Imperialism and social reform english Social-Imperial Thought 1895-1914



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VIII
SIR HALFORD MACKINDER:THEORIST OF IMPERIALISM


Halford John Mackinder, who has enjoyed considerable recognition as a founder of modern geographical study, achieved a widespread renown two decades ago as the pioneer of the 'science of geopolitics' of which Hitler had become a disciple. 1 His other accomplishments, however, have been rather neglected, especially his work as an economic theorist and politician. At the beginning of the century, Mackinder was a principal spokesman for the Liberal-Imperialists; he was, in fact, well on his way toward a cabinet post. As a Free Trade Imperialist, he described with unusual insight the imperialism of capital export, anticipating at some points the later analysis of Hobson and the neo-Marxists, Hilferding and Luxemburg. Then, after a remarkable and sudden conversion to the Chamberlain programme of protection, he demonstrated a similar grasp of the rival neo-mercantile imperialism, and became one of its leading public advocates.

Mackinder was born at Gainsborough in 1861. His father was a doctor and, his first interests being in the field of science, he accepted, in 1880, a junior studentship in physical science at Christ Church, Oxford, where he intended to specialize in biology. While at Oxford, Mackinder discovered how broad and varied were his interests and his talents. He read for two honours schools, natural science and modern history, and for the bar -- he was called to the Inner Temple in 1886. More and more, however, he devoted himself to geography, a subject to whose acceptance as an academic discipline he was to make so signal a contribution. Applying his studies of science, economics, history, and law to geogra-

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1

See Robert Strausz-Hupé, Geopolitics: The Struggle for Space and Power ( New York, 1942), pp. 53-9, 141-8, 154-9, 249-52.

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phy, Mackinder developed a field he called historical geography. He established a national reputation as a result of his work with the Oxford extension movement when, between 1885 and 1903, he lectured on geography to adult audiences all over Great Britain. In 1887, he was appointed to the post of Reader in Geography at Oxford and in 1899 he was named Director of the first English school of geography, established at that university. 2

For a long time, Mackinder had had an interest in politics. He had been President of the Oxford Union in 1883 and, according to report, was an excellent platform orator as well as university lecturer. During the 'nineties, he became attached to the Imperialist wing of the Liberal party, a group which revolved about the person of Lord Rosebery. The Liberal-Imperialists, as we know, opposed the party's Radical wing, the heirs of Gladstone; the Radicals maintained nineteenth-century Liberalism's traditional attitudes, which favoured laissez-faire and opposed imperialism and militarism. The Liberal-Imperialists were sympathetic to social reform and exponents of the Empire, 3 and Lord Rosebery, combining the two objectives, at one time asserted that 'an empire such as ours requires as its first condition an imperial race,' adding that 'in the rookeries and slums which still survive, an imperial race can not be reared.' 4 This was essentially Mackinder's position.

One platform on which both the Radical and Imperialist wings of Liberalism could unite was that of Free Trade. The Radicals regarded Free Trade as the keystone in the edifice of cosmopolitanism. For the followers of Rosebery, and for Mackinder, it was the economic basis of imperialism. Free Trade had become unassailable national orthodoxy during the 'sixties and 'seventies, the period when British industry remained unchallenged in the market places of the world. However, by the 'eighties, as we have noted, British industry --

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2

For details concerning Mackinder's life, see E. W. Gilbert, ' The Right Honourable Sir Halford J. Mackinder, PC, 1861-1947,' Geographical Journal, CX, January 1948, pp. 94 ff.; and the same writer's 'Seven Lamps of Geography: An Appreciation of the Teaching of Sir Halford J. Mackinder ,' Geography, XXXIV, March 1951, pp. 21-43.

3

See Chapter III, supra.

4

Rosebery, Miscellanies, II, p. 250.

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especially iron and steel, and the other metal trades of the midlands -- had begun to feel the pinch of German and American competition and a 'Fair Trade' movement had been launched to convince England of the need for protection. The Imperial Federation League, an organization of prominent men interested in tightening the bonds of Empire, had been sharply divided, as early as the 'eighties, into two groups, one of which asserted that the Empire could only be maintained if Free Trade prevailed, and an ever more vociferous protectionist wing which felt that only an imperial Zollverein could prevent a crash of both British industry and the Empire. Lord Rosebery had maintained the Free Trade position within the League. For Rosebery, as for Mackinder, industry appeared to be of secondary importance to the preservation of the Empire -- for the former Prime Minister the two greatest imperial assets were the navy and capital. 5 The followers of Lord Rosebery, however, never troubled to spell out the theoretical bases of their adherence to a Free Trade Empire; they were not economists but politicians. The job of providing such a theoretical framework was left to Halford Mackinder.

The Liberal-Imperialists were known to be closely connected with English financial interests, and it was fitting that Mackinder should have developed his insights into Free Trade imperialism in a series of lectures to the Institute of Bankers in London in 1899. In the course of these lectures, as noted previously, Mackinder carefully differentiated the interests of industry from those of finance. British industry, he asserted, was faced with the keenest foreign competition and soon British commerce might be in a similar position. This circumstance was a result of a tendency 'towards the dispersion and equalisation of the industrial and commercial activity throughout the world.' However, the more dispersed the world's industry and commerce might be, 'the greater will be the need of a controlling centre to it. Though in the human frame there are many muscles,' he continued, 'there is only one brain.' There may be many 'National Clearing Houses,' but there will be only one 'International Clearing House,' and, because of Britain's leading position in world commerce for

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5

The Times, January 24, 1900, 7b, c. Mackinder agreed on this point; see his Britain and the British Seas ( London: Heinemann, 1902), p. 346.

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especially iron and steel, and the other metal trades of the midlands -- had begun to feel the pinch of German and American competition and a 'Fair Trade' movement had been launched to convince England of the need for protection. The Imperial Federation League, an organization of prominent men interested in tightening the bonds of Empire, had been sharply divided, as early as the 'eighties, into two groups, one of which asserted that the Empire could only be maintained if Free Trade prevailed, and an ever more vociferous protectionist wing which felt that only an imperial Zollverein could prevent a crash of both British industry and the Empire. Lord Rosebery had maintained the Free Trade position within the League. For Rosebery, as for Mackinder, industry appeared to be of secondary importance to the preservation of the Empire -- for the former Prime Minister the two greatest imperial assets were the navy and capital. 5 The followers of Lord Rosebery, however, never troubled to spell out the theoretical bases of their adherence to a Free Trade Empire; they were not economists but politicians. The job of providing such a theoretical framework was left to Halford Mackinder.

The Liberal-Imperialists were known to be closely connected with English financial interests, and it was fitting that Mackinder should have developed his insights into Free Trade imperialism in a series of lectures to the Institute of Bankers in London in 1899. In the course of these lectures, as noted previously, Mackinder carefully differentiated the interests of industry from those of finance. British industry, he asserted, was faced with the keenest foreign competition and soon British commerce might be in a similar position. This circumstance was a result of a tendency 'towards the dispersion and equalisation of the industrial and commercial activity throughout the world.' However, the more dispersed the world's industry and commerce might be, 'the greater will be the need of a controlling centre to it. Though in the human frame there are many muscles,' he continued, 'there is only one brain.' There may be many 'National Clearing Houses,' but there will be only one 'International Clearing House,' and, because of Britain's leading position in world commerce for

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5

The Times, January 24, 1900, 7b, c. Mackinder agreed on this point; see his Britain and the British Seas ( London: Heinemann, 1902), p. 346.

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two centuries, because of the vast and enormously profitable British carrying trade and the entrepôt system, because 'we have an enormous accumulation of wealth,' because 'we have a vast export of capital, and a great ownership of capital fixed in the outlying portions of the world,' and because the City was 'the most convenient market for capital, and therefore the most convenient settlement-place for loans, or debts,' London, he believed, was destined to remain the banking centre of the world. 'It appears, therefore, quite possible,' Mackinder suggested, most significantly, 'that the financial importance of the City of London may continue to increase, while the industry, at any rate, of Britain, becomes relatively less.'

What had this to do with imperialism? 'This gives the real key,' Mackinder proclaimed, 'to the struggle between our free trade policy and the protection of other countries -- we are essentially the people with capital, and those who have capital always share the proceeds of the activity of brains and muscles of other countries. It is eternally true "that to him that hath shall be given".' Other powers felt a quite natural resentment and wished to prevent England from exporting capital (whether in the shape of rails, machinery, or monetary investment). 'It was a struggle,' Mackinder proclaimed in good Darwinist fashion, 'of nationality against nationality -- it is a real struggle for Empire in the world.' To underscore his point, and in so doing anticipating J. A. Hobson's later analysis of imperialism, Mackinder suggested that 'it is for the maintenance of our position in the world, because we are the great lenders, that we have been driven to increase our empire.' 6

In 1900, in the midst of the Boer War, a general election was called and Mackinder contested Warwick as a Liberal. He was in favour of the war, but the Radicals and the greater part of Liberal party organizations throughout the country were opposed to it. Mackinder was defeated. During the course of the war, to sum up what has been described earlier, the Liberal-Imperialists became more and more estranged

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6

Mackinder, ' The Great Trade Routes,' Journal of the Institute of Bankers, March 1900, pp. 154-5; May 1900, p. 271. See also Britain and the British Seas, pp. 343 ff.

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from the main body of Liberalism and, in the middle of 1901, Rosebery made an address to the Liberal City Club which caused many to believe that the former Prime Minister was about to organize a new party, a party which he had indicated would make 'national efficiency' its objective. The leaders of Fabian socialism, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and Bernard Shaw, had long been intimate with the leaders of LiberalImperialism, especially with Rosebery and Haldane. Interested in the possibility of a party of national efficiency, the Webbs and Shaw wished to join their collectivist programme to the imperialism of the followers of Rosebery. The Webbs decided to form a dining club -- the Coefficients -- which, they hoped, would serve as a 'brains trust' for the new political movement. They invited a dozen prominent individuals, representing both political parties, but having a common interest in a strong, effective Empire. Among the leaders of the LiberalImperial party, Sidney Webb asked Sir Edward Grey, R. B. Haldane, and Mackinder to join.

The very earliest meetings of the Coefficients were marked by dissension over trade policy. The chief advocate of protection within the group was W. A. S. Hewins, the rabidly imperialistic Director of the Fabian-founded London School of Economics. In January, 1903, at the third meeting of the Coefficients, there was a full-scale debate on the subject of preferential tariffs. Hewins has reported in his autobiography that 'present divisions of opinion came out very clearly and Amery and Maxse were the only two who genuinely supported my views.' The Liberal-Imperialists to a man had supported Free Trade. In May, 1903, as we know, Joseph Chamberlain, the Secretary of State for Colonies, after some years of toying with the idea, publicly took up the cudgels for protection and began a nation-wide campaign in favour of Tariff Reform and imperial preference. The issue was even more sharply debated at the dinners of the Coefficients. It became clear that two of the Liberal-Imperialists -- Grey and Mackinder-were wavering in their adherence to Free Trade, and both Hewins and Amery applied every effort to convert them to Tariff Reform. Grey held firm. Mackinder, on the other hand, was persuaded by Amery that-to continue Mackinder's

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metaphor -- if Great Britain were to remain a great power she required muscle as well as brain. 7

Mackinder's conversion to protectionist imperialism was so complete that Amery and Maxse determined that he should help direct the campaign to convert the nation. They wished to elect him the organizing secretary of the newly formed Tariff Reform League. Their plan miscarried. 8 When Hewins resigned his position as Director of the London School of Economics to accept, in 1903, appointment as Secretary to a tariff commission comprised of some of the nation's leading industrialists, the Webbs saw to it that Mackinder was appointed to succeed him. Mackinder's conversion to Tariff Reform, however, doomed his heretofore excellent chances of fulfilling his promise as a 'coming man' within the Liberal party. Amery has suggested in his memoirs that, but for his apostasy, Mackinder would probably have received a cabinet position in the Liberal Government of 1906. 9 In the coming years, from his post at the London School, Mackinder proceeded to supply a theoretical foundation for tariff imperialism just as, in the past, he had for Free Trade imperialism.

What had probably helped to convert Mackinder to Tariff Reform was a growing fear that, without such a programme, the Empire might disintegrate. The Oxford geographer had been convinced of the vital importance of the Empire to Britain's livelihood even while he was still a Free Trade Imperialist. 'Metropolitan England,' he wrote in 1902, 'owes much of its governmental and financial activity . . . to the imperial rank of London,' and 'would be poorer' but for 'imperial rule.' 'It would not be unfair,' he further asserted, 'to credit the imperial connection with nearly half the exports, most of the freight and interest, and -- in view of the sum of sixty millions for re-export of colonial produce -- with no small share of the commissions' included in the British trade balance. 10

Mackinder was not Tariff Reform's only academic spokes-

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10

Mackinder, Britain and the British Seas, pp. 352, 346, 348. For the importance Mackinder attached to imperial unity, 'to hold our own among the great Empires of the world,' see H. J. Mackinder, The Modern British State ( London: G. Philip, 1914), pp. 252-265.

7

See Chapter III, supra.

8

Amery, My Political Life, I, p. 238.

9

Ibid., p. 224.

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man. W. J. Ashley of the University of Birmingham and William Cunningham, the economic historian, also contributed their energies to the Chamberlain campaign and both wrote considerably more than Mackinder. Ashley defended protectionism from the rather special standpoint of the German historical school, of which he can be accounted a disciple. Cunningham faithfully followed the Unionist party line in his polemics, but, beneath the rhetoric, he rested his position on conservatism's conception of an organic, national community, a conception founded on Tudor and Stuart paternalism and mercantilism. 11 Mackinder, too, rested his argument on a mercantilist basis, but the emphasis in his writings was placed much more heavily on the need to augment British power in the new world of the twentieth century than on Cunningham's traditionalist prescriptions. In 1906, Mackinder published his Money-Power and Man-Power: The Underlying Principles rather than the Statistics of Tariff Reform in which he clearly took his cue from the writings of the early nineteenth-century German neo-mercantilist and 'national' economist, Friedrich List. Like List, Mackinder wished to proclaim the inadequacy of the accumulation of wealth when it was achieved at the expense of 'productive powers,' at the expense of Britain's physical capacity to defend her trade and her Empire.

Mackinder's contributions to the tariff campaign were forcefully presented and, in style, aimed at the formula-like completeness of the writings of the seventeenth century mercantilists. Mackinder had also adopted the mercantilist standard of power. 'More is at stake than a mere question of tariffs,' he wrote on the first page of his Money-Power and ManPower. Citing examples from Britain's past, he demonstrated power as operative in times of peace as well as in times of war, concluding that 'we must regard the exercise of Power' in foreign affairs 'as a normal and peaceful function of the national life, to be steadily provided for, not as a spasmodic war-call to be insured against grudgingly.' Nor had power been wielded on these past occasions in behalf of some vague ideal of national honour or glory: 'our power has in almost every instance been exerted in connection with some sub-

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11

See Chapters X and XI, infra.

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stantial market of our commerce, where wages to the extent of millions of pounds annually were at stake.' British power had, for example, been applied to protect the Lancashire cotton industry and was thus 'employed to protect interests which are vital to our working classes.' Power, trade, wages, and labour were all arcs of the same circle and each was necessary to make it complete. 'Much power is needed to shelter a great trade,' he proclaimed. 'A great trade can alone supply much wages and support a great and efficient population. A great and efficient population is the only firm source of great power." 12

As a Liberal-Imperialist, Mackinder had welcomed the predominance of British finance in a cosmopolitan world at the expense, if this proved necessary, of British industry. Now he spoke in mercantilist terms of industry, of markets, of wages, of a great population as the enduring sources of power. What had changed Mackinder's view? We know that the Coefficients talked much of the coming day of reckoning with Germany, a day for which the Germans were steadily preparing. Mackinder had become convinced that the world of the twentieth century was not to be the peaceful world of the nineteenth. The Germans meant to do more than deprive England of industrial hegemony. What good would British capital be against German armed might? Could a nation living on foreign investments and broker's fees, deprived of the capacity to manufacture weapons, successfully defend herself against a well-trained, well-equipped nation of half again as many people? His famous article on 'The Geographical Pivot of History,' which was to form the basis of German geopolitics, was written shortly after his conversion to protection. 13 In it Mackinder described the threat which a great land-based power, whose strength was in its armies and its industry, posed for a sea-power on the periphery of the pivot, whose principal interest was peaceful trade. The moral was plain. In order to defend herself successfully against Germany, Great Britain had to be transformed.

Mackinder had become convinced of the essential sound-

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12

Mackinder, Money-Power and Man-Power, pp. 1, 5, 7, 14.

13

H. J. Mackinder, ' The Geographical Pivot of History,' Geographical Journal, XXIII, April, 1904.

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ness of mercantilist populationist theory for the conditions of the new century. He had become convinced that he, like the other Free Traders, had paid rather too much attention to money-power, the 'power of buying,' and too little to manpower, 'our power of doing.' Mackinder cited an example of an English capitalist who built a factory in a foreign land as a means of circumventing high foreign tariffs. The profits, the interest, the dividends which stemmed from such an investment were accounted a national gain by Free Trade economists. In reality, they were a national loss. The men who were employed by that capitalist would supply recruits for a foreign army -- and the capitalist's earnings would be taxed to support that army. Overseas investments, which Mackinder had formerly championed as a 'share' in the 'proceeds' of the 'brains and muscles of other countries,' he now regarded as responsible for the ruin of many trades and the consequent emigration of thousands of unemployed British working men. Emigration, he now felt, was a blow at British power. 'The Tariff Reformer,' he concluded, 'aims at increasing the Manpower of the Empire.' 14

Mackinder had not forgotten the emphasis of his former Liberal-Imperialist colleagues on the rearing of an imperial race. After his conversion, he continued to favour temperance legislation, to urge better housing for the working classes, and to suggest methods for improving public education -- all favourite projects of the followers of Rosebery. Slums he described as 'the scrap-heaps of abandoned and disused portions of our national man-power.' Mackinder even supported the concept of a minimum wage, which the Fabians had made a chief item of their platform, and which Mackinder described as 'at the root of both trade unionism and Socialism' but, since it was 'inspired by the idea of economising man-power,' thoroughly acceptable. He condemned as wasteful of man-power 'irregularity of employment,' however caused, whether by strikes, foreign competition, or by 'failure of employers'; 'the Tariff Reformer's whole attitude makes him value the labourer and guard his wages.' 'The real strength of a nation,' Mackinder asserted, 'lies in its workers, its thinkers, its fighters,

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14

Mackinder, Money-Power and Man-Power, p. 21.

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and its mothers." 15 The last was a reference to his new view that an increased birth-rate was essential if Great Britain were to hold her own in the struggles for power of the twentieth century.

Mackinder resigned as Director of the London School of Economics in 1908 -- to be succeeded by a fellow Coefficient, Pember Reeves, the New Zealand Fabian-and devoted himself more fully to politics and to the cause of Tariff Reform. In 1909 he fought a by-election at Hawick Burghs, bearing his new party colours of Unionist and Tariff Reformer, but once again he went down to defeat. In the general election of January 1910, he succeeded in securing election for the Camlachie division of Glasgow. He carried the division by a scant majority of 434 votes, and retained his seat in the general election of December 1910, by only 26 votes. He is reported to have waged a most persuasive campaign. He held his seat until he suffered defeat in the general election of 1922.

In 1919, Mackinder published a volume entitled Democratic Ideals and Reality in which he extracted the essences of both Free Trade and tariff imperialism and proclaimed their inherent sameness. The imperialists of both persuasions were 'organisers,' he explained; their enemies, the cosmopolitan Liberals, the 'Cobdenites,' were 'idealists.' Among the organizers, Mackinder cited 'three honoured voices': those of Lord Rosebery, who had called for 'efficiency'; Joseph Chamberlain, who had called for economic defence'; and Lord Roberts, who had devoted his last years to a campaign for military training. These three, Mackinder lamented, had appealed 'to our sovereign people and were not heard.' 16 The idealists were 'internationalists' who were 'in futile revolt against all organisation,' while the organizers were patriots and nationalists. The doctrine of the organizer is, for Mackinder, at the opposite pole of democracy; the 'supreme rule of the organiser and of blind efficiency' is 'the Nemesis of democratic idealism.' The organizer, in the tradition of

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15

Ibid., pp. 21-24; also H. J. Mackinder, "Man-Power as a Measure of National and Imperial Strength," National Review, XLV, March 1905, pp. 142-143.

16

H. J. Mackinder, Democratic Ideals and Reality: A Study in the Politics of Reconstruction ( London: Constable, 1919), pp. 31-32.

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Hobbes, views 'men as existing for the State,' and comes to regard 'his men as his tools.' While 'the democrat is thinking of the rights of man,' the organizer is 'thinking how to use men,' and has idealized the disciplined state, the 'camp state.' Such a doctrine does not mean that the organizer neglects human welfare within national society. 'On the contrary,' Mackinder asserted, 'he regards that society as so much manpower to be maintained in efficient condition.' This is the case, he concluded, whether the organizer 'be militarist or capitalist provided that he be far-sighted.' 17

If, as Mackinder believed, imperialism and democracy were based on antagonistic principles, which was likely to prevail in England. This was, of course, one of the more important issues underlying British political life. Mackinder was convinced that, given the state of international economy, 'even democracies are compelled to annex empires.' 18 Were Britons, then, doomed to lose their freedom? The Oxford geographer had suggested, in 1902, that British democracy and imperialism could co-exist because of 'the intervening ocean.' 19 In 1924, he explained further how geography had enabled an imperial Britain to continue to enjoy democracy:

'The separation of the tropical Empire from the European island, although perhaps a source of weakness from a military point of view, has had this supreme advantage, that on the one hand imperial rule in the dependencies has not corrupted freedom at home, and on the other hand those who exercise that rule, go out generation after generation with the spirit of justice and trusteeship ever renewed from their free homes and schools.' 20

In 1919, the Coalition Government of Lloyd George appointed Mackinder British High Commissioner for South Russia-a part of the 'heartland' concerning which he had written some fifteen years earlier in his geopolitical articles. The failure to overthrow the Soviet government prompted his return in 1920, at which time he was knighted for his services and appointed Chairman of the Imperial Shipping Committee, a post he held until 1945. In 1926, the Government of Stanley

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17

Ibid., pp. 9-21.

18

Mackinder, Britain and the British Seas, p. 342.

19

Ibid., p. 349.

20

Sir Halford Mackinder, The World War and After ( London: G. Philip, 1924), p. 266.

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Baldwin honoured him further by naming him a Privy Councillor and the Chairman of the Imperial Economic Committee. Mackinder's last years, then, were devoted to the continued service of that imperial ideal to which he had been drawn by the Chamberlain crusade. Before his death in 1947, he had witnessed two German wars, against which he had warned, as well as the final passing of the imperialism of Free Trade and the conversion of England to the protectionist position which he had adopted forty years earlier.

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