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



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WILLIAM CUNNINGHAM: NATIONAL ECONOMIST


Professor H. S. Foxwell described Archdeacon William Cunningham, in an obituary article, as 'a great National Economist,' in the tradition of Thomas Mun and William Petty. 1 The description was most appropriate. As an economist, Cunningham made the preservation and strengthening of the nation-state his most weighty political and economic objective. As an Archdeacon of the Church of England, he sometimes spoke as if the nation-state were the loftiest expression of spiritual life as well. In his later years, he came to regard all of European development as a preparation for the emergence of the national state -- and he considered this a worthy final goal of historical evolution. 2 He believed the breach with Rome in the time of Henry VIII to have been a declaration of self-sufficiency, evidence of England's recognition that Church and State were twin aspects of the same national community. 3 Since that time, he asserted, England had consciously moulded both her political and economic policy to provide for a sound and prosperous national life. Archdeacon Cunningham suggested that there had been but one break in this long tradition of concentration upon the national interest, one reversion to the cosmopolitanism of the pre-Reformation times, the one which had been engineered by the political economists who followed the Free Trade dogmas of Adam Smith, Richard Cobden, and John Bright. Both as economist and as clergyman, the good Archdeacon devoted his energies

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1

H. S. Foxwell, and Lilian Knowles, "Archdeacon Cunningham", Economic Journal, September 1919, XXIX, pp. 384-385.

2

William Cunningham, "Economic Change", in Cambridge Modern History ( Cambridge, 1902), I, pp. 493 and 529, and passim.

3

William Cunningham, Christianity and Politics ( Boston, 1915), pp. 32-33.

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to battling this most recent cosmopolitan threat to the sacred national community, much as his Tudor ancestors had risen in opposition to the Church of Rome.

William Cunningham was born in the city of Edinburgh in 1849. After studying at the Edinburgh Institution and the Academy, he attended the University of Edinburgh from 1865 until 1869, when he entered Caius College, Cambridge. His ambition during his early period of study at Edinburgh was to accept orders in the ministry of the Presbyterian Church. In 1868, however, he spent a fateful two months at the University of Tübingen. At the German university, he made the acquaintance of two American students who introduced him to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. He was much affected by his reading of it. Anglicanism attracted him with its sense of historical continuity. Therefore, despite previous ambitions, he determined to become a clergyman of the Church of England and was so ordained in 1871. His study at Tiibingen is also said to have 'influenced his conception of the State,' and to it, one of his later admirers asserted, 'may be traced his tendency to emphasize order and discipline in social life.' 4

At Cambridge, Cunningham became one of the pioneer lecturers in the university extension movement. He began his extension lecturing in 1870, just a year after entering Caius College, although his full-scale extension activity did not begin till four years later. He lectured on political economy and economic history. In 1878, Cunningham was appointed an examiner in the historical tripos at Cambridge in which a paper in economic history had been assigned. There was no one to teach the subject, however, and not even a textbook in the field, so Cunningham undertook to provide such a text, thereby setting the groundwork for the study of British economic history in British universities. It was this book -- The Growth of English Industry and Commerce in Modern Times -- published in 1882, which established his reputation as an historian. After the appearance of its first edition, Cunningham held a number of academic positions. He was University Lecturer in History at Cambridge from 1884 to 1891. In 1891,

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4

W. R. Scott, "William Cunningham, 1849-1919", Proceedings of the British Academy, 1919-1920 ( London, 1920), p. 467.

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he was appointed Tooke Professor of Economics at King's College, London, a post he held until 1897. In 1899, William Ashley, then Professor of Economic History at Harvard, invited Cunningham to join him at that university as Lecturer in the field. Cunningham's clerical duties were performed along with his academic ones during all this time. Nor were these neglected. As vicar of Great St Mary's from 1887 to 1908, he was reputed to know the names of all the children in the parish. For the last twelve years of his life, from 1908 to 1919, Cunningham served as Archdeacon of Ely. 5

But it is Cunningham the national economist and the pioneer economic historian with whom we are concerned rather than Cunningham the clergyman or teacher. More specifically, our interest is in Cunningham's rebellion against the cosmopolitan canons of classical political economy. The principal conclusion of the 'economic law' of the political economists and perhaps the chief practical reason for its existence -- was the necessity and beneficence of international Free Trade. Great Britain had been the first nation to be converted to the new doctrine and British commercial supremacy, based upon Free Trade, served as the chief support for continental schools of political economy during the nineteenth century. On the continent, however, 'natural law' economics had been effectively opposed, by mid-century, by both politicians and academicians. It had been Friedrich List who had first led the fight against the political economists. His successors had been the famous German historical school of Roscher, Schmoller, Knies, Brentano, and Nasse, who set up their historical, statistical, and inductive method in opposition to the abstract deductive method of the political economists. No longer could laissez-faire be regarded as immutable economic principle, a necessary conclusion deduced by irrefutable logic from undeniable axioms. On the contrary, the new school of historical economists appeared more sympathetic to economic paternalism. The school of Roscher and Schmoller, in fact, quickly received the sobriquet of Katheder-Sozialisten, 'socialists of the chair.' Their emphasis was national not cosmopolitan.

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5

For information concerning Cunningham's life, see H. S. Foxwell and Lilian Knowles, op. cit., pp. 382-393; Audrey Cunningham, William Cunningham: Teacher and Priest ( London: S.P.C.K., 1950).

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Their ideals were derived from the long centuries of Europe's economic past and owed more to medieval paternalism and seventeenth-century mercantilism than to the comparatively fleeting moment of nineteenth-century Cobdenism. 6

It was William Cunningham, along with Arnold Toynbee, who was to become the leader of the modern English school of historical economics, and, as we have seen, Cunningham, like his German counterparts, was a nationalist. In his textbook of economic history, he had commended mercantilism as the means by which, during the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Great Britain had increased her national power. Thus, as an adherent of the historical and inductive method, he could not believe that the political economists were sound in suggesting that Free Trade was the sole method of furthering the national interest. Nevertheless -- very much like List in the first half of the century -- Cunningham was originally convinced that, if not uniformly excellent, Free Trade was at least the best policy for Great Britain to pursue. 7 Shortly before Joseph Chamberlain began his national campaign to persuade Englishmen that Free Trade was endangering Britain's future, however, William Cunningham underwent a change of opinion and began to see the end of Free Trade's usefulness as an instrument of national policy.

A study of Cunningham's writings reveals evidence of the conversion of the Archdeacon from a nineteenth-century Free Trader to a twentieth-century protectionist. We can date this conversion with some definiteness at about 1902, although it should be noted that the seeds of Cunningham's protectionism -- a most un-Cobdenite nationalism and imperialism-were never absent even in Cunningham's 'free trade' writings. The 'fact' of conversion can be best observed by comparing the second edition of his Growth of English Industry and the fifth, the second edition appearing in 1892 and the fifth in 1910. Writing in 1892, Cunningham had seen the repeal of the Corn Laws as marking the end of the era in which the national economy was directed to the increase of national power and

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6

See List, op. cit.; for the Katheder-Sozialisten, see Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis, pp. 800-814.

7

William Cunningham, The Growth of English Industry and Commerce in Modern Times ( Cambridge, 1892), passim, and pp. 680-686. Second edition.

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the beginning of a more blessed time when economic policy would be guided by considerations of plenty and of human welfare. Patriotism had been responsible for national bitternesses and hatreds, he had written. The new cosmopolitan order which had replaced that based upon economic nationalism was more appropriate in an age in which the position of the working class was everywhere similar, an age in which, therefore, there was 'an international sympathy between the labourers of different races and languages.' 8

The Cobdenite cant of the second edition was entirely absent in the fifth. In this later edition, that of 1910, Cunningham attributed the power-goal of national economics to all of English policy from the Elizabethans up to and including Adam Smith; the tendency 'to disparage the ambition for national power' was a nineteenth-century perversion which had found 'its fullest expression in Socialism.' 9 The Cobdenite dream of international Free Trade had not been realized, he asserted. It was vain fantasy. Cunningham therefore advocated ending British trade laissez-faire and erecting a tariff system which would secure to England an ample food supply, benefit commerce, stimulate trade, and widen the tax base. 10 A specific example of Cunningham's reversal was his changing attitude toward British investment abroad. As late as 1900, he had written:

'So long as moneyed Englishmen continue to prefer their own country and make it their home, it is a matter of comparative indifference to the Government, whether their capital is invested in India, or the colonies, or in this island; it still pays its quota of revenue to the Crown.' 11

The standard here employed by Cunningham is the conventional one of nineteenth-century British capitalism -- one which emphasized wealth. After his conversion, Cunningham displayed a quite different, if not precisely contradictory, view:

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10

Ibid., pp. 869-871.

11

William Cunningham, An Essay on Western Civilization in Its Economic Aspect ( Cambridge University Press, 1913), II, p. 253.

8

Ibid., p. 681.

9

William Cunningham, The Growth of English Industry and Commerce in Modern Times ( Cambridge University Press, 1910-1912), p. 877. Fifth edition.

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'While the transference to foreign parts of an industry, which might have been carried on in Great Britain, may be profitable to the capitalists. . . it brings no advantage to the British workman. A lace factory which is built and carried on in England offers a larger direct demand for English labour than a lace mill which is built and carried on with English capital in Switzerland 12.

The 'Cobdenite' had become a Tariff Reformer. The standard of Free Trade capitalism had been replaced by the mercantilist one of national employment. It is interesting to note, though, that even where Cunningham had adhered to Cobdenite theory, his examples of alternative areas for investments are all drawn from within the British Empire.

During the time of the tariff campaign, Cunningham was a loyal member of the Unionist party. H. S. Foxwell has pronounced his position as one of 'uncompromising support of the Tariff Reform party,' adding that he was a good party man and 'did not try to insist upon his own formulation of the precise issue.' 13 He was one of the founders of the Cambridge University Tariff Reform Association and was an active member of the Compatriots Club, whose membership included the leading Tariff Reformers. Through participation in Club activities he was brought into association with such leaders in the tariff movement as Chamberlain, Garvin, Amery, Fabian Ware, Ridley, and Milner. His expert knowledge was useful to the Unionist leadership on many occasions. 14 Cunningham was a most prolific writer. He revised his Growth of English Industry and Commerce in Modern Times several times. He contributed frequently both to the Economic Review and the Economic Journal. In the last three decades of his life he published a long succession of works in which he carefully set down his views upon all phases of British politics and described his ideal of a British national life.

Cunningham was to suggest that what had changed was not so much his ideals as his method of reaching them. For some time after his conversion, he continued to call himself a Free Trader, a loyal follower of Adam Smith. He preferred to re-

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12

William Cunningham, The Causes of Labour Unrest and the Remedies For It ( London, 1912), p. 12.

13

Foxwell and Knowles, op. cit., p. 389.

14

Audrey Cunningham, op. cit., p. 104.

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gard the adoption of a tariff by Britain as a step toward the achievement of international Free Trade. The retaliatory blow of British protection would, he felt, send the unstable U.S. tariff system, erected at the expense of the producers of raw materials, reeling. 15 But we must carefully distinguish between words -- the Cobdenite cant of the second edition and his formal espousal of the ideals of international Free Trade -- and Cunningham's genuine attitude. A clue to the distinction was that, more and more, his ideals of cosmopolitanism were assuming an unearthly glow. The Archdeacon began to draw a sharp dividing line between this world and the next. The nation-state as the supreme ideal was a thing of this world: 'It can have a certain definiteness and concreteness, because the great States of the world have left material records of their achievements.' While it was 'only in religion, and in the acknowledgment of an overruling God to whom every man is responsible, that we find the condition which is most favourable to the creation of a federation of the world.' 16

It would appear that even in his 'free trade' period, the Archdeacon had never really deviated from the nationalist standard which he had accepted upon his conversion to Anglicanism. He had been a Free Trader because Free Trade seemed sound national policy, a policy designed to increase British strength. He ceased to be a Free Trader when he came to believe that a tariff was necessary to the furthering of national power. While still a Free Trader, the Archdeacon had already attached some of the more unpleasant insignia of the nationalist battle armour to his clerical garb. For example, in a volume on alien immigrants, published in 1897, at a time when he was still a 'Cobdenite' and, if logic prevailed, a believer in unrestricted immigration, his views revealed a most un-cosmopolitan xenophobia. After a discussion of the benefits that England had reaped as a result of immigration through the past centuries, Cunningham argued that England had already received all the advantages that foreigners could confer.

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15

William Cunningham, "The Failure of Free Traders to Attain Their Ideal", in Economic Review, January 1904, XIV, pp. 47-48.

16

William Cunningham, The Progress of Capitalism in England ( Cambridge University Press, 1916), p. 135.

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Certainly, Cunningham wrote, 'we have not much to gain from imitating the institutions of the Polish Jews.' 17

Nor had he adopted the anti-imperialism of the Radical Free Traders. His view during the 'nineties could be described as a 'cosmopolitan imperialism' much like that which Rosebery and Asquith were to maintain during the tariff controversy. In 1899, he wrote that Britain could not hope to survive without maintaining her imperial position. He insisted, however, that British imperialism was different from all others. England did not seek exclusive economic control over her colonies; the reason for her imperialist activities was 'not to pursue a nationalist policy of our own, but to keep neutral markets open to cosmopolitan trade and to give our own industry a fair chance.' In the eighteenth century, he suggested, British imperialism had been dominated by nationalism; in the nineteenth, Britain's cosmopolitan policy had made it possible for the entire world to reap an advantage from Britain's imperial activities. 18

During his Free Trade period, Cunningham was a man divided. His briefs for cosmopolitanism, we have noted, were contradicted by his obvious sympathy for imperialism. His nationalism was affronted by Cobdenism's insistence on free immigration. His conversion to Tariff Reform resolved the conflict. He could now speak his mind without his previous inhibitions. The Cobdenites regarded the nation as evil and selfish, and patriotism as the cause of destructive wars, he asserted. 'Such disparagement of national life' was 'idle' and 'mischievous.' The hope for an international division of labour on a Cobdenite basis was illusory. He considered 'antipatriotism' as self-centred, selfish, anarchical. 19 From nationalism flowed the virtues necessary for the construction of a society based upon social justice; 'consciousness of nationality,' Cunningham was convinced, was essential to the 'recogni-

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17

William Cunningham, Alien Immigrants to England ( London, 1897), p. 266, and passim, especially concluding chapter.

18

William Cunningham, "English Imperialism" in Atlantic Monthly, July 1899, LXXXIV, pp. 1-7.

19

William Cunningham, Christianity and Economic Science ( London, 1914), pp. 56-57.

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tion of a Common Weal throughout a given territorial area.' 20

After his rejection of Free Trade economics, there was a marked change of tone in his conception of imperialism. Cunningham now played the part of a battle chaplain sending the faithful on to conquest for the greater glory of king and country. To justify its existence, he wrote, England must cherish 'a high national ideal' and must train its people to live up to that ideal. 'It was the glory of the Elizabethan age,' he continued, 'that Englishmen awoke to a sense of a national mission to exercise an active influence for good on distant peoples.' In the eighteenth century, the British people were aroused 'to a new sense of collective responsibility for the millions of India, and began to endeavour to train and guide them so that they might attain their full development, and be able to contribute their own quota of thought to the life of the great world.' This was Britain's national mission. Racial differences were so deep that any talk of a personal sense of brotherhood was foolish and 'ineffective.' The welfare of mankind could be promoted only by the fulfilment of such a mission as was Britain's. 21 The entire history of Great Britain, her great national tradition of civic probity and integrity, made her especially 'qualified to take up the white man's burden among the uncivilised races of mankind.' This tradition and the British 'sense of imperial duty' transformed the nature of British imperialism, making it considerably more than the mere struggle for power and profit. 22

Britons must keep in mind, he warned, the obligations that went hand-in-hand with their imperial mission. The Archdeacon had a short-way with the conscientious pacifist. They were 'bad citizens' who were 'anxious to enjoy all the advantages of life in a community, while at the same time they claim a right to act on their own judgment, and to defy the General Will. 23 Since they had the duty of bringing and enforcing law and order among the peoples under their sway, the English must retain the military character of the state.

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20

William Cunningham, The Common Weal ( Cambridge University Press, 1917), p. 6.

21

Cunningham, Christianity and Economic Science, pp. 96-99.

22

William Cunningham, The Case Against Free Trade ( London: J. Murray, 1911), pp. 10, 4-5.

23

Cunningham, The Common Weal, p. 108.

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An imperial nation could not afford to be pacifistic or cosmopolitan. 24

Since England would undoubtedly have to call upon her sons to defend, and possibly to extend, the Empire, in pursuit of its imperial mission, Cunningham was convinced that certain steps would have to be taken at home so that all classes most particularly the working class, whose loyalty seemed at times in doubt -- would be both able and willing to fight. As a clergyman, Cunningham had given much thought to the moral and religious issues inherent in social problems. He regarded himself as a disciple of F. D. Maurice, the mid-nineteenthcentury Christian Socialist. 25 Early Christianity had had a definite bias against wealth, and many latter-day Christians had come to 'socialism' as a result of study of Scripture. For Cunningham, however, despite his professed 'socialism,' private property was 'sacred.' The propertied man was the steward of the Lord. 'It is not our place,' declared the Archdeacon, '. . . to judge His servants, or re-allot the charge He has given them.' 26 But, if the owner of property was the steward of the Lord, he must be expected to exercise thrift and prudence in caring for his charge and must devote his property to carrying out 'his Master's known wishes.' The man of wealth was urged to apply his property 'for the greatest good of others.' 27 Everyone, furthermore, had the duty to work -- though Cunningham was a little uncertain as to whether this duty was owed God or to the Nation-State. The rich, too, although not compelled to work in order to live, must not be idle. They, too, must serve the national community -- but they enjoyed the privilege of being able to choose how to be of service. 28 The selfishness of 'a large section' of the wealthy classes had led to an undiscriminating resentment of all the rich, 'whether they are doing the duties of their station or not.' 29 The socialists played

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24

William Cunningham, "The Economic Basis of Universal Peace Cosmopolitan or International"? in Economic Review, January 1913, XXIII, p. 9.

25

F. R. Salter, "Preface", Audrey Cunningham, op. cit., p. ix-x.

26

William Cunningham, The Church's Duty in Relation to the Sacredness of Property ( Cambridge, Mass., 1895), pp. 6-9.

27

Ibid., pp. 7-8.

28

Cunningham, Causes of Labour Unrest, p. 28.

29

Ibid., p. 13.

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upon this resentment in very destructive fashion, the economist-clergyman warned.

For Cunningham, socialism, that form at least which promoted class conflict, was the principal enemy of the nationstate. He was convinced that although the immediate interests of master and man might seem to be opposed to each other, their permanent interests were identical. The relationship between employer and employee must not be seen as a struggle, he urged, but as a co-partnership. 30 Cunningham's proposed solution for the social problem was the widespread adoption of Sir George Livesey's scheme for 'co-partnership' then in operation in the gas companies, a plan which had been designed to stem the rising tide of municipalization of such utilities. Such an arrangement brought 'to the front the interests which masters and men have in common.' 31 Of course, the 'co-partnership' principle and that of trade unionism were at variance, and, while proclaiming his desire to further the interests of the working classes-interests he believed to be identical with those of the nation-Cunningham struck out directly at the unions who, in their supposed pursuit of the 'working-class interest,' were, he declared, endangering the common good. 'The consideration of interests,' he warned the unions, 'can never be a substitute for a sense of national duty and of personal duty.' 32 All groups had understood this vital principle. Only the trade unions had failed to appreciate it and were constantly battling for petty immediate gains at the expense of the national welfare. Cunningham was quite concerned when the Liberal parliament of 1906 passed the Trade Disputes Act which removed certain restrictions from trade union activity. He believed the new law placed the unions in a position of 'irresponsible power.' 33

Despite his often proclaimed allegiance to the 'ultimate' realization of international Free Trade, Cunningham's references to the doctrine became more and more bitter as the years passed. Free Trade, he asserted, had been 'generated

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30

William Cunningham, Politics and Economics, An Essay on the Nature of the Principles of Political Economy, Together with a Survey of Recent Legislation ( London, 1885), p. 238.

31

Cunningham, Causes of Labour Unrest, p. 18.

32

Cunningham, Christianity and Politics, pp. 208-216.

33

Cunningham, Causes of Labour Unrest, p. 21.

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with a vein of class-hatred' which like socialism and trade unionism could easily become a threat to society. The Cobdenites' constant maligning of the capitalists and the landowners was proof of their affinity for 'the destructive side of Socialism.' 'From inculcating on the elector carelessness about maintenance of the existing order so long as his needs are satisfied,' he believed, 'there is but a step to encouraging him to destroy that order with the view of satisfying more of his needs.' 34

How then was happiness to be brought to the discontented if the socialist, the Liberal, and the trade union solutions were to be ruled out as unpatriotic and un-Christian? Discontent was largely a 'personal' matter, Cunningham insisted. It was the duty of Christianity, the duty of the Church, to eliminate such discontent 'by striving to awaken and maintain a stronger sense of duty in all the members of the community.' 35 The national Church was to be the hand-maiden of the NationState.

Yet despite his middle-class Victorian suspicion of working men and trade unions, Cunningham, in neo-mercantilist fashion, was concerned about the welfare of the working classes. Like Viscount Milner, Cunningham was much upset by 'sweating' and regarded it as 'a standing warning against the dangers which are inherent in unregulated competition.' 36 Like all his colleagues of Tariff Reform persuasion, he was an advocate of a producer-oriented economics: 'the mere consumer appears to be an idle person battening on the labour of other people.' 37 More important than these matters, and constituting a most significant link with the thought of fellow mercantilist economists like H. J. Mackinder, was Cunningham's adoption of the sufficiency or insufficiency of employment as a principal criterion of a sound national life. Like Mackinder, he feared England's following the tragic course of imperial Rome which had failed to find productive employment for its population and was forced to live in parasitic fashion upon

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34

Cunningham, Case Against Free Trade, pp. 115-116.

35

Cunningham, Causes of Labour Unrest, p. 26.

36

William Cunningham, Christianity and Social Questions ( London: Duckworth 1910), p. 123.

37

William Cunningham, The Rise and Decline of the Free Trade Movement ( Cambridge, 1905), pp. 9-10.

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the sinews of its colonies. He wished his countrymen to be employed producing goods and not simply playing the part of middle-man, however prosperous. Before the political economists had adopted the practice of surveying trade balances to measure the prosperity of the country, the older economists, he asserted, had set up a wiser standard. For them 'a vigorous population' was the most important condition for the material progress of the nation. Now again, Cunningham noted with approval, 'the question of the effectiveness of our population for industrial or military pursuits is once more attracting the attention it deserves.' 38

Cunningham's ideas on social reform and imperialism placed him with those Liberal-Imperialists who were interested in the breeding of an 'imperial race,' as well as with the Tariff Reformers who felt that the working class owed its prosperity to the empire and ought to make sacrifices to maintain it if they expected to have good jobs at good pay. Imperial needs were of course paramount, but Cunningham emphasized that a programme of social reform was in its own way essential to the maintenance of the empire. 'It should be our ideal,' he wrote, 'to render the rising generation, in all classes of our population, fit for work, and for responsibility, in some part of the Empire overseas.' Vigorous, healthy British manhood was needed to replenish the population of the self-governing dominions and must be made fit to take up 'the white man's burden in the dependencies.' 39 The Tariff Reformers, Cunningham believed, had these higher goals in view. The Cobdenite political economists were, on the other hand, only concerned with the profits of the moment, entirely unmindful of the ideal of a better national life or of their debt to posterity. The aim of the national economists, on the other hand, was the husbanding of the nation's resources so as 'to sustain and prolong our national life.' 40

This Apostle of the National Life hammered constantly at the themes of national mission, national duty, and national prosperity. His enemies, the little satans and beelzebubs in his nationalist and imperialist theology -- the pro-Boer pacifists, the

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38

Cunningham, Politics and Economics, p. 159.

39

Cunningham, Case Against Free Trade, pp. 136-137.

40

Cunningham, Politics and Economics, pp. 273-275.

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City of London cosmopolitans, the nation-splitting socialists and trade unionists -- seemed determined to undermine the centuries-long work of creating the British national community. His study of history had proved to Cunningham the strength, the endurance, and the beauty of national ideals. His study of the word of God had proved that the Lord meant men to live within Nation-States. The Cobdenites, by refusing to understand the will of God and the lesson of History and by maintaining their allegiance to the false idol of cosmopolitanism, would, he feared, bring about the destruction of the British people.

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