« PreviousContinue »
England a world by herself. But, now that perforce we are a European power once more, one of 'a tide of races Rolled to meet a common fate,' we must study European history or we shall once again have reason to rue our ignorance.
It is impossible for us to have a sound foreign policy as regards any part of the world unless the country in question, its history and character, are known and understood by the political public in Great Britain. The mistakes of our policy in the 19th and 20th centuries have come much more often from ignorance than from ill will; and our successes have always been the result of good will guided by knowledge. Our greatest diplomatic success in the 19th century was our treatment of the Italian question in 1860, when, without a war, we assured the Making of Italy, and so won her traditional friendship,' which has already lasted two generations, and forms one of the bases of the present Alliance. This cardinal success of British policy, by which the whole world has benefited no less than ourselves, was the result of knowledge. Our policy in 1860 would certainly have gone astray-for there were many pitfalls-if the Italian question in the light of Italian history had not been familiar to the political public in the England of that day, and more particularly to the Ministers Russell and Gladstone, who lived largely among Italian men and books. Add to this that they were advised from Turin by Hudson, who knew more about Italy than any other Englishman; and we see why Russell acted with such consummate skill in the Italian question, in an era when so many other questions-America and Turkey, for instance-were being sadly bungled by statesmen whose ideas of America were drawn from Martin Chuzzlewit,' and their ideas of Turkey from nothing but an ignorant fear of Russia.
The history of our diplomacy in the Balkans, both in the 19th century, when we saved the Turk, and in the 20th century, after we had abandoned him to his deserts, is the antithesis of the Italian affair, for it is one long story of the penalties that attend on national ignorance. And now that, as a result of the present war, all nations must be drawn closer together to work out their common fate for good or evil, knowledge of other countries and
of their history will be more necessary than ever before. The facts and generalisations contained in such a book as Orsi's ought to be familiar to every educated Englishman. The interests and the safety of our land, and indeed the interests and safety of the whole world, require that modern history should be extensively and intelligently taught in the schools and colleges of Britain, whether she be regarded as the responsible head of the greatest of all Empires, or as a leading partner in the League of Nations.
In 1815 the cause of freedom on this side the Atlantic seemed finally lost. England and France were half free, but Spain, Italy, Germany, Austria, and Russia were all subjected to absolute power in its worst form. Two good things only had been secured by the fall of Napoleon: that the peace of the world was safe for a generation, and that France and England were certain ere long to resume their rank as Liberal Powers. But even when, after 1830, France and England were both once more influences on the side of freedom, they were too weak to liberate the rest of Europe. Strong as they were in moral prestige and propagandist influence, they were weaker as military powers than the despotisms of Central and Eastern Europe. The campaigns of Beresina, of Leipzig and of Waterloo, necessary as they were for the world's peace, had redistributed power on the Continent in a manner fatal to freedom. Prussia was firmly established on the Rhine; Austria was in Italy; Russia held the greater part of Poland, all the more securely because the rest of it belonged to Austria and Prussia. History after Waterloo has been dominated by an iron law-often overlooked but always in the end proof against the aspirations of the century-namely, by the fact that Prussia, Russia and Austria were militarily stronger than England and France. It is true that the three military despotisms did not always stand together, but they did so on the vital question of Poland, and in the decisive year 1849. Furthermore England and France never acted together for liberty, except when in 1854, in the name of liberty as against Russia, they ignorantly fought to save the worse tyranny of the Turk.
The two Liberal Powers did indeed shortly afterwards
help in the liberation of Italy-an event which brought into being a third Liberal Power, as we witness to such good purpose to-day. But even in liberating Italy they were too jealous to act together, England taking up the active championship of Cavour only when France had begun to oppose him. Italy was freed because she was supported first by France and then by England; because Russia and Prussia deserted Austria for reasons unconnected with the merits of the Italian question; and because of the combined wisdom and energy of the Italian people themselves, who were worthy of their four heaven-sent leaders-no country ever had in the hour of her need four such men as the prophet, the king, the warrior and the statesman of Italy.
If Germany in 1848 or afterwards had desired union through liberty as much as Italy desired it, or if she had had but one Liberal leader of genius, she could have been united on a basis of freedom and the world would have been spared the present war. Her task was far easier than Italy's, for she had not the Austrian armies occupying her territory. But Germany was mainly antiLiberal at heart, and wholly so in energy. The Parliament of Frankfurt lacked the spirit of Pym, of Franklin, of Mirabeau. Her men of genius and her instincts for action were all dedicated to the powers of darkness; and so she was united, not in 1848 on the basis of freedom, but in 1866 and 1870 on the basis of military absolutism.
While Germany was failing to obtain freedom and unity in 1848-9, Russia aided Francis Joseph to re-establish military despotism in his dominions. This was rendered possible by the refusal of the Magyars under Kossuth to treat the non-Magyar nationalities of Hungary as anything except subject peoples. Kossuth in exile successfully passed himself off to American and English sympathisers as a great Liberal; but it may be doubted whether any man since Robespierre did so much injury to the Liberal cause. He it was who deflected the Magyar national ideal from the true Liberalism of the earlier movement to the jingoism and racial absolutism of the present-day Magyar oligarchy. He stands as one of the prime architects of the present war.
The failure of 1848 to overturn despotism in Austria and Germany has never been made good, for Austria and
Germany are geographically the heart of Europe, their bulk lying athwart the intercourse of the surrounding states, and radiating influence on all sides. With the increase of the power and wealth of these two Kaiserdoms in the last fifty years, the dominant force in Europe has become military despotism. Worse than this, after 1870 it became an active ideal. In 1849 it triumphed, but as a mere negation, connected with no principles more vital or modern than the tradition of the Dead Hand which Metternich had transmitted from the chancelleries of the Ancien Régime. But after 1870, with the genius and prestige of Bismarck, military despotism became an active principle, which, under the title of realpolitik, rivalled and supplanted English and French ideals of liberty in the world of thought itself.
This is the reason why the Europe that has grown up since 1870, in spite of all its flashy modern cleverness, has reached its final inevitable goal in the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the present war. It believed in materialism and was too clever to believe in liberty, and has got its deserts. But that supreme evil is, with pain and travail, bringing its own supreme remedy. If it is true that, in spite of the great incident of the Italian revolution, our Europe was in 1914 still the Europe of 1815 and of 1849, and had latterly under German teaching become proud of its slavery to force, it is equally true that during the last year, 1917, the entry of American democracy into European or world politics suddenly turned the tables on the whole ancient order of ideas in Europe. And, whatever evils the present anarchy in Russia is bringing on the world, the fact that the great Slav Empire has at last ceased to be a despotism has so far redressed the balance in favour of liberty. It is the reasonable aspiration of all persons of good will that this righting of the balance of power in the direction of liberty and democracy will lead to a peace between free peoples more stable than the peace between despotisms which the Holy Alliance brought as its one contribution to human welfare. If the peoples will study one another, and not be content to remain divided by ignorance of each other's history, character and aspirations, Mr Wilson's visions may yet be realised under the impetus of reaction against the present war and the ideas that
brought it on. But no League of Nations can be based upon mutual ignorance.
It is only since August 1914 that we have fully realised what a tragedy our French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars really were. That our greatest military hero, a man worthy of all the praises that have been lavished on his character and on his genius, a man rightly beloved by us as the symbol of the best English qualities, as Marlborough was never loved-that Wellington should as the outcome of his life's work have established the black forces of clerical and military despotism in Europe as the necessary price of saving us from the tyranny of Napoleon, is a national and a world-wide tragedy. All the forces, ideas and parties of clericalism and of social and political reaction that were our allies in every country against Napoleon are our enemies in every country to-day. In every Continental state, belligerent or neutral, there is, distinct from the pacificist socialists, a reactionary pro-German party, which answers in traditions and ideals to the anti-French party of a hundred years ago. We then set up that party to rule Europe, and have been engaged, from Canning's time onwards, in a series of attempts to pull it down, of which the present war is by far the greatest, the most purposeful and the most promising. That England should have been forced to undergo a generation of political reaction at home when the social and economic problems of the industrial revolution were coming fresh upon her, that she should have caused her people the terrible economic sufferings of the Twenty Years' War in order to reduce the power of the French Revolution, and set up Austria, Russia and Prussia as the arbiters of Europe, is a tragedy so terrible that, even if it was as necessary to go to war in 1793 as Pitt thought, it was also as disastrous as Fox believed.
Now that England sings the 'Marseillaise' as readily as the Star-Spangled Banner,' it is time that we took as impartial a view of the tragedy of 1793 as we have long taken of the tragedy of 1776. It is time that English historians saw that Fox and Wordsworth were just as patriotic when they regarded the war against the French Republic with horror as they were when a dozen years later they led the country, the one with his