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

Download 2.02 Mb.
Size2.02 Mb.
1   ...   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   ...   31


The following year -- in September 1901 -- Sidney Webb continued to identify the Fabian Society with imperialism, and in particular with the Liberal-Imperialists, in an article for the Nineteenth Century and After, celebrating Lord Rosebery's sharp, formal, public disavowal, earlier in the year, of the Gladstone, Harcourt, Morley school of liberalism. Webb, in his ' Lord Rosebery's Escape from Houndsditch' took the occasion to make a similar disavowal of the socialists whose reaction to the Boer War, he felt, had proved that they had no



Ibid., p. 6.


Ibid., pp. 7-13, passim.


Ibid., pp. 39-41.

effective foreign or imperial policy. 'Outside the two spheres of labour and local government the majority of the Socialist leaders proved to be, notably with regard to the British Empire,' Webb wrote, 'mere administrative Nihilists -- that is to say . . . ultra-Gladstonian, old-Liberal to the finger tips.' 'They outmorleyed Mr Morley,' and as a result the Independent Labour Party was now 'as hopelessly out of the running as the Gladstonian Party.' On the issue of the Empire, Hyndman of the Social Democratic Federation and Keir Hardie of the I.L.P. 'find themselves, in fact, by honest conviction' sharing the same platform as the Liberal anti-imperialists. 50 This would never do for the new England, an England which understood the need for 'the deliberate organization of the Empire,' an England in which 'the shopkeeper or the manufacturer sees his prosperity wax or wane, his own industry and sagacity remaining the same, according to the good government of his city, the efficiency with which his nation is organized, and the influence which his Empire is able to exercise in the councils, and consequently in the commerce, of the world.' 51

Lord Rosebery's disavowal of official Liberalism, Webb regarded as 'the first step towards the regeneration of the Opposition' -- 'a live Opposition.' 52 Webb, like Rosebery, called for the formation of a new party, a party of 'National Efficiency,' a party which would remove slums, destroy the sweated trades, eliminate inefficiency in government, recapture British commercial supremacy, support 'a "National Minimum" standard of life' to help gird industry for trade competition, advocate sanitary reform (at least 'the minimum necessary for breeding an even moderately Imperial race?'), poor law reform, housing reform ('How, even, can we get an efficient army-out of the stunted, anaemic, demoralised denizens of the slum tenements of our great cities'), educational reform ('It is in the classrooms . . . that the future battles of the Empire for commercial prosperity are being already lost'), and the reorganization of the war office. 53 The people wanted 'virility in govern-



Sidney Webb, "Lord Rosebery's Escape From Houndsditch", Nineteenth Century and After, No. CCXCV, September 1901, p. 374.


Ibid., p. 369.


Ibid., p. 366.


Ibid., pp. 375-385.

ment,' Webb proclaimed and looked toward Rosebery, toward Asquith, Haldane, and Grey to convince them that the Liberal-Imperialists really desired to introduce 'the principle of National Efficiency' into government. The people already knew that the Liberal-Imperialists meant well by the Empire. The working class now wanted to know 'what steps' the followers of Rosebery would 'take to insure the rearing of an Imperial race.'

Worried lest the Liberal-Imperialists create their new party of national efficiency without Fabian aid, Webb concluded his article by reminding Rosebery that 'such a campaign' as he had undertaken was no one-man task. 'It involves,' the Fabian leader asserted, 'the close co-operation of a group of men of diverse temperaments and varied talents, imbued with a common faith and a common purpose, and eager to work out, and severally to expound, how each department of national life can be raised to its highest possible efficiency.' 54 A little over a year after the publication of these words, Sidney and Beatrice Webb decided to call together such a group of men of 'varied talents' but 'common faith' and 'common purpose' to plan, in the words of one of the members of the group, the aims and methods of Imperial policy.' 55

We have noted that one of the watchwords of British socialimperialism was efficiency; its principal enemy was the Liberal spirit of 'muddling through,' as a consequence of which, the social-imperialists believed, the British Empire was approaching irrevocable disaster. Benjamin Kidd had called for socialefficiency, so had Karl Pearson. The Boer War had revealed the seemingly boundless depths of ineffectiveness which both bureaucracy and armed services could reach, and had revealed as well a Great Britain virtually friendless in a jealous world and therefore requiring a greater degree of readiness for combat than at any time since the defeat of Napoleon. Rosebery had made 'efficiency' his watchword during the course of the Boer War. Joseph Chamberlain was to take up the cry a few years later. Sidney and Beatrice Webb determined to form a new political grouping -- perhaps a 'brains



Ibid., pp. 385-386.


W. A. S. Hewins, The Apologia of An Imperialist ( London, 1929), I, p. 65.

trust' for a new political party -- which would be dedicated to the cause of efficiency in all areas. Hence the name of the group -- one coined by Beatrice Webb -- the Coefficients.

One of the Unionist members of the Coefficients has described the Webbs' motives in establishing the group in this fashion. 'That indefatigable pair, Sidney and Beatrice Webb,' he has recently written in his memoirs, 'were much more concerned with getting their ideas of the welfare state put into practice by any one who might be prepared to help, even on the most modest scale, than with the early triumph of an avowedly Socialist Party.' 56. Not only Grey and Haldane, among the Liberal-Imperialists, but the Unionist Prime Minister, Arthur Balfour, had indicated sympathy with the Webbs' programme, and the Webbs cultivated all these persons. The ostensible purpose of the Coefficients was to discuss the 'aims and methods of Imperial policy.' 'There was, after all,' this same observer has pointed out, 'nothing so very unnatural, as Chamberlain's own career had shown, in a combination of Imperialism in external affairs with municipal socialism or semi-socialism at home.' But if such a combined programme -- and it was, as we shall see, essentially a social-imperialist programme -- was to eventuate, it had to be thought out by a carefully selected body of men, 'a Brains Trust or General Staff.' 57

It was early in November 1902 that Sidney and Beatrice Webb invited a group of their 'friends' to their already famous home at 41 Grosvenor Road to join the small dining club to be called the Coefficients. Each of the men was to be an 'expert' in a special field, and the Webbs had decided that no more than a dozen persons ought to be invited. The dozen assembled for their first regular meeting on December 8, 1902, at the home of the Liberal-Imperialist barrister and a close friend of the Webbs, Richard Burdon Haldane, who was to be the club's expert on the law. (Later meetings were held in the Ship Tavern in Whitehall and at St Ermin's Hotel.) Other 'experts' were Sir Edward Grey for foreign policy; the economist and Liberal-Imperialist politician, regarded by many as 'a coming man' in the Liberal party, H. J. Mackinder,



L. S. Amery, My Political Life ( London: Hutchinson, 1953), I, p. 223.


Ibid., p. 223.

then a Reader in geography at Oxford who 'represented' Liberal-Imperialism; Sir Clinton Dawkins, a gentleman who had held government offices in all parts of the empire and who was at that time a partner in the financial house of J. S. Morgan and Company, represented finance; W. A. S. Hewins, the Director of the London School of Economics, founded by the Fabians, represented economics; B ertrand Russell, a grandson of the great nineteenth-century British prime minister, was the expert in science; the editor of the National Review, Leopold Maxse, represented journalism; a recently retired naval officer who had begun to write on naval questions for the press, Carlyon Bellairs, was the club's naval expert; L. S. Amery , The Times' chief Boer War correspondent who was a keen advocate of army reform, was the club's military expert; Sidney Webb -- a long-time member of the London County Council -- was of course present as the expert on municipal affairs; W. Pember Reeves, the Agent General in London for the New Zealand Government, spoke for the colonies; and H. G. Wells, already one of the more famous of the contemporary novelists, represented literature. The count revealed that about half-a-dozen of the Coefficients were attached to the Liberal-Imperialist group, two to the Fabian Society, and the others were Conservatives dedicated to forsaking traditional methods in the interest of efficiency. 58

H. G. Wells has discussed the Coefficients at some length in his autobiography and the group appears as the 'Pentagram Circle' in the novel, The New Machiavelli. In his autobiography, Wells has related how foreign the extreme imperialism of certain members of the group had seemed both to him and to Bertrand Russell. At one of the dinner meetings, Russell, after listening to a series of fanatical statements about the empire, had insisted that there were many things he valued above the empire, that for example 'he would rather wreck the Empire than sacrifice freedom.' Russell realized that some of the other members of the club strongly disapproved of his position and he felt obliged to resign. Wells himself had not been present at this exchange. When the incident was reported to him at the subsequent meeting, Wells asserted that he agreed with Russell. 'The Empire,' he added, 'was a convenience



Ibid., p. 224; H. G. Wells, Autobiography, pp. 761-2.

and not a God.' This is what Wells reported followed his statement: ' Hewins in protest was almost lyrical. He loved the Empire. He could no more say why he loved the Empire than a man could say why he loved his wife. I ought to resign.' Wells, characteristically, refused to leave unless he were thrown out. He was not. 59 He was at that time too much of an imperialist to have merited such treatment. 60

In The New Machiavelli, Wells described other matters which concerned the 'Pentagram Circle.' First, there was democracy; a typical Coefficient view of democracy was that of Oscar Bailey ( Sidney Webb who declared it a sham behind which civil servants ruled. Then there was the club's estimate of the international situation. The members of the Pentagram Circle were convinced that 'a day of reckoning with Germany' was in the offing. The Germans were ahead of the English because they were more efficient: ' Germany is beating England in every matter upon which competition is possible, because she attended sedulously to her collective mind for sixty pregnant years, because in spite of tremendous defects she is still far more anxious for quality in achievement than we are.' Inevitably, the Pentagram members were 'very keen on military organization' and, Wells added, 'with a curious little martinet twist in their minds that boded ill for that side of public liberty.' On the other hand, 'they were disposed to spend money much more generously on education and research of all sorts than our formless host of Liberals seemed likely to do.' 61

Speaking of real-life Coefficients, Russell confirmed Wells' description of anticipation, 'without too much apprehension,' of war with Germany. Russell has also told us that at one meeting of the club, Sir Edward Grey, then of course not yet in office, had advocated an entente with France and Russia, a policy 'which was adopted by the Conservative Government



See H. G. Wells, Autobiography, p. 765; also Bertrand Russell, Portraits from Memory and Other Essays ( London: Allen & Unwin, 1956), pp. 76-77.


See Earle Edward Mead, "H. G. Wells, British Patriot in Search of a World State", in Earle Edward Mead, ed., Nationalism and Internationalism ( London: Oxford University Press, 1950), pp. 79-121.


H. G. Wells, The New Machiavelli ( London: Collins, 1911), pp. 352-3, 338-9.

some two years later, and solidified by Sir Edward Grey when he became Foreign Secretary.' 62 In addition, we know that members of the Coefficients, Amery in particular, were strong supporters of Earl Roberts' National Service League and that Haldane was one of the chief advocates of the view that the British educational system ought to be more efficiently organized, organized in fact like that of Germany.

Perhaps we ought to take a closer look at some of the men who were the original members of the Coefficients. One of the most curious was Leopold James Maxse. After Harrow and King's College, Cambridge, where he took a second in the historical tripos of 1886 but never his degree, and where he was president of the union, Maxse had spent a year travelling through the British Empire -- India, Australia, New Zealand, Canada. He had returned home a fervent imperialist. His ambition had been the bar and parliament, but when a serious illness made these goals impossible, his father, Admiral Frederick Augustus Maxse, purchased the National Review for his son so as to provide for him a career fitted to his impaired health. The politics of the journal were grounded upon the politics of Admiral Maxse, a remarkable gentleman who served as George Meredith's model for the hero of Beauchamp's Career. The Admiral had been a disappointed Liberal parliamentary aspirant, a close friend of Joseph Chamberlain who had joined Chamberlain in withdrawing from the Liberal party on the issue of Home Rule. It would appear that as early as the 'seventies, the Admiral had spoken with Chamberlain concerning the possibility of forming an English National Party. 63 Was his son now to help realize this goal through the Coefficients?

The Admiral and his son made the National Review a faithful advocate of Chamberlain and his policies. In a famous article, 'Judas,' in 1893, in which he lauded Chamberlain, the Admiral presented the crucial elements of both the imperialist and social-imperial creeds. 64 For over a decade before Cham-



Russell, op. cit., p. 77.


Viscountess Milner, 'Mr. Chamberlain's Letters to Admiral Maxse, 1872-1889, in National Review, February 1933, C., pp. 248-255.


Admiral Maxse, "Judas", National Review, September 1893, XXII, pp. 104-114.

berlain's espousal of Tariff Reform, the Review was publishing articles advocating protection. 65 Nor was the National Review remiss in warning England of its foreign enemies, particularly Germany. 66 When Sir Alfred Milner, in 1899, offered Leopold the editorship of South Africa's Cape Times, young Maxse had replied: 'I must stay in England to warn people of the German danger.' 67 Leopold -- the Admiral died in 1900 -- devoted himself steadfastly to this goal until 1914. Many in England tended to dismiss Maxse as a crank, referred to him as 'that lunatic Leo', and suggested that he had ' Germany on the brain.' Certain aspects of his behaviour did indeed resemble lunacy. A friend, Lord Newton, in an obituary article, has described, for example, how Maxse, a frequent guest, persisted in believing that a mild German lady employed in Newton's home as a governess, was in reality a dangerous spy! The columns of the National Review advocated the construction of an alliance with France and Russia from the very beginning of the century. 68

Another Coefficient was Leopold Amery. Amery had had charge of The Times correspondence during the Boer War in 1899-1900 and was, in 1902, engaged in editing The Times History of the War in South Africa. Born in India, educated at Harrow and Balliol, Amery had, while at Oxford, been thought a socialist -- he had even helped in founding an Oxford branch of the Fabian Society. But what was persistent in his political attitudes was not socialism but his opposition to laissez-faire. Out of Oxford, he became political private secretary to Beatrice Webb's brother-in-law, the Radical Leonard Courtney. After his return from the war in South Africa, Amery set out to secure reform, much needed reform, of the army which he had seen in battle. He wrote a series of articles



See, for example, F. N. Maude, "Imperial Insurance", National Review, January 1894, XXII, pp. 601-611; C. E. Howard Vincent, "The Colonies and the Empire", National Review, September 1894, XXIV, pp. 23-28.


See Leopold J. Maxse, "Germany on the Brain"; or, The Obsession of 'A Crank'; Gleanings from the National Review, 1899-1914 ( London, 1915).


See Viscount Milner's article on Maxse in D.N.B., 1931-1940, p. 607.


See H. W. Wilson, "L. J. Maxse As Editor", and Lord Newton, "L. J. Maxse As I Knew Him", in National Review, February, 1933, C, pp. 175-187.

in The Times on the problem, articles which attracted the approving attention of Colonial Secretary Chamberlain himself. 69 During the next several years, Amery was to do a good deal of speaking and writing on behalf of Lord Roberts' National Service League as well as to make several attempts to enter parliament as a supporter of Chamberlain's policies.

Sir Clinton Dawkins -- the Coefficients' financial expert -- was an ex-bureaucrat born into a family of bureaucrats. His father had served in the foreign office. He himself, after Cheltenham College and Balliol, had entered the India Office in 1884 and had risen to become Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for India two years later. In 1889, he had served in a similar capacity to Chancellor of the Exchequer Goschen, then he went to Egypt in 1895 as Under-Secretary of State for Finance, was Financial Member of the Council of the GovernorGeneral of India in 1899, and became the chairman of the Committee on War Office Reorganization in 1901. In 1900, the imperial bureaucrat -- and a leading Liberal-Imperialist -had been made a partner in the financial house of J. S. Morgan & Co.

Carlyon Bellairs -- the group's naval expert -- was a son of a lieutenant-general in the army who nonetheless made his own career in the navy. He had entered the Royal Navy in 1884, at the age of thirteen, studied at the Royal Naval College, and retired as a Torpedo Lieutenant in 1902. The Navy remained his overwhelming interest. During the years immediately after his retirement, during the years he attended the meetings of the Coefficients, he acted as a special correspondent on naval manoeuvres for The Times. In addition, he served as the Vicechairman of the Navy League and as the founder of the Parliamentary Navy Committee. He was an active LiberalImperialist. In 1906, Bellairs was to be elected Liberal M.P. from Kings Lynn. As early as 1902, however, he seemed to Bertrand Russell 'half-way on the journey from the old party to the new one,' 70 the Unionist party, which he joined in 1909, very much like the hero in Wells' New Machiavelli. Also among the original twelve Coefficients was William Pem-



See Amery, op. cit., I, passim and L. C. M. S. Amery, The Problem of the Army ( London, 1903).


Russell, op. cit., p. 76.

ber Reeves, a socialist and a member of the Fabian Society. Born in New Zealand, he had been sent by its socialist government to be Agent-General in London. There he became associated with the Webbs and was to succeed two of his fellow Coefficients -- Hewins and Mackinder -- as Director of the London School of Economics.

During the years that followed, the Coefficients continued to meet fairly regularly, once each month, up until 1908. New members were added to the group. The most prominent of these, perhaps, was Viscount Milner who joined the Coefficients soon after his return from South Africa. Milner, in many ways, was a hero to all segments of the Coefficients and, as we shall note, a well-nigh perfect expression of socialimperialism. In 1904, Henry Newbolt, the poet-editor of Monthly Review -- it survived by only a few months his admission to the Coefficients -- joined the Liberal-Imperialists within the group. Newbolt was to be the collaborator in the writing of the official History of the Great War: Naval Operations of still another Coefficient, the naval historian and celebrator of the exploits of Drake and Nelson, Julian Corbett. Frederick Scott Oliver, the biographer of the father of the American national system, Alexander Hamilton, was invited to dine with the Coefficients in 1907, the year after his book on Hamilton had been published. The journalist, perhaps the most famous one of his day, J. L. Garvin, was a later addition to the club; so was the biographer of Disraeli, W. F. Monypenny; the noted expert on Indian economics, Theodore Morison; Amery's successor as the military expert of The Times, Charles Reppington; the chairman of the South Africa Company, Sir Henry Birchenough; and there were others. During the last days of the Coefficients, a third Fabian, Bernard Shaw, was admitted. 71

An important question concerning the Coefficients remains to be answered; why did not the Coefficients succeed in becoming the brains trust of a new social-imperial political party as the Webbs had hoped it would? Why had it remained simply a dining club, composed of rather remarkable and influential men, true, but still a dining club? There are no doubt



See Amery, My Political Life, pp. 225-226; Wells, Autobiography, pp. 761-5.

many reasons for the failure of the Webb design. The most obvious one was Joseph Chamberlain's Tariff Reform campaign which divided English social-imperialists and consequently split the Coefficients. In his autobiography, W. A. S. Hewins has written concerning the intrusion of the snake into Eden. Hewins had been born a Roman Catholic but told friends that he had substituted a faith in the British Empire for his faith in the Church. He was absolutely convinced that Free Trade would be the ruin of his beloved Empire. There are grounds for believing that he, more than any other single individual, was responsible for convincing Chamberlain to campaign for Tariff Reform in May 1903. 72 At the third meeting of the Coefficients, January 1903, Hewins introduced the subject of preferential tariffs. 'Present divisions of opinion came out"very clearly,' he noted, 'and Amery and Maxse were the only two who genuinely supported my views.' 73

After Chamberlain made his crucial speech of May 15, 1903, the issue became the most pressing one among the Coefficients. The Coefficients remained united in their goal of an efficiently organized empire, but how was that goal to be achieved? Amery has related how he was at work in his Times office the day after the Chamberlain speech when Leopold Maxse burst in, 'seizing both my hands in his he waltzed me round the room as he poured forth a paean of jubilation at the thought that, at last, there was a cause to work for in politics.' 74 The Liberal-Imperialists were torn between allegiance to their party's traditional adherence to free trade and their desire for a strengthened empire. Both Amery and Hewins testify to Sir Edward Grey's wavering before choosing to remain faithful to Liberalism. Halford Mackinder ruined a promising future within the Liberal party when he allowed himself to be converted to Tariff Reform. 75 The Fabians appeared to be covertly sympathetic to the new Chamberlain policy, but their ties to socialism or, perhaps, to LiberalImperialism did not permit actual acceptance. In his novel, Wells has noted that the members of the Pentagram Circle



Russell, op. cit., p. 76.


Howins, op. cit., I, pp. 65-66.


Amery, My Political Life, I, pp. 237-238.


Ibid., p. 224; Hewins, op. cit., I, p. 69.

were nearly 'all mysteriously and inexplicably advocates of Tariff Reform, as if it were the principal instead of at best a secondary aspect of constructive policy.' 76

Since Tariff Reform was to be the leading political issue of the next three elections, all chances of a unified political approach for the original dozen Coefficients, with its few staunch Unionists, its Liberal-Imperialists, and their national socialist allies were doomed to failure -- and with it the dream of both Rosebery and the Fabians for a party of national efficiency.



Wells, New Machiavelli, p. 338.


Download 2.02 Mb.

Share with your friends:
1   ...   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   ...   31

The database is protected by copyright © 2022
send message

    Main page