Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Nation Revisited # 119 September 2016

In Praise of Britain’s Imperial Mission – Robert Dewar

(This article originally appeared in Identity the magazine of the British National Party in January 2008. It paints a rosy picture of Empire that few colonial subjects would recognise. But it cannot be denied that the British Empire was a force for human progress that changed the world).

Until the early 1980s Britain was a country of net emigration. Between 5,000 – 7,000 people a year from the 16th to the end of the 18th centuries, or about a quarter of the natural increase, left the country for destinations abroad. Direct data becomes available from the 19th century onwards, and we know that 90,000 people a year were leaving Britain. Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States, and even South Africa, owe their early demographic growth to British immigrants. Emigration from the British Isles peaked in the last years of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. North America gained more than 100 million British and 7 million Irish emigrants between 1815 to 1930.

After the Second World War, various kinds of government and Commonwealth schemes saw huge numbers of Britons emigrating for Australia, Canada and New Zealand, with as many as 104,000 people leaving for these ex-colonies as late as 1974. A much lower but still relatively high number of British emigrants settled in South Africa.

Following the two world wars, soldier-settler schemes encouraged several thousand British ex-servicemen to settle in Kenya and then Rhodesia. Scattered across the rest of the Empire were large numbers of semi-permanent traders, engineers, agricultural experts and administrators, as well as large numbers of missionaries.

Had the territories that were one day to become the Dominions not been open to colonisation by Britain’s rapidly growing population, it is highly likely that the pressure of population would have brought about the same sort of violent revolutions in Britain which scarred Europe in the 1830s and 1840s. Had the Empire not existed, it is extremely unlikely that a great number of present day states would now exist, with India a collection of more than 400 independent principalities of varying size and power before the British gained control of the sub-continent – being the foremost example. Great swathes of Africa owe the fact of sovereign so-called “nations” to British imperial administrative measures, unifying disparate and often warring tribes under the Pax Britannica into colonies which later became independent states. That most of these states are in various degrees failed is due not to the fact of past British imperial rule, but to its contemporary absence.

Let it be stated quite clearly at this point: not a single ex-colony gained independence as a result of so-called freedom fighters. In all cases, Britain sought to construct viable nations with political systems based pn the Westminster parliamentary model; Britain, unlike Portugal and Spain, did not buckle to de facto terrorist movements in Africa, any more than she was defeated by the Communist terrorist movement in the Malay States, or by the criminal Mau Mau in Kenya (which saw only a few dozen European deaths but about 20,000 black on black murders). In the present day, kleptocratic and often tyrannical regimes across Africa seek to perpetuate for their own reasons the myth of having wrested freedom from the colonial power at the end of a gun. In many such states (with Zimbabwe being the prime example), Britain is still vilified for mythological colonial crimes, and held to be responsible for the ills inflicted in fact by their own vicious rulers.

Nor were Britain’s imperial subjects systematically oppressed. The British Empire was, by any objective measure, perhaps the most benign in history, motivated by the most noble sentiments and ideals. Fortunate were members of the Empire to be ruled by Britain and not by Germany or Japan before the First World War, or by Spain or Portugal, whose ramshackle imperial remnants were notorious (in the case of their African colonies until well into the mid-seventies) for chaotic administration and systematised cruelties. Britain’s colonial subjects gained immeasurably by British rule, not only materially, but with reference to the grafting of systems of law and government motivated by the highest ideals, whose echoes are still heard dimly today.

The British in India and Africa put down witchcraft and slavery; they sank wells and set in hand programmes of advanced irrigation, reducing the incidence of famine; they improved methods of agriculture and provided basic health care and education to the peasantry. Britain supressed the endemic inter-tribal warfare which was Africa's curse, and which supplied most of the prisoners for the slave trade. The Royal Navy patrolled Africa's western and eastern shores, almost entirely suppressed the trade in black African slaves. British colonial rule saw an end to tyranny across Africa, an end to arbitary injustice and cruelties; across the Empire all men were equal before the law. Britain created nations where there had been none; India and Pakistan were brought into being sixty years ago to express the will of the peoples of the sub-continent; a scattering of island nations arose in the Caribbean, and in Africa colonies whose borders reflected largely colonial administrative imperatives were constituted as sovereign states, all with governments which were designed to mirror Britain's own parliamentary system with its inbuilt checks and balances. 

Empire’s highest ideal of all, the urge to bring about self realisation and freedom for peoples previously denied freedom by despotic rulers, meant that the finest global geopolitical creation in history carried within it the seeds of its own demise. Britain’s empire was not lost; it was (certainly, long before the time was yet ripe), freely given away. 

Curiously – except for perhaps ten years at the turn of the century – Britain’s empire was never wholly popular back home except in the middle and upper classes. The imperial mission rarely captured the imagination of the working class, and when it did this was due to military triumph. Imperial expansion was generally the work of a social and intellectual elite.

But in 1898, Lord Curzon could claim with some justification that imperial expansion “is becoming every day less and less the creed of a party and more the faith of a nation.” However, except for a few years from the mid 1890s, kit is debatable whether imperial pride truly dominated the thinking of more than a minority  of Britons outside of the middle and upper middle classes (though within these classes the imperial mission was firmly established),  except viscerally, as an embodiment of Britain’s leadership in the world. The fact of empire was popularly held to be the logical outcome of the inherent superiority of the British people over any other peoples, anywhere.In certain circles it has long been held that the growth of empire was a response to economic factors. J.A.Hobson, whose publication, Imperialism (1902) was very influential in this regard, argued that by the latter part of the nineteenth century a disproportionate share of the national wealth had piled up in the hands of relatively few people, with an extreme inequality in its distribution: the relative poverty of the greater part of the working class population meant that they were unable to consume enough of the industrial output to make its continued expansion profitable. The argument went that huge amounts of surplus capital sought profitable outlets which could not be found at home, so its owners tended to invest in facilities in Africa and Asia, and then call on the government to protect these investments by conquering and administrating the territories concerned. However, no European government of the latter nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, not even that of the Nation of Shopkeepers, was so entirely the tool of a class of financiers and merchants. When compelled to chose, the British government of the time invariably expressed the dominance of political and diplomatic necessities over more economic factors.

What is more, the greater part of Britain’s huge investments abroad during the latter part of the nineteenth century went not to the newly acquired African colonies, or to India, or even to her spheres of influence in east Asia, but to the temperate regions of the world, to the United States, to South America, and to what would become the Dominions. Some of Britain’s colonial acquisitions were economically quite worthless (such as British New Guinea), though sometimes strategically valuable. Of all Britain’s African possessions, only the Boer republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, with their gold fields, could compete with the United States or with the old settled colonies as either sources of food and raw materials, or as markets for capital or manufactured goods. Yes, there was a slowing of British economic growth relative to the United States and Germany in the latter part of the nineteenth century, which certainly did something to stimulate a search for new economic opportunities overseas, but this phenomenon and the imperial urge were not cause and effect. If it is still believed that empire was the answer to surplus capital and manufactured products seeking a home abroad, then how can the growth of the Italian and Russian empires of the period be explained? No, there must have been some other factors behind the imperial dynamic, for neither Russia or Italy was highly industrialised, and both countries were importers of capital, yet both these countries were driven by expansion abroad.

The simplistic political explanation for the sudden growth of empire in the late 19th century is that territories overseas were seized to keep them out of the hands of rival powers. That this state of affairs came about was due to the rise of nationalism in Germany, France and Italy: - despite their sometimes bitter rivalry, the balance of power within Europe’s borders by the 1870s was static, so national pride saw expression at the highest levels with the acquisition of territories outside Europe, of colonial possessions in Africa and Asia: - Britain, more secure within her national psyche than the other great European powers, nonetheless could not sit back and see the world carved up between them, especially as Britain had already by far the greatest investments in Africa and Asia, investments and strategic routes which might be threatened unless she too were to seize and conquer territories.

Amongst those visionaries of empire who sometimes single handed gathered lands and peoples into the empire, there was generally another higher current of feeling. This was the deeply held belief that the advance of British rule meant material progress, self realisation and in the long term, the possibilities of freedom, for the peoples brought under British rule. This belief in the white man’s duty to civilise the world for the good of its peoples was a progressive force and one with noble qualities.

I have already mentioned some of the very real advantages accruing to conquered peoples under British rule, the most important of which was the imposition and maintenance of the Pax Britannica, beneath which all other virtues could flourish. To the exponents of empire, Britain, indubitably the finest of all the European nations, had a moral duty to bring disorderly, stagnant and brutal societies under her benign rule. Many of the greatest empire builders were also active in reform and improvement at home. Lord Milner, for example (alongside Cecil Rhodes the driving force behind the Anglo-Boer War, and the creator of the Union of South Africa), when a young man had helped to found Toynbee Hall, the Oxford University settlement in London’s deprived East End.

This sense of imperial mission was a response to a feeling of national moral superiority, not far separate from the widely held belief in the truth of the Christian faith and in the falsity of all others. The best colonial administrators saw clearly that the position in Africa and most parts of Asia – then as now – was quite simple: the peoples of these areas desperately needed just and orderly rule, this could only be provided by Europeans, and it was their duty to provide it. This argument still holds good today: Britain’s ex-colonial possessions are almost all misgoverned, often torn apart by warfare, their economies a shambles, their people measurably and objectively far worse off under “freedom” than ever they were under British rule.

Today more than at any previous time, an African empire would pay for itself, for today we are fully cognisant of the vast underground riches the ramshackle black countries are sitting upon. Even at the height of empire, in 1898, it was extremely cheap to defend. At the time there were 99,000 regular soldiers stationed in Britain, 75,000 in India and 41,000 elsewhere in the Empire. The Navy required another 100,000 men, and the Indian native army was 148,000 strong. Dotted around the world were thirty-three small strategically located barracks and naval coaling stations. Yet the total defence budget for 1898 was just over £40 million, a mere 2.5% of net national product: - in relative terms this is not much higher than the burden of Britain’s defence budget today, with absolutely no moral returns whatsoever, and it is far less than was spent on the military during the lengthy cold war years. If ever Britain had a duty to take charge of the less fortunate peoples of Africa especially, and bring them to political stability, material advancement and moral improvement, then in principle, if perhaps not in practicality, this duty beckons still.

Britain’s imperial security rested upon her naval dominance. Yet even when Britain modernised her entire fleet following the launch of the revolutionary Dreadnaught battleship (between 1906 and 1913, Britain built 27 such battleships) this cost only £49 million, being less than the annual interest on the national debt. Furthermore, the burden of defending the Empire did not rise significantly at the height of the imperial period.

It is clear from letters, memoirs and recollections of the time that the possession of a well-run empire, motivated by the noblest principles and philosophies directed at the welfare of the peoples therein, brings huge fulfilment and the sense of immeasurable well-being to those who take up the duties of running such an empire. As British society reels under the cumulative assaults of more than 50 years of insane left wing liberal government, and the Union, together of our culture and traditions, become less and less certain of themselves, facing ever greater threat from trendy left-wing nation-haters on the one hand, and regional nationalists on the other, the sense of mission offered the British people if we were to re-engage with our imperial destiny, would enliven us once again, giving new energy and direction to a nation renaissance, and reunifying Englishmen, Scotsmen, Welshmen, and Northern Irishmen under Union as only a shared sense of national identity can bring.

The beginning of the loss of Britain’s belief in herself, and in the decay in her society and culture, coincided with the break-up of the Empire. Was it because the British race had become degenerate that the Empire trickled so speedily through our fingers, or is it that our present day social, cultural and political degeneracy stems from the loss of Empire?  I contend that a re-evaluation of Great Britain’s imperial history, in which we come to recognise the huge debt owed by dozens of states across the World, but especially on the Indian sub-continent and in Africa, would help to restore that lost sense of British national pride which is the true legacy of successive post-war governments in Britain.

The Housing Crisis

The average house price in the UK is £235,000; the average yearly salary is £33,000 and the average annual mortgage is £15,600. That means that most young couples cannot afford to but their own home. The alternative is to rent but the average rent for a two bedroom flat in central London is £44,000. Social housing provided by housing associations and local authorities is much cheaper but in short supply. People are being forced to move out of town but essential workers such as medical staff and police officers need to be in London.

The political parties have all promised to address the problem but apart from Harold Macmillan they have done next to nothing about it. In 1953 Harold Macmillan built 300,000 houses as Minister of Housing in Winston Churchill's post-war Government. An achievement that has never been equalled. This was despite a shortage of construction workers and materials.

Margaret Thatcher started selling council houses to their tenants because she believed that people should own their homes but those on low incomes also need a roof over their heads. Since her time few council houses have been built. Governments have tinkered with the problem but they have not treated housing as a priority. At present interest rates are at rock bottom and there is plenty of land available. There has never been a better time for a massive house building program - all that's lacking is the will to do it.

Successive governments have failed to plan for the future. They opened the floodgates to immigration without making sure that we had enough houses, schools and hospital beds. The telecoms industry was successfully privatised but power generation and the railways were a disaster. They are now talking about trading with the world but first we need to revitalise industry. Let's start with the construction industry. 

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