Page images

stripped away, there would be nothing left in him wherewith to attach a single voter.

and Ireland, the sanctity of an established Church, the inviolability of private property

His weakness, as we have these are principles which said, is due wholly and solely to cannot be justly defined lack of principle, without which as "short formulæ embodying no politician can serve his coun- the general view they took try, however well he may serve of the way in which cerhimself. Nor did Mr Balfour tain problems ought to be put the country under an dealt with." They are matters obligation of gratitude when, of faith and of morals. Those in order to defend the Coalition, who believe in them would fight he made light of what is called for them unto the end, and principle in politics. "We accept defeat only on compulwere very apt to misuse the sion. To all promises of office word principle," he said. "He and power, conditional upon supposed that if they came the surrender of principles, our to look into it, what was honest statesman would return meant by principle was some an angry refusal. He would brief statement of a view of not set his own prosperity, or a general method of dealing a prospect of a transitory with a situation. It was not alliance, against the the faith a case of morals; it was a case which he holds simply and of practice." We cannot agree stoutly. For many years Mr with so easy surrender. Balfour has fought eagerly Principle is a matter of morals, against the disruption of and is much more than the brief the kingdom. The war has, statement of a view. It has as we believe, emphasised the nothing to do with coalitions absolute necessity of the Union. or other governments. Even If Pitt had not made it, it if the prosperity of the Empire would be our duty to invent it. depended at this moment on And what the war has shown the maintenance of a coalition, to be necessary, Sinn Fein's even if certain politicians were polioy of assassination has asked to accept a policy of proved inevitably right. Unless which they disapproved, prin- we desert our principle, we ciple would not be dead,-it shall oppose Mr George's fanwould be merely in abeyance. tastic policy of Home Rule; For principle means good faith, and if Mr Balfour, in fear of honour, loyalty to oneself and division, submits to what he others, and if it be dismissed has always denounced as an as a piece of practice, then outrage, he is guilty of a there is an end of morality in failure not in practice but in politics. morals. He votes for what he

Principle, on the contrary, seems to us to be a strongly held conviction, for which a martyr would go to the stake. The Union of Great Britain

has always believed to be wrong, and unless we can accept the theory of a sudden conversion, we must suppose that he has made a compromise

with his conscience, and has proved by a piece of sophistry the worse to be the better


[ocr errors]

He himself put a case to which he thought none would demur. "I yield to no man in his love of liberty," he said. "That is my short formula." But that short formula is essentially a case of morals. It is not a case of practice. We do not know what Mr Balfour means by liberty. We have never seen a sane definition of that which we all desire and very few of us attain. To the politicians "liberty' means the right to spoil a voting-paper. And if that be liberty, it is a boon which nobody hankers after, since the women of England proved their right to citizenship by burning churches. But there are other kinds of liberty, which all wise men desire the liberty to live and grow according to their temperament, the liberty to think as they would. Now here is a test for Mr Balfour. He desires liberty-that is his short formula. Suppose the politicians, with whom for the moment he acts, tell him that liberty is a very small thing compared with something else. Suppose they suggest that, in their eagerness to trade with the Bolshevists, they are indifferent to the fact that the Bolshevists have every where suppressed liberty-not merely the liberty to vote, which nobody eares a jot about, but the liberty to think-would he be content with the "short formula," and let the rest go?

For there is a time when even the politician must make up his mind. Mr Balfour loves liberty-that is his short formula. Mr George finds that liberty is inconvenient in Russia and elsewhere. How is Mr Balfour going to make up his mind? If we may believe what he said in the City of London, he will cheerfully bid farewell to liberty, or to anything else that he prizes. "He held with very strong conviction," so he said, "that it was a great mistake, and very little in the public interest, to try to make what were called principles into propositions or judgments, which did not unite men, but separated them." Well, then, what becomes of liberty? The idea of liberty is an idea which separates, and does not unite. Some there are who believe that Lenin is an apostle of liberty. Others see in him the pitiless destroyer of liberty. The moment must come when you make up your mind whether you will help Lenin and his kind, or leave them to their fate. Is it morals, or is it practice? And if you love liberty, can you drive, by your own act of approval, the poor wretched Russians deeper into the pit of slavery?

How far Mr Balfour's argument will carry him we do not know, because we have no means of matching his indifference (let us say) against his love of liberty. He is acting with men who care far less about liberty than about office, with men quite ready to play the game of those who are enslaving Russia.


The answer of Tohitoherin, Nevertheless, though our the Jew, to Mr George, is leaders of to-day sneer at luoid and complete. He principle, it is upon principle, agrees with our autocrat and and not upon compromise, that Mr Balfour that politics has the greatness of our Empire nothing to do with morality, has been established. The "England," he says over the history of England is the wireless, "represents to-day history of adherence to printhe cream of capitalist society, ciple. Mr Balfour's easy-going endowed with a vast horizon compliance with his colleagues, and vast perspectives. Eng- his eager desire of union rather lish policy is diotated by con- than separation, would not siderations of world-policy, by have won the victory of freethe interests of capitalist dom. Whatever we have society, as a whole and in achieved, we have achieved relation to the social revolu- through men who were tion now in process of de- willing to sacrifice what they velopment. The capitalist thought was right to what circles which direct English they knew to be expedient. policy are the classic home Had all our politicians been of compromise. They have opportunists after the approved raised to the pitch of per- model, then many centuries fection the art of understand- ago should we have fallen ing new historical forces in victims to the foreigner. It course of development, and was not the hope of union of finding compromises to unsanctified which drove neutralise their effect. Lloyd Simon de Montfort upon his George's saying that the best heroio course. The men of weapon against Bolshevism is Elizabeth's reign, who founded bread, is the most profound our Empire overseas, would not formula of this English tend- have achieved what they did enoy to compromise." In these if they had not had faith in words the Jew preaches the the truth of their principle. doctrine, pure and undefiled, Without this faith their courage of oynicism. He believes (or and energy would have been of pretends to believe) that no effect. Wherever you look, England's oynicism will give it is principle, right or wrong, him all that he asks. He which has saved us, and they envisages Mr George as do the cause of England a grave man without opinions, without disservice who set practice high indignation, without a sense above morals. of justice. He envisages him correctly enough. And now, since Mr Balfour's pronouncement upon principle, we are bound to confess that if he includes Mr Balfour in his argument with Mr George, he does him no injustice.


[ocr errors]

When the younger Pitt set himself to fight an armed opinion, he undertook the heavy task because he knew that the triumph of that opinion meant the ruin of Europe. Having undertaken the task, he sustained its

2 G

burden for twenty years, because he was an idealist who would not sacrifice his faith to his comfort. If he had thought principle was "a short formula embodying the general view," then revolution would have swallowed up our island, and there would be no Mr George, nor Mr Balfour either, to extol upon a public platform the virtues of opportanism. It was the principle of Pitt which in the end destroyed Napoleon, the greatest autoorat who ever threatened the liberties of Europe; and it was the principle of the English people, which in spite of its politicians destroyed the less amiable autocrat, William II. Principle, then, and principle alone, is our buckler, and if we agree with Mr Balfour in making light of it, there will speedily be an end of Great Britain and her Empire.

Even for the politician's own sake, we would advise him to cling to his principles, to depose cunning from the throne of sovereignty, to recognise that in the end even office comes to those who have faith. In politics, also, it is true that he who would save his soul will lose it. Who is it that would envy the reputation which posterity will accord to Mr George or to Mr Asquith? Here are two men, will say our grandchildren, to whom were given many gifts the gifts of leadership and persuasion. And, because they lacked principle, they laoked everything. There were few faiths which they did not

pick up and discard: there was not a single faith to which either of them was wholeheartedly loyal. To run through the career of Mr Asquith is to mark how an ambitious placeman accommodates himself to the requirements of the moment. There is scarce a statement that ever he made which he has not contradicted. His opinion about Home Rule has varied with his majority. He has talked about debts of honour, and never thought of paying them. He has been an anti-suffragette, and when it seemed useful has gone beyond the intention even of the suffragettes. He has deolared publicly that if ever conscription were passed, it would be under another Minister than himself, and he has passed conscription. There is nothing that he has not willingly embraced in the course of his political career, except principle; and even Mr Balfour, if he reviews the life of his contemporary, will deplore that ever he thought the word principle commonly misused.

As for Mr George, he is far more remote even than Mr Asquith from a sincerely held opinion. He has He has cherished and expounded many noisy sentiments. As far as we know, he has never held a settled opinion about anything. He has wandered earnestly from Newcastle to Limehouse, from Limehouse to Bedford, from Bedford to Paris in search of votes. And seldom has he expounded the same gospel twice. The reason is plain enough: having no

principles, he has allowed his we may ask in all sincerity

audience, wherever it might be, to make his speech for him. The result is that he speaks in vain. Nobody will trouble to remember very carefully what he says. There is no subject upon which his opinion may be confidently defined. He may speak as often as he pleases in or out of the House of Commons, and he will find listeners and not believers. Not that he is not dogmatio. For the moment he can express himself as strongly as anybody. But what he says is soon forgotten, since the sense as well as the words is carried away instantly by the breeze. In other words, he seems to be an ideal leader of a coalition so long as he can hold it together by relying upon the good tempers and the short memories of its of its members.

Not long since a zealous member of the Coalition was asked by his constituents, who should have known better than to ask, what were his opinions about ourrent politios. It was put to him kindly and firmly that the time might come when he would be asked to compose an address to his electors. What would he say? He replied frankly that he did not know. It was impossible, said he, to make up his mind until the last moment. "I cannot tell," he murmured plaintively, "what Mr George, my revered leader, leader, thinks. Probably he does not know himself." Such is the pit into which our politicians, stripped of principle, have fallen, and

[ocr errors]

whether their detachment from political thought has justified itself. To take single instance: Mr George recently made a speech upon what we are all interested in

the nationalisation of the mines. It was a good speech, and might from another have been deemed a brave speech, Mr George faced the blackmailers with spirit, and replied to their arguments, such as they were, with a cogent lucidity. And what is the result of it all? Everybody takes it for what it is worth-as the expression of a momentary opinion, and every body knows that, if the majority against the project had not been as large as it was-329 to 64 -Mr George would have spoken in & very different



Yet nationalisation is a subject which should be tackled with the utmost seriousness. If all the enterprises of the country are placed in the hands of the Government, then we know perfectly well that ruin, speedy and irretrievable, will overtake us. For nationalisation means bureaucracy; and we have seen in Russia, as in our own country, what bureaucracy can achieve. The apostles of nationalisation, who treat the matter as a kind of religion, and who do not condescend from threat and assertion to argument, pretend that they can win their game and yet escape the perils of bureaucracy. When they are able to check their fanaticism they will know that they are

« PreviousContinue »