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NINE ΤΕ ΕΝ ΤΗ
No. CXI.- MAY 1886.
THE NADIR OF LIBERALISM.
DEMAS bath forsaken me'-so the deserted and dejected Muse of Literature may say— Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and hath betaken himself to this or that constituency.' It is now more than fifteen years since I exhorted my young literary and intellectual friends, the lights of Liberalism, not to be rushing into the arena of politics themselves, but rather to work inwardly upon the predominant force in our politics—the great middle classand to cure its spirit. From their Parliamentary mind, I said, there is little hope; it is in getting at their real mind, and making it work honestly, that all our hope lies. For from the boundedness and backwardness of their spirit, I urged, came the inadequacy of our politics ; and by no Parliamentary action, but by an inward working only, could this spirit and our politics be made better. My exhortations were as fruitless as good advice usually is. The great Parliamentary machine has gone creaking and grinding on, grinding to much the same result as formerly. But instead of keeping aloof, and trying to set up an inward working on the middle-class spirit, more and more of one's promising young friends of former days have been tempted to put their hands to the machine; and there one sees them now, helping to grind --all of them zealous, all of them intelligent, some of them brilliant and leading.
What has been ground, what has been produced with their help? Really very much the same sort of thing which was produced without it. Certainly our situation has not improved, has not become more solid and prosperous, since I addressed to my friends, fifteen years ago, that well-meant but unavailing advice to work inwardly on the VOL. XIX.–No. 111.
great Philistine middle class, the master-force in our politics, and to cure its spirit. At that time I had recently been abroad, and the criticism which I heard abroad on England's politics and prospects was what I took for my text in the first political essay with which I ventured to approach my friends and the public. The middle class and its Parliament were then in their glory. Liberal newspapers heaped praise on the middle-class mind, which penetrates through sophisms, ignores commonplaces, and gives to conventional illusions their true value ;' ministers of State heaped praise on the great, the heroic work' performed by the middle-class Parliament. But the foreigners made light of our middle-class mind, and, instead of finding our political performance admirable and successful, declared that it seemed to them, on the other hand, that the era for which we had possessed the secret was over, and that a new era, for which we had not the secret, was beginning. Just now I have again been abroad, and under present circumstances I found that the estimate of England's action and success under a Liberal Government had, not unnaturally, sunk lower still. The hesitancy, imbecility, and failure of England's action abroad, it was said, have become such as to delight all her enemies, and to throw all her friends into consternation. England's foreign policy, said some clever man, reminds me of nothing so much as of Retz's character of the Duke of Orleans, brother to Louis the Thirteenth : 'There was a wide distance, with him, between wishing and willing, between willing and resolving, between resolving and the choice of means, between the choice of means and the putting them in execution. But what was most wonderful of all, it frequently happened that he came to a sudden stop even in the midst of the putting into excecution. There, said the speaker, is a perfect prophecy of England in Egypt! At home we had Ireland; to name Ireland is enough. We had the obstructed and paralysed House of Commons. Then, finally, came the news one morning of the London street-mobs and street-riots, heightening yet further the impression of our impotence and disarray. The recent trial and acquittal of the mob-orators will probably complete it.
With very many of those who thus spoke, with all the best and most important of them at any rate, malicious pleasure in our misfortunes, and gratified envy, were not the uppermost feelings; indeed, they were not their feelings at all. Do not think, they earnestly said, that we rejoice at the confusion and disablement of England; there may be some, no doubt, who do; perhaps there are many. We do not. England has been to us a cynosure, a tower, a pride, a consolation; we rejoiced in her strength ; we rested much of our hope for the Continent upon her weight and influence there. The decline of her weight and influence we feel as a personal loss and sorrow. That they have declined, have well-nigh disappeared, no one who uses his eyes can doubt. And now, in addition, what are we to think of the posture of your affairs at home? Wbat is it all coming to? It seems as if you were more and more getting among the breakers, drifting towards the shoals and the rocks. Can it really be so ? and is the great and noble ship going to break to pieces ?
No, I answered; it is not going to break to pieces. There are sources, I trust, of deliverance and safety which you do not perceive. I agree with you, however, that our foreign policy has been that of people who fumble because they cannot make up their mind, and who cannot make up their mind because they do not know what to be after. I have said so, and I have said why it is and must be so : because this policy reflects the dispositions of middle-class Liberalism, with its likes and dislikes, its effusion and confusion, its hot and cold fits, its want of dignity and of the steadfastness which comes from dignity, its want of ideas and of the steadfastness which comes from ideas. I agree, too, that the House of Commons is a scandal, and Ireland a crying danger. I agree that monster processions and monster meetings in the public streets and parks are the letting out of anarchy, and that our weak dealing with them is deplorable. I myself think all this, and have often, too often, said it. But the mass of our Liberals of the middle and lower classes do not see it at all. Their range of vision and of knowledge is too bounded. They are hardly even conscious that the House of Commons is a scandal or that Ireland is a crying danger. If it suited their favourite minister to tell them that neither the one nor the other allegation is true, they would believe him. As to foreign policy, of course it does suit him to tell them that the allegation that England has lost weight and influence is not true. And when the minister, or when one of his ardent young officials on their promotion, more dauntless than the minister himself, boldly assures them that England has not at all lost weight and influence abroad, and that our foreign policy has been sagacious, consistent, and successful, they joyfully believe him. Or when one of their minister's colleagues assures them that the late disturbances were of no importance, a mere accident which will never happen again, and that monster processions and monster meetings in the public streets and parks are proper and necessary things, which neither can be prohibited nor ought to be probibited, they joyfully believe him. And with us in England, although not in the great world outside of England, those who thus think or say that all is well are the majority. They may say it, replied the speaker already mentioned, who has a turn for quotation; they may say it. But the answer for them is the answer made by Sainte-Beuve to M. Rouher asserting that all was well with the Second Empire in its closing years : “He may say so if he pleases, but he deceives himself, and he thinks contrary to the general opinion.'
Yet surely there must be something to give ground to our prevalent notion of Mr. Gladstone as a great and successful minister. Not only the rank and file, the unthinking multitude, of the Liberal party, have it and proclaim it, but the leaders, the intelligent and educated men, embrace it just as confidently. Lord Ripon speaks of 'the policy we might expect from the glorious antecedents of Mr. Gladstone.' Professor Thorold Rogers calls him that veteran statesman with fifty years of victory behind him.' Mr. Reginald Brett says that any scheme for Ireland which he produces will be a scheine based on his unrivalled experience of the art of government.' Mr. John Morley says that in his great abilities and human sympathy will be found the only means capable of solving the great Irish question.' Sir Horace Davey will not hesitate to say that he has confidence in Mr. Gladstone, and that he believes the country also has confidence in Mr. Gladstone. The Liberals of England would not soon withdraw their confidence from that illustrious statesman, who had so often led them to victory. Surely there must be some fourdation or other for this chorus of eulogy and confidence. Surely there must have been great success of some kind, surely there must hare been victory.
Most certainly there has been victory. But has there been success? The two things are often confounded together, and in the popular estimate of Mr. Gladstone we have a signal instance of the confusion. He has been victorious, true; he has conquered, he has carried his measures. But he has not been successful. For what is success for a statesman; is it merely carrying his measures? The vulgar may think so, but a moment's reflection will tell us that the vulgar are wrong; that success for a statesman is succeeding in what his measures are designed to do.
This is the test of a statesman's success, and the great and successful statesmen are those whose work will bear trying by it. Cavour and Prince Bismarck are statesmen of our own time who are really great, because their work did what it was meant to do. Cavour's design was to make a united Italy, Prince Bismarck's to make a strong Germany; and they made it. No minor success, no success of vanity, no success of which the issue is still problematical and which requires other successes for its accomplishment, will suffice to assure this title of successful to a statesman. To some people Prince Bismarck seems great because he can snub all the world, and has even been enabled, by an incredible good fortune, to snub the proudest of countries and the one country against which, above all others, he was powerless-England. These successes of vanity are nothing. Neither is he to be called a successful statesman because he carried the May laws, for it is as yet uncertain whether the end which those laws were designed to attain they will accomplish. But let us see, then, what it is which does indeed make Prince Bismarck a great and successful statesman, a statesman whose antecedents, to take Lord Ripon's phrase, are indeed 'glorious.' He is successful because, finding his country with certain dangers and certain needs, he has laboured for forty years, at first as a subordinate, but for the far greater part of the time as principal, to remove the one and to satisfy the other.
Germany had needs, she found impediments or she found perils to ber national life, on the side of Denmark, Austria, Russia, France. First her needs on the side of Denmark were satisfied, in spite of the opposition of France and England. Graver difficulties had to be faced next. A strong Germany was impossible without a strong Prussia. But Prussia seemed to be one of the Great Powers only in name; Austria, thwarting and supercilious, checked her movements at every turn, frustrated all efforts to consolidate Germany. Except by Prussia's beating Austria, the consolidation of Germany could not go forward; but a war with Austria-what a difficult war was that for a Prussian minister to make! Prince Bismarck made it, and the victory of Sadowa gave Prussia free action in Germany. But except free action in Germany, Prince Bismarck demanded nothing from Austria; no territory, no indemnity-not a village, not a shilling.
Russia had saved Austria from the Hungarians, why did she not save her from the Prussians? Because the Prussian Government, foreseeing the future, foreseeing the inevitable struggle with Austria, had refused to take part with the Western Powers in the Crimean War—a foolish and prejudicial war for England, but which would have been still more foolish and prejudicial for Prussia Austria had in a half-hearted way taken part with the Western Powers; Russia's neutrality in Austria's war with Prussia was Prussia's reward for the past and Austria's punishment.
Meanwhile at Prussia's success France looked on, palpitating with anger and jealousy. A strong Germany was a defiance to all French traditions, and the inevitable collision soon came. France was defeated, and the provinces required to give military security to Germany were taken from her. Why had not Austria now sought to wreak her revenge on Prussia by siding with France ? She had Russia to still reckon with in attempting to do so. But what was of yet more avail to stay her hand was that Prince Bismarck, as has been already mentioned, bad with admirable wisdom entirely forborne to amerce and humiliate her after Sadowa, and had thus made it possible for the feelings of German Austria to tend to his side.
For the last fifteen years he has constantly developed and increased friendly relations with Austria and Russia. As regards France, whose friendship was impossible, he has kept Germany watchful and strong. Those legitimate needs and that security of Germany, which thirty years ago seemed unattainable for her, he has attained. Germany, which thirty years ago was hampered, weak, and in low esteem, is now esteemed, strong, and with her powers all at command. It was a great object, and the great Reichskanzler has attained it. Such are Prince Bismarck's victories.