignore the menace of blood and iron. No power,

indeed, is likely to find the thousand millions or so which it would cost to conquer and hold Canada,

Australia, or South Africa; but a lucky raid on their commerce or some undefended port might cost many

millions by way of ransom. A slackening birth-rate is, moreover, a reminder that empires in the past, like

that of Rome, have civilized themselves out of existence in the competition with races which bred with

primitive vigour, and had no costly standards of comfort. There are such races to-day; the slumbering

East has wakened, and the tide which flowed for four centuries from West to East is on the turn. The

victory of Japan over Russia was an event beside which the great Boer War sinks into insignificance.

Asiatics, relieved by the Pax Britannica from mutual destruction, are eating the whites out of the

islands of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and threatening South Africa, Australia, and the western shores

of America. No armaments and no treaties of arbitration can ward off their economic competition; and it

is not certain that their myriads, armed with Western morality and methods of warfare, will be always

content to refrain from turning against Europe the means of expansion which Europe has used with so

much success against them. The British Empire will need all the wisdom it can command, if it is to hold

its own in the parliament of reason or the arbitrament of war.

 

CHAPTER IX. ENGLISH DEMOCRACY

The modern national state is the most powerful political organism ever known, because it is the
conscious or unconscious agency of a people's will. Government is no longer in England the instrument

of a family or a class; and the only real check upon its power is the circumstance that in some matters it

acts as the executive committee of one party and is legitimately resisted by the other. Were there no

parties, the government would be a popular despotism absolutely uncontrolled. Theoretically it is

omnicompetent; parliament - or, to use more technical phraseology, the Crown in Parliament - can make

anything law that it chooses; and no one has a legal right to resist, or authority to pronounce what

parliament has done to be unconstitutional. No Act of Parliament can be illegal or unconstitutional,

 

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