THE TWO IMPERIALISMS
April 17, 1940
Freedom and Order, Selected Speeches 1939-1946, 64-70.
This war is not a clash between rival dynasties. Its basic causes are not economic; nor is it even a struggle to decide the balance of power. Nazidom's record of broken faith has established long since that there can be no negotiations with a Nazi Government. But even this is not the whole and heart of the problem. The German Government's conception of the world's future is not compatible with ours; nor is there room for both. For Nazism, humanity consists of one race that rules—the German race, and a number of other races, all and always inferior. We are convinced, on the other hand, that there can be no hope for mankind unless peoples, small as well as great, are free each to develop their own civilizations in security and at peace. It is therefore fundamentals that are at stake. No more vital issues have ever been fought out in any war in history.
The German conception of dominion and the modern British conception of imperialism present as sharp an antithesis as man-
kind has ever known. The German conception is based upon subjection and repression, ours upon equality and development. Hitler has expressed his thought clearly. In his own words, the type of peace that he envisages is one, to quote Mein Kampf, "that would be guaranteed by the triumphant sword of the people endowed with the power to master the world". In contrast to this thesis we have but to recall the words in which the Imperial Conference Resolution of 1926 described the British Commonwealth: "Free institutions are its life-blood. Free co-operation is its instrument."
While nations with widely divergent systems of internal government can make shift to live together after a fashion provided their conceptions of international conduct are approximately the same, there is no room on this earth for the practice of two fundamentally antagonistic conceptions of world order. Either the German doctrine of submission or our own doctrine of equality must prevail.
At this moment both methods can be seen in practice and they are worth some analysis on our part. It is a mistake to imagine that Hitler is some fantastic nightmare being, the like of whom has not been seen before and will not be seen again. Hitler is not a phenomenon, he is a symptom. He is not something distinct from the German nation, he is the direct expression of a great part of it. His plans are inherited from Bismarck and Nietzsche and other earlier exponents of the German faith in brute force. His methods are a caricature of those methods, but at the same time not an extravagant one.
Germany has not fought her aggressive wars for economic gain, nor was she interested in the fate of Sudeten Germans when she demanded Sudetenland eighteen months ago. These things were the pretext. The aim is to make Germany infinitely the most powerful nation in the world, and by the ruthless use of that power to compel Europe to submit to German rule and the world to yield to German authority. It would be a mistake to underestimate the conviction with which this faith is held. These Nazis believe that it is for the good of Germany that the world should be ruled and run by Nazis. And what is good for Germans must be good enough for the world. If others cannot understand this crude and simple proposition they must be beaten until they do. Not even the most credulous optimist can now have any hope that Nazi Germans will ever understand that any point of view than theirs can be tolerated, for of course if they did they would not be Nazis.
If any proof were wanted of this unhappy truth it is only necessary to observe the methods by which Germany popularizes her
rule in the alien lands she has conquered. The rights of small peoples are not merely set aside or neglected, they are extinguished. For Bohemia and Moravia, for Poland, for the Northern lands, for any country that falls under German dominion there is no future whatever but that of the slave state. They must be assimilated to Germany; they must form part of Nazidom in mind, body, and estate; they can have no other life, no thought of their own, no creed, no conscience. No more graphic illustration of the Nazi mentality can be found than in an official announcement which was published in a captured Polish city a short while ago. I quote four articles from it.
"1. The Polish inhabitants of both sexes are obliged to make way before the representatives of German authority in so far as the latter can be recognized through their uniforms or through armlets on their sleeves. The streets belong to the conquerors and not to the conquered.
"2. The Polish inhabitants of male sex are obliged to show their respect to all leading personalities of the State, the Party and the Military Forces by uncovering their heads."
The next might be regarded by some as the first act of clemency in the German occupation of Poland. It reads as follows:
"3. The Poles are forbidden to employ the German form of greeting by raising the right hand and exclaiming 'Heil Hitler'."
The fourth article reads:
"4. In the shops and at the market stands all representatives of German authority, members of their families and all German nationals must be served first, before the conquered."
And after other regulations in the same temper, this document concludes:
". . . Poles who have not yet grasped that they are the conquered while we are the conquerors and who will not comply with the above decree, will be punished with all the severity of the law."
There is one other contrast I would like to bring before your mind. We heard much some eighteen months ago of the alleged persecution of the German minority in Czechoslovakia and yet, no one has ever denied that this German minority always enjoyed the use of its own schools and language, while in the heart of Prague itself a great German university flourished. To-day in the whole of Bohemia and Moravia the Czech language is suppressed, and the only university that survives is this same German university in Prague.
And such are the conditions that exist over the large part of
Europe that is to-day under German rule. The peace that broods is only too often, not only spiritually and morally but even physically also, the peace of death. Under Nazi rule there can be no other peace.
For ourselves, just as our conception of world order is the exact opposite of the Nazi, so is our practice in the British Commonwealth the antithesis of theirs. Let us for a moment examine the working of that Commonwealth, for I share the view so well expressed by the Prime Minister of Canada, Mr. Mackenzie King, that "the experiment in ordered relationships between free countries, which we call the British Commonwealth of Nations, has, we may venture to hope, value for other countries as well as for our own".
Let us start by refuting some of the most vulgar fallacies about the nature of the British Empire. First, the fallacy that we own a quarter of the globe. This is absolutely, even ludicrously, untrue. No part of the Empire owns any other part. Equally wide of the mark is the fallacy that Great Britain rules over the whole of the British Commonwealth. Britain no more rules over Canada than Canada rules over Britain. Australia no more rules over New Zealand than New Zealand over Australia. The equality of each and all of the self-governing Dominions is complete and absolute. In other parts of the Empire varying degrees of self-government exist. This brings us to the third fallacy, that the government of one people by another is necessarily a hammer and anvil process. Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations reads as follows:
"There are territories which are inhabited by peoples not yet able to stand by themselves under the strenuous conditions of the modern world. The well-being and development of such peoples form a sacred trust of civilization."
This is the spirit in which we seek to discharge our task.
We do not own any of the Empire; we do not govern the greater part of the Empire. In those areas for whose government we are responsible we are fulfilling a trust.
Admittedly, these truths are not easily grasped by those who have made no study of the history of our Imperial development. I remember once seeking to explain Dominion status to a distinguished foreign statesman who, after I had finished, electrified a luncheon-table of foreigners by the emphatic assertion: "Moi, je veux être Dominion."
To what is due this evolution of the British Commonwealth, unique as it is in history? In part, without doubt, to the fact that
we are an island people, with splendid natural frontiers within which we have been able to develop in liberty and continuity. This spirit of liberty and continuity has found full expression in our Empire. Let us admit frankly, too, that we owe something to our friends in the United States who taught us a rude lesson and taught it us betimes.
Philip Francis well summed up the experience of the American War of Independence when he wrote:
"Since I have been obliged to study the book of wisdom, I have dismissed logic out of my library. The fate of nations must not be tried by forms."
Thus it is that we have abandoned forms and formalism. Our whole system is based upon growth, change, development. At this moment, in a critical hour for the world, we see what that development has meant in the willing co-operation which has been brought to us from each of the self-governing Dominions. But the magnificent things which the Dominions are doing are only a proof of what they are, and it is their essential nature which I would emphasize to-day. They are entirely self-governing. Their policies— social, economic, military and cultural—are in no way dependent on the Mother Country. Yet they unite with the Mother Country to form a living whole. The Dominions are a living refutation of the Nazi thesis that liberty is synonymous with decadence and that a system based upon freedom cannot last. In truth a system based upon freedom is the only one which can last.
In speaking of the voluntary co-operation of the great Dominions we must not overlook how splendid and spontaneous has also been the offer of help from India and from all parts of the Colonial Empire. This has taken many and varied forms from princely gifts to humble offerings. One of the most delightful messages of which I have heard was from the colony of Nigeria, where a native community asked the Governor to write to the Secretary of State for the Colonies and exhort "it to remember King Alfred and the spider".
This overwhelming and spontaneous loyalty is our secret weapon. It is a thing which the Nazis cannot begin to understand. They fail to realize that a democracy is never weaker than it appears, and a dictatorship never stronger than it appears. They have seized on every free expression of opinion and have taken it as a sign of decay. They have failed to understand that what may seem to be a source of weakness can prove in times of crisis a source of unbounded strength.
I have attempted in the space of a few minutes to hold up German and British Imperialism side by side. Can any two conceptions of life be more different? The contrast between French and German Imperialism is fully as sharp. We and the French are at this moment engaged on a gigantic work of co-operation, destined to endure far beyond the war which has called it into being. Exactly where this co-operation will lead us none can tell; but this much is certain—our two Empires will draw continually closer together. The concord between them which has already been proclaimed and established will become steadily firmer. That is only possible because these two systems, with their many superficial divergencies, are built on the same solid foundation of freedom and spontaneous growth. Between the British Commonwealth and the German Reich there is no such basic similarity. Here the difference is not superficial and relative; it is fundamental and absolute. It is as absolute as the difference between plant and stone. If we fail to recognize this tremendous fact we cannot begin to perceive the real nature of the war we are fighting or the issues which depend upon its outcome. In some neutral countries which are not at all enamoured of our enemy, the belief persists that this is merely a war of interests. One imperialism against another imperialism. One profiteer against another profiteer. Profit is its only basis and self-interest its only motive. No. Many wars have been fought in the past on that basis and with that motive, but this is not one of them. This is much more than a conflict of interests. It is a conflict of worlds. The whole story of civilization waits upon its issue.
Let us look into the future for a moment. What would happen to Europe and the world if the Nazis were to triumph? They have boasted that the Third Reich will last a thousand years. If it did, there would be a thousand years of repression, a thousand years' blight. But who could believe that the Nazis would last a thousand years, even if they were to triumph now? A system which is entirely rigid can never last. You cannot stifle change. Change is perhaps the one thing in the universe which is constant. By trying to thwart it, you only drive it underground. It becomes fitful and eruptive instead of ordered and continuous. Should the Nazis triumph now, I believe the history of the next centuries would be one of violence and bitterness, of revolutions and counter-revolutions. The repercussions of the hatred they have stirred up would be lasting and terrible.
Now let us glance at the other future, the future that lies in the hands of the Allies. Ours is a more modest but surely a much more
realistic conception. We do not attempt to look a thousand years ahead. We do not seek to stifle development, but merely to guide it. That is our claim. The world's destiny is inscrutable; we cannot determine it, but we can help to direct it in vigilance and with humility.
Our reluctance to declare our war aims has been taken by some as an indication that we are without constructive purpose. Neutral observers, relatively favourable to our cause, have advanced the argument that our Imperialism is only preferable to that of the Germans in that it is satisfied and therefore peaceable, whilst theirs is unsatisfied and therefore violent. We are fighting, they say, to preserve the status quo. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Ours is not a static principle. It is dynamic. We are not fighting to preserve the status quo. We are fighting to preserve the possibility of progress. Our refusal to predict the details of the future arises from soberness of judgment, not from barrenness of ideas.
Already the British Empire has shown itself, by its example of toleration and wise government, to be a civilizing and humanizing influence over the whole world. It has been an instrument for raising the standard of life among backward races. It has been a great spiritual force, creating better feeling and understanding between nations. The duty of the British Commonwealth in the future will be to work side by side with the French Empire in order to guard and multiply these blessings.
Such, then, is our task. Both during and after the war it will be one of great difficulty. We must remain alive to its magnitude; we must not fall into an attitude of complacency. We say that ultimate victory in the war is certain. It is only certain if we make it so. The British Commonwealth has shown itself strong and united in time of trial, but we must not take its strength and its unity for granted. We must remember with pride and profound gratitude the splendid efforts of our brothers, separated by thousands of miles of ocean, to whom the war might well have seemed not half so real as it seems to us here in its very shadow. And this recognition must be a spur to us in our own efforts.
Looking beyond the war, we say that the future is ours. It is only ours if we make it so. We must sweep away the cobwebs of that placid ignorance which regards British Imperialism as a disreputable relic of a shady past. It is no such thing. It is a bridge to the next age. It is a source of comradeship and an opportunity of service. We must recognize it as such. In that recognition the future is indeed ours, not as rulers, but rather as servants of Empire.
LOCAL DEFENCE VOLUNTEERS
Iwant to speak to you to-night about the form of warfare which the Germans have been employing so extensively against Holland and Belgium—namely the dropping of troops by parachute behind the main defensive lines. Let me say at once that the danger to us from this particular menace, though it undoubtedly exists, should not be exaggerated. We have made preparations to meet it already.