John A. Hobson

Imperialism, A Study


Chapter I
Moral and Sentimental Factors


Analysis of the actual course of modern Imperialism has laid bare the combination of economic and political forces which fashions it. These forces are traced to their sources in the selfish interests of certain industrial, financial, and professional classes, seeking private advantages out of a policy of imperial expansion, and using this same policy to protect them in their economic, political, and social privileges against the pressure of democracy. It remains to answer the question, “Why does Imperialism escape general recognition for the narrow, sordid thing it is?” Each nation, as it watches from outside the Imperialism of its neighbours, is not deceived; the selfish interests of political and commercial classes are seen plainly paramount in the direction of the policy. So every other European nation recognises the true outlines of British Imperialism and charges us with hypocrisy in feigning blindness. This charge is false; no nation sees its own shortcomings; the charge of hypocrisy is seldom justly brought against an individual, against a nation never. Frenchmen and Germans believe that our zeal in promoting foreign missions, putting down slavery, and in spreading the arts of civilisation is a false disguise conveniently assumed to cover naked national self-assertion. The actual case is somewhat different.

There exists in a considerable though not a large proportion of the British nation a genuine desire to spread Christianity among the heathen, to diminish the cruelty and other sufferings which they believe exist in countries less fortunate than their own, and to do good work about the world in the cause of humanity. Most of the churches contain a small body of men and women deeply, even passionately, interested in such work, and a much larger number whose sympathy, though weaker, is quite genuine. Ill-trained for the most part in psychology and history, these people believe that religion and other arts of civilisation are portable commodities which it is our duty to convey to the backward nations, and that a certain amount of compulsion is justified in pressing their benefits upon people too ignorant at once to recognise them.

Is it surprising that the selfish forces which direct Imperialism should utilise the protective colours of these disinterested movements? Imperialist politicians, soldiers, or company directors, who push a forward policy by portraying the cruelties of the African slave raids, or the infamous tyranny of a Prempeh or a Thebaw, or who open out a new field for missionary enterprise in China or the Soudan, do not deliberately and consciously work up these motives in order to incite the British public. They simply and instinctively attach to themselves any strong, genuine elevated feeling which is of service, fan it and feed it until it assumes fervour, and utilise it for their ends. The politician always, the business man not seldom, believes that high motives qualify the political or financial benefits he gets: it is certain that Lord Salisbury really believes that the South African war, for which his Government is responsible, has been undertaken for the benefit of the people of South Africa and will result in increased liberty and happiness; it is quite likely that Earl Grey thinks that the Chartered Company which he directs is animated by a desire to improve the material and moral condition of the natives of Rhodesia and that it is attaining this object.

So Leopold, King of the Belgians, has claimed for his government of the Congo – “Our only programme is that of the moral and material regeneration of the country.” It is difficult to set any limit upon the capacity of men to deceive themselves as to the relative strength and worth of the motives which affect them: politicians, in particular, acquire so strong a habit of setting their projects in the most favourable light that they soon convince themselves that the finest result which they think may conceivably accrue from any policy is the actual motive of that policy. As for the public, it is only natural that it should be deceived. All the purer and more elevated adjuncts of Imperialism are kept to the fore by religious and philanthropic agencies: patriotism appeals to the general lust of power within a people by suggestions of nobler uses, adopting the forms of self-sacrifice to cover domination and the love of adventure. So Christianity becomes “imperialist” to the Archbishop of Canterbury, a “going out to all the world to preach the gospel”; trade becomes “imperialist” in the eyes of merchants seeking a world market.

It is precisely in this falsification of the real import of motives that the gravest vice and the most signal peril of Imperialism reside. When, out of a medley of mixed motives, the least potent is selected for public prominence because it is the most presentable, when issues of a policy which was not present at all to the minds of those who formed this policy are treated as chief causes, the moral currency of the nation is debased. The whole policy of Imperialism is riddled with this deception. Although no candid student of history will maintain for a moment that the entrance of British power into India, and the chief steps leading to the present British Empire there, were motived by considerations other than our own political and commercial aggrandisement, nothing is more common than to hear the gains which it is alleged the natives of the country have received from British rule assigned as the moral justification of our Indian Empire. The case of Egypt is a still more striking one. Though the reasons openly assigned for the British occupation of Egypt were military and financial ones affecting our own interests, it is now commonly maintained that we went there in order to bestow the benefits which Egyptians have received from our sway, and that it would be positively wicked of us to keep the pledge we gave to withdraw within a short term of years from the country. When the ordinary Englishman reads how “at no previous period of his history has the fellah lived under a Government so careful to promote his interests or to preserve his rights,” [55] he instinctively exclaims, “Yes, that is what we went to Egypt for,” though, in point of fact, the play of “Imperialism” which carried us there was determined by quite other considerations. Even if one supposes that the visible misgovernment of Egypt, in its bearing on the life of the inhabitants, did impart some unselfish element to our conduct, no one would suggest that as an operative force in the direction of our imperial policy such motive has ever determined our actions. [56] Not even the most flamboyant Imperialist contends that England is a knight-errant, everywhere in search of a quest to deliver oppressed peoples from oppressive governments, regardless of her own interests and perils. Though perhaps not so inefficient, the Russian tyranny is quite as oppressive and more injurious to the cause of civilisation than the government of the Khedive, but no one proposes that we should coerce Russia, or rescue Finland from her clutches. The case of Armenia, again, attests the utter feebleness of the higher motives. Both the Government and the people of Great Britain were thoroughly convinced of the atrocious cruelties of Turkey, public opinion was well informed and thoroughly incensed, Great Britain was expressly pledged by the Cyprus Convention to protect Armenia; but the “cause of humanity” and the “mission of civilisation” were powerless either for interference or for effective protest.

Aggressive Imperialism, as our investigation has shown, is virtually confined to the coercion by stronger or better-armed nations of nations which are, or seem to be, weaker and incapable of effective resistance; everywhere some definite economic or political gain is sought by the imperial aggressor. The chivalrous spirit of Imperialism leads neither Great Britain nor any other Western nation to assail a powerful State however tyrannous or to assist a weak State reputed to be poor.

The blending of strong interested with weak disinterested forces is indeed characteristic of the age. It is the homage which Imperialism pays to humanity. But just as the mixture known as “philanthropy and 5 per cent” is distrusted in the ordinary business world, so in the larger policy of nations the same combination is by right suspect. When business is harnessed with benevolence the former is commonly allowed to determine the direction and to set the pace. Doubtless it says something for the moral sensibility of a nation that a gainful course is rendered more attractive by a tincture of disinterestedness. But the theory and the practice in modern history often border so closely on hypocrisy that we cannot feel surprise that unfriendly foreigners apply the term to them. What, for example, can we say of the following frank description of Imperialism by Sir George Baden-Powell? “The ultimate unit, the taxpayer – whether home or colonial – looks for two groups of results as his reward. On the one hand, he hopes to see Christianity and civilisation pro tanto extended; and, on the other, to see some compensating development of industry and trade. Unless he, or ‘his servants the Government,’ secure either or both these results, the question must be plainly asked, Has he the right, and is he right, to wage such wars?” [57]

What is the mode of equating the two groups of results? how much Christianity and civilisation balance how much industry and trade? are curious questions which seem to need an answer. Is not the ultimate unit in his capacity of taxpayer liable to lay more stress upon the asset which admits of momentary measurement and to undervalue the one that evades arithmetic?

“To combine the commercial with the imaginative” was the aim which Mr. Rhodes ascribed to himself as the key of his policy. The conjunction is commonly described by the word “speculation,” a word whose meaning becomes more sinister when politics and private business are so inextricably interwoven as they were in the career of Mr. Rhodes, who used the legislature of Cape Colony to support and strengthen the diamond monopoly of De Beers, while from De Beers he financed the Raid, debauched the constituencies of Cape Colony, and bought the public press, in order to engineer the war, which was to win him full possession of his great “thought” the North. [58]


It may safely be asserted that, wherever “the commercial” is combined with “the imaginative” in any shape or sort, the latter is exploited by the former. There is a brand of “Christian Imperialist” much commended in certain quarters, the “industrial missionary,” who is designed to float Christianity upon an ocean of profitable business, inculcating theological dogmas in the intervals of teaching the material arts and crafts.” To the sceptical Chinese the interest manifested by a missionary in business affairs would go far towards dispelling the suspicions which now attach to the presence in their midst of men whose motives they are unable to appreciate, and therefore condemn as unholy.” “Immense services might be rendered to our commercial interests if only the members of the various missions in China would co-operate with our Consuls in the exploitation of the country, and the introduction of commercial as well as of purely theological ideas to the Chinese intelligence.” [59] This revelation of the mercantile uses of Christianity by a British Consul leaves little to be desired in point of frankness. Its full significance is, however, only perceived when it is reinforced by the naïve confession of Lord Hugh Cecil. [60] “A great many people were most anxious to go with their whole hearts into what might be called the imperial movement of the day, but had, as it were, a certain uneasiness of conscience whether, after all, this movement was quite as unpolluted by earthly considerations as they would desire it to be. He thought that by making prominent to our own minds the importance of missionary work we should to some extent sanctify the spirit of Imperialism.”

We are well aware that most British missionaries are quite untainted with admixture of political and commercial motives, and that they set about their work in a single spirit of self-sacrifice, eager to save the souls of the heathen, and not a whit concerned to push British trade or “sanctify the spirit of Imperialism.” Indeed, it is quite evident that, just in proportion as the suspicions of worldly motives appear in missionary work, so the genuinely spiritual influence evaporates. The whole history of missionary work in China is one long commentary on this text. The early Catholic missionaries, relying on the authority of their holy lives and teaching, won not only security, but wide influence, both among the masses and in the governing circles, introducing not only Christianity, but the elements of Western science. Though they made no large numbers of converts, they constituted a peaceful factor in the civilisation of the great Eastern Empire. But the introduction in the nineteenth century of national and sectarian competition in missionary enterprise, each mission using freely the diplomatic and even the military resources of some European State for its defence or propagation, has inhibited the play of spiritual forces, generating suspicions which, only too well grounded, have changed the early receptiveness into a temper of fanatical hostility.

“It must be very difficult,” writes an educated Chinaman, “for the mandarins to dissociate the missionaries from the secular power, whose gunboats seem ever ready to appear on behalf of their respective Governments ... The Chinese have watched with much concern the sequence of events – first the missionary, then the Consul, and at last the invading army. They had scarcely forgotten the loss of Annam in this way when the German action in Shan-tung created a profound sensation amongst all classes of the literati.” “We cannot wonder that the Chinese officials should hate the missionaries. Their Church is an imperium in imperio, propagating a strange faith and alienating the people from that of their ancestors. The missionaries are not amenable to Chinese laws, and in some cases have acted in a high-handed manner in the protection of their convents. In this lies one of the secrets of the mysterious hatred entertained against ‘the friends of China,’ as the missionaries call themselves.” [61]

How injurious to the cause “whose kingdom is not of this earth” is this alliance with politics and armaments might appear too obvious for discussion. Yet it is quite evident that sincere men are prepared to support the use of political and military force in order to open fields for missionary enterprise, and that the missionary, who is by turns trader, soldier, and politician, seems a most desirable instrument of civilisation.

How close in motive and in conduct this combination really is may be thus illustrated from the recent history of the Soudan.

“Detachments of officers and men from every regiment, British and Egyptian, were conveyed across the Nile in the gunboats to take part in the Gordon memorial service, and to witness the hoisting of the British flag on the ruins of Khartoum ... Surrounded by the soldiers he had directed with terrible and glorious effect, the successful general ordered the flags to be hoisted ... The officers saluted, the men presented arms, and the band played the Egyptian National Anthem and our own. Then the Sirdar called for three cheers for Her Majesty ... The memorial service followed, and the solemn words of the English Prayer-book were read in that distant garden ... The bands played their dirge and Gordon’s favourite hymn, Abide with Me; a gunboat on the river crashed out the salute ... The Highlanders played a long lament, and thus the ceremony was duly fulfilled. Nine thousand of those who would have prevented it lay dead on the plain of Omdurman. Other thousands were scattered in the wilderness, or crawled wounded to the river for water.” [62]

While the writer of this passage omits the final touch, the deliberate shooting of wounded crawlers by troops under British commanders, the picture is profoundly suggestive, with its strange amalgam of the British flag, Abide with Me, and the avenging of Gordon.

Yet it is evident that those who ascend to the misty heights of Imperialism are able to unite these diverse jarring factors in “a higher synthesis,” and while deploring, often in earnest, the necessity of the Maxim and the gunboat, find a glorious justification in the higher ends of a civilisation promoted by such means. The Western nations are, according to this gospel, rapidly realising a beneficent control of the earth which will, in the near future, secure general peace and the industrial, scientific, and moral supremacy of Western arts.

“Fly, happy, happy sails, and bear the Press,
Fly, happy with the mission of the Cross,
Knit land to land, and blowing heavenward,
Enrich the markets of the golden year.”

This is the benevolent theory. Let Sir Charles Dilke’s estimate of our recent acquisitions in tropical Africa serve for commentary.

“If we cannot make the most fertile of the West India Islands pay, how can we expect to make countries which are far less healthy and less fertile in the very heart of Africa, return a profit? Our people have been interested in Africa through their traditional desire to suppress the evils of the slave trade, and to pay conscience money in these days for the sins, in connection with slavery, of their predecessors; but it is probable that we have done more harm by promoting the partition of Africa and the creation, in the name of liberty, of such governments as that of the Congo Free State than the harm which our grandfathers did to Africa by their participation in African slavery and the slave trade.” [63]


The psychical problem which confronts us in the advocates of the mission of Imperialism is certainly no case of hypocrisy, or of deliberate conscious simulation of false motives. It is partly the dupery of imperfectly realised ideas, partly a case of psychical departmentalism. Imperialism has been floated on a sea of vague, shifty, well-sounding phrases which are seldom tested by close contact with fact. “It is not in size and variety alone that English dominion is unique. Its crowning glory is its freedom,” [64] writes Mr. Henley, doubtless believing what he says. The suggestion of these words is that the “freedom” we enjoy in these isles is common to our fellow-subjects throughout the British Empire. This suggestion is false, as we have seen, but phrase-mongering Imperialism does not recognise its falsehood. The largest and most essential facts of Imperialism, political, economic, moral, are commonly unknown to the average “educated” Briton. To him our Empire is composed of a number of free, self-governing States, which are in close and growing industrial relations with us; individual and racial freedom and equal justice prevail everywhere; Christianity and British moral ideals are rapidly winning their way over the vast populations of the lower races, which gladly recognise the superiority of our ideas and characters and the benefits which they receive from British rule. These vague, hasty notions are corrected by no close study of facts and figures: the only substance which they commonly possess is the assertion of some friends or relatives who are “on the spot” in some British possessions and whose individual testimony is made to sustain a pile of imperialist notions. How many persons, during the South African war, based their convictions regarding the “outlander grievances” and the character and motives of the Boer Government upon the impassioned statement of some single dweller in Johannesburg, who had virtually no contact with Boers and knew nothing of grievances, excepting through the Rhodesian press, which fashioned them!

To what extent Imperialism lives upon “masked words” [65] it is difficult to realise unless we turn to the language of diplomacy, the verbal armoury of Imperialism. Paramount power, effective autonomy, emissary of civilisation, rectification of frontier, and a whole sliding scale of terms from “hinterland” and “sphere of interest” to "effective occupation” and “annexation” will serve as ready illustrations of a phraseology devised for purposes of concealment and encroachment. The Imperialist who sees modern history through these masks never grasps the “brute” facts, but always sees them at several removes, refracted, interpreted, and glossed by convenient renderings. Some measure of responsibility for his ignorance he retains, for he must often be aware that the truth is not told him and that he is refusing to penetrate the disguises. This persistent evasion of naked truth endows him sometimes with an almost preternatural power of self-deceit. Mr. Lecky writes: “Of all forms of prestige, moral prestige is the most valuable, and no statesman should forget that one of the chief elements of British power is the moral weight that is behind it.” [66] The vast majority of “educated” Englishmen genuinely believe that England’s greatest gain from the Boer war is an enhancement of her “moral prestige”!

An error so monstrous is only made intelligible by reference to another curious psychical factor. Nowhere is the distrust of what is termed “logic,” as a guide for public conduct, so firmly rooted as in England: a course of conduct which stands out sharply “logical” is in itself suspect. The practice of “party” government has so commonly made “compromises” a necessity that we have come to believe that our national progress is due to this necessity, and that if the sharper and more rapid application of “ideas” had been feasible, we should, by following them, have been led into false paths involving much trouble of retracing steps, or over the brink of some revolutionary peril. Though sound “compromise” is nowise illogical, but is simply logic applied within certain limits of time and environment, it easily degenerates into the opportunism of an idle policy of short-range utility. The complexity of modern politics in such a country as Great Britain, reacting on the exigencies and temptations of a party system, has driven the habit of “compromise” to such foolish extremes as to corrupt the political intelligence of the nation. Elsewhere the same tendency has been operative, but has been checked or modified by a narrow and more consciously definite policy on the part of a ruling monarch or a ruling class, by the limits of a written constitution, and, in some of the Latin nations, by an inherent and widespread belief in the value of ideas as operative forces in politics. In England, and indeed throughout Anglo-Saxondom, a sort of cheery optimism has commonly usurped the seat of intelligent direction, a general belief in “national destiny,” which enables us “somehow to muddle through,” and advises us “to do the best we can and not look too far ahead.” Now, with the disdain of history and the neglect of sociological laws which this implies I am not here so much concerned as with the injurious reaction wrought upon the mind of the citizen confronted with some new event which challenges his judgment. Our rough-and-ready, hand-to-mouth, “take-what-you-can-get” politics have paralysed judgment by laming the logical faculty of comparison. Not being required to furnish to ourselves or others clear, consistent reasons for our short-range expediencies of public conduct, we have lost all habit of mental consistency, or, putting it conversely, we have developed a curious and highly dangerous aptitude for entertaining incompatible and often self-contradictory ideas and motives.

One or two extreme concrete instances will serve as illustrations of the damage done to the public intelligence by the absence of all sense of clear logical order in the conduct of affairs. At the beginning of the South African war the numerical insignificance of the Boers was regarded as an aggravation of their insolence in entering upon strife with the greatest Empire of the world. But the numerical smallness did not in the least interfere with the equally genuine belief and feeling that we were contending with a Power as large, numerically, as ourselves, which were required to support the sense of triumph when we won a victory, or to turn the edge of shame when our tiny adversary inflicted a defeat upon us. The shifts of detailed mendacity and curious invention to which we were driven in the course of the war by the necessity of keeping up this double and contradictory belief will doubtless attract the attention of the psychological historian, how the numbers alternately and automatically expanded and contracted according as it was sought to impress upon the nation the necessity of voting large supplies of troops and money, or else to represent the war as "nearly over” and as having lapsed into a trifling guerilla struggle. Or take another instance. It was possible for informed politicians to maintain at one and the same time that our conduct in providing food and shelter to the families whose property we had destroyed in South Africa was an act of unprecedented generosity, and to defend the right to sell by public auction their farms in order to defray the very cost of keep which was the ground for our self-commendation. These two contentions could be uttered in the House of Commons by the same minister and accepted by the nation without any recognition of their inconsistency. Why? Simply from a practical inhibition of the faculty of comparison. A line of action is pursued from the felt pressure of some close expediency: afterwards some “reasons” must be found for it, some justification given: no attempt is made before or after the action to see it as a whole with its causes and its consequences, and so there is no clear comparison of actual motives and results. This genius of inconsistency, of holding conflicting ideas or feelings in the mind simultaneously, in watertight compartments, is perhaps peculiarly British. It is, I repeat, not hypocrisy; a consciousness of inconsistency would spoil the play: it is a condition of the success of this conduct that it should be unconscious. For such inconsistency has its uses. Much of the brutality and injustice involved in “Imperialism” would be impossible without this capacity. If, for example, the British mind had been sufficiently consistent to have kept clearly before it the fact that 400 millions of people were contending with a body less than a quarter of a million, whatever view was held as to the necessity and justice of the war, much of its detailed barbarism and all the triumphant exultation on success would have been impossible.

There is of course much more than this in the psychology of Imperialism, but there are two main factors, the habit and capacity of substituting vague and decorative notions, derived through “masked” words, for hard naked facts, and the native or acquired genius of inconsistency. Great Britain would be incapable of this policy if she realised in clear consciousness the actual play of motives and their results. Most of the men who have misled her have first been obliged to mislead themselves. There is no enthusiasm in hypocrisy, and even bare-faced greed furnishes no adequate stimulus to a long policy. Imperialism is based upon a persistent misrepresentation of facts and forces chiefly through a most refined process of selection, exaggeration, and attenuation, directed by interested cliques and persons so as to distort the face of history.

The gravest peril of Imperialism lies in the state of mind of a nation which has become habituated to this deception and which has rendered itself incapable of self-criticism.

For this is the condition which Plato terms “the lie in the soul” – a lie which does not know itself to be a lie. One of the marks of this diseased condition is a fatal self-complacency. When a nation has succumbed to it, it easily and instinctively rejects all criticism of other nations as due to envy and malice, and all domestic criticism is attributed to the bias of anti-patriotism. In more primitive nations the lusts of domination and material acquisition which underlie Imperialism express themselves freely and unconsciously: there is little self-complacency because there is little self-consciousness. But nations which have grown in self-consciousness as far as the Western European nations seek to stimulate and feed their instinctive lusts by conscious reflection. Hence the elaborate weaving of intellectual and moral defences, the ethics and sociology of empire which we have examined.

The controlling and directing agent of the whole process, as we have seen, is the pressure of financial and industrial motives, operated for the direct, short-range, material interests of small, able, and well-organised groups in a nation. These groups secure the active co-operation of statesmen and of political cliques who wield the power of “parties” partly by associating them directly in their business schemes, partly by appealing to the conservative instincts of members of the possessing classes, whose vested interests and class dominance are best preserved by diverting the currents of political energy from domestic on to foreign politics. The acquiescence, even the active and enthusiastic support, of the body of a nation in a course of policy fatal to its own true interests is secured partly by appeals to the mission of civilisation, but chiefly by playing upon the primitive instincts of the race.

The psychology of these instincts is not easy to explore, but certain prime factors easily appear. The passion which a French writer describes as kilometritis [67], or milo-mania, the instinct for control of land, drives back to the earliest times when a wide range of land was necessary for a food supply for men or cattle, and is linked on to the “trek” habit, which survives more powerfully than is commonly supposed in civilised peoples. The “nomadic” habit bred of necessity survives as a chief ingredient in the love of travel, and merges into “the spirit of adventure” when it meets other equally primitive passions. This “spirit of adventure,” especially in the Anglo-Saxon, has taken the shape of “sport,” which in its stronger or “more adventurous” forms involves a direct appeal to the lust of slaughter and the crude struggle for life involved in pursuit. The animal lust of struggle, once a necessity, survives in the blood, and just in proportion as a nation or a class has a margin of energy and leisure from the activities of peaceful industry, it craves satisfaction through “sport,” in which hunting and the physical satisfaction of striking a blow are vital ingredients. The leisured classes in Great Britain, having most of their energy liberated from the necessity of work, naturally specialise on “sport,” the hygienic necessity of a substitute for work helping to support or coalescing with the survival of a savage instinct. As the milder expressions of this passion are alone permissible in the sham or artificial encounters of domestic sports, where wild game disappears and human conflicts more mortal than football are prohibited, there is an ever stronger pressure to the frontiers of civilisation in order that the thwarted “spirit of adventure” may have strong, free play. These feelings are fed by a flood of the literature of travel and of imaginative writing, the security and monotony of the ordinary civilised routine imparting an ever-growing fascination to the wilder portions of the earth. The milder satisfactions afforded by sport to the upper classes in their ample leisure at home are imitated by the industrial masses, whose time and energy for recreation have been growing, and who, in their passage from rural to town conditions, have never abandoned the humbler sports of feudal country life to which from time immemorial they had been addicted.” Football is a good game, but better than it, better than any other game, is that of man-hunting.” [68]

The sporting and military aspects of Imperialism form, therefore, a very powerful basis of popular appeal. The desire to pursue and kill either big game or other men can only be satisfied by expansion and militarism. It may indeed be safely said that the reason why our army is so inefficient in its officers, as compared with its rank and file, is that at a time when serious scientific preparation and selection are required for an intellectual profession, most British officers choose the army and undertake its work in the spirit of “sport.” While the average “Tommy” is perhaps actuated in the main by similar motives, “science” matters less in his case, and any lack of serious professional purpose is more largely compensated by the discipline imposed on him.

But still more important than these supports of militarism in the army is the part played by “war” as a support of Imperialism in the non-combatant body of the nation. Though the active appeal of “sport” is still strong, even among townsmen, clear signs are visible of a degradation of this active interest of the participant into the idle excitement of the spectator. How far sport has thus degenerated may be measured by the substitution everywhere of a specialised professionalism for a free amateur exercise, and by the growth of the attendant vice of gambling, which everywhere expresses the worst form of sporting excitement, drawing all disinterested sympathy away from the merits of the competition, and concentrating it upon the irrational element of chance in combination with covetousness and low cunning. The equivalent of this degradation of interest in sport is Jingoism in relation to the practice of war. Jingoism is merely the lust of the spectator, unpurged by any personal effort, risk, or sacrifice, gloating in the perils, pains, and slaughter of fellow-men whom he does not know, but whose destruction he desires in a blind and artificially stimulated passion of hatred and revenge. In the Jingo all is concentrated on the hazard and blind fury of the fray. The arduous and weary monotony of the march, the long periods of waiting, the hard privations, the terrible tedium of a prolonged campaign, play no part in his imagination; the redeeming factors of war, the fine sense of comradeship which common personal peril educates, the fruits of discipline and self-restraint, the respect for the personality of enemies whose courage he must admit and whom he comes to realise as fellow-beings – all these moderating elements in actual war are eliminated from the passion of the Jingo. It is precisely for these reasons that some friends of peace maintain that the two most potent checks of militarism and of war are the obligation of the entire body of citizens to undergo military service and the experience of an invasion.

Whether such expensive remedies are really effectual or necessary we are not called on to decide, but it is quite evident that the spectatorial lust of Jingoism is a most serious factor in Imperialism. The dramatic falsification both of war and of the whole policy of imperial expansion required to feed this popular passion forms no small portion of the art of the real organisers of imperialist exploits, the small groups of business men and politicians who know what they want and how to get it.

Tricked out with the real or sham glories of military heroism and the magnificent claims of empire-making, Jingoism becomes a nucleus of a sort of patriotism which can be moved to any folly or to any crime.


Where this spirit of naked dominance needs more dressing for the educated classes of a nation, the requisite moral and intellectual decorations are woven for its use; the church, the press, the schools and colleges, the political machine, the four chief instruments of popular education, are accommodated to its service. From the muscular Christianity of the last generation to the imperial Christianity of the present day it is but a single step; the temper of growing sacerdotalism and the doctrine of authority in the established churches well accord with militarism and political autocracy. Mr. Goldwin Smith has rightly observed how “force is the natural ally of superstition, and superstition knows it well.” [69] As for the most potent engine of the press, the newspaper, so far as it is not directly owned and operated by financiers for financial purposes (as is the case to a great extent in every great industrial and financial centre), it is always influenced and mostly dominated by the interests of the classes which control the advertisements upon which its living depends; the independence of a paper with a circulation so large and firm as to “command” and to retain advertisements in the teeth of a policy disliked by the advertising classes is becoming rarer and more precarious every year, as the cluster of interests which form the business nucleus of Imperialism becomes more consolidated and more conscious in its politics. The political machine is an hireling, because it is a machine, and needs constant repair and lubrication from the wealthy members of the party; the machinist knows from whom he takes his pay, and cannot run against the will of those who are in fact the patrons of the party, the tightening of whose purse-strings will automatically stop the machine. The recent Imperialism both of Great Britain and America has been materially assisted by the lavish contributions of men like Rockefeller, Hanna, Rhodes, Beit to party funds for the election of “imperialist” representatives and for the political instruction of the people.

Most serious of all is the persistent attempt to seize the school system for Imperialism masquerading as patriotism. To capture the childhood of the country, to mechanise its free play into the routine of military drill, to cultivate the savage survivals of combativeness, to poison its early understanding of history by false ideals and pseudo-heroes and by a consequent disparagement and neglect of the really vital and elevating lessons of the past, to establish a “geocentric” view of the moral universe in which the interests of humanity are subordinated to that of the “country” (and so, by easy, early, natural inference, that of the “country” to that of the “self”), to feed the always overweening pride of race at an age when self-confidence most commonly prevails, and by necessary implication to disparage other nations, so starting children in the world with false measures of value and an unwillingness to learn from foreign sources – to fasten this base insularity of mind and morals upon the little children of a nation and to call it patriotism is as foul an abuse of education as it is possible to conceive. Yet the power of Church and State over primary education is being bent consistently to this purpose, while the blend of clericalism and autocratic academicism which dominates the secondary education of this country pours its enthusiasm into the same evil channel. [70] Finally, our centres of highest culture, the universities, are in peril of a new perversion from the path of free inquiry and expression, which is the true path of intellectual life. A new sort of “pious founder” threatens intellectual liberty. Our colleges are, indeed, no longer to be the subservient defenders of religious orthodoxy, repressing science, distorting history, and moulding philosophy to conserve the interests of Church and King. The academic studies and their teachers are to employ the same methods, but directed to a different end: philosophy, the natural sciences, history, economics, sociology, are to be employed in setting up new earthworks against the attack of the disinherited masses upon the vested interests of the plutocracy. I do not of course represent this perversion as destructive of the educational work of the colleges: the services rendered in defence of “conservatism” may even be regarded in most cases as incidental: only perhaps in philosophy and economics is the bias a powerful and pervasive one, and even there the individuality of strong independent natures may correct it. Moreover, it is needless to charge dishonesty against the teachers, who commonly think and teach according to the highest that is in them. But the actual teaching is none the less selected and controlled, wherever it is found useful to employ the arts of selection and control, by the business interests playing on the vested academic interests. No one can follow the history of political and economic theory during the last century without recognising that the selection and rejection of ideas, hypotheses, and formulæ, the moulding of them into schools or tendencies of thought, and the propagation of them in the intellectual world, have been plainly directed by the pressure of class interests. In political economy, as we might well suspect, from its close bearing upon business and politics, we find the most incontestable example. The “classical” economics in England were the barely disguised formulation of the mercantile and manufacturing interests as distinguished from, and opposed to, the landowning interest on the one hand, the labouring interest on the other, evoking in later years other class economics of “protection” and of “socialism” similarly woven out of sectional interests.

The real determinants in education are given in these three questions: “Who shall teach? What shall they teach? How shall they teach?” Where universities are dependent for endowments and incomes upon the favour of the rich, upon the charity of millionaires, the following answers will of necessity be given: “Safe teachers. Safe studies. Sound (i.e. orthodox) methods.” The coarse proverb which tells us that “he who pays the piper calls the tune” is quite as applicable here as elsewhere, and no bluff regarding academic dignity and intellectual honesty must blind us to the fact.

The interference with intellectual liberty is seldom direct, seldom personal, though of late both in the United States and Canada some instances of the crudest heresy-hunting have occurred. The real danger consists in the appointment rather than in the dismissal of teachers, in the determination of what subjects shall be taught, what relative attention shall be given to each subject, and what text-books and other apparatus of instruction shall be used. The subservience to rank and money, even in our older English universities, has been of late evinced so nakedly, and the demands for monetary aid in developing new faculties necessarily looms so large in academic eyes, that the danger here indicated is an ever-growing one. It is not so much the weight of the “dead hand” that is to be feared as that of the living: a college so unfortunate as to harbour teachers who, in handling vital issues of politics or economics, teach truths deeply and obviously antagonistic to the interests of the classes from whom financial aid was sought, would be committing suicide. Higher education has never been economically self-supporting; it has hardly ever been fully organised from public funds; everywhere it has remained parasitic on the private munificence of wealthy persons. The peril is too obvious to need further enforcement: it is the hand of the prospective, the potential donor that fetters intellectual freedom in our colleges, and will do so more and more so long as the duty of organising public higher education for a nation out of public funds fails of recognition.

The area of danger is, of course, far wider than Imperialism, covering the whole field of vested interests. But, if the analysis of previous chapters is correct, Imperialism stands as a first defence of these interests: for the financial and speculative classes it means a pushing of their private businesses at the public expense, for the export manufacturers and merchants a forcible enlargement of foreign markets and a related policy of Protection, for the official and professional classes large openings of honourable and lucrative employment, for the Church it represents the temper and practice of authority and the assertion of spiritual control over vast multitudes of lower people, for the political oligarchy it means the only effective diversion of the forces of democracy and the opening of great public careers in the showy work of empire-making.

This being so, it is inevitable that Imperialism should seek intellectual support in our seats of learning, and should use the sinews of education for the purpose. The millionaire who endows Oxford does not buy its men of learning outright, need not even stipulate what should be taught. But the practical pressure of Imperialism is such that when a professional appointment is made in history it is becoming more difficult for a scholar with the intellectual outlook of a John Morley, a Frederick Harrison, or a Goldwin Smith to secure election, or for a political economist with strong views on the necessity of controlling capital to be elected to a chair in economics. No formal tests are necessary; the instinct of financial self-preservation will suffice. The price which universities pay for preferring money and social position to intellectual distinction in the choice of chancellors and for touting among the millionaires for the equipment of new scientific schools is this subservience to the political and business interests of their patrons: their philosophy, their history, their economics, even their biology must reflect in doctrine and method the consideration that is due to patronage, and the fact that this deference is unconscious enhances the damage done to the cause of intellectual freedom.

Thus do the industrial and financial forces of Imperialism, operating through the party, the press, the church, the school, mould public opinion and public policy by the false idealisation of those primitive lusts of struggle, domination, and acquisitiveness which have survived throughout the eras of peaceful industrial order and whose stimulation is needed once again for the work of imperial aggression, expansion, and the forceful exploitation of lower races. For these business politicians biology and sociology weave thin convenient theories of a race struggle for the subjugation of the inferior peoples, in order that we, the Anglo-Saxon, may take their lands and live upon their labours; while economics buttresses the argument by representing our work in conquering and ruling them as our share in the division of labour among nations, and history devises reasons why the lessons of past empire do not apply to ours, while social ethics paints the motive of “Imperialism” as the desire to bear the “burden” of educating and elevating races of “children.” Thus are the “cultured” or semi-cultured classes indoctrinated with the intellectual and moral grandeur of Imperialism. For the masses there is a cruder appeal to hero-worship and sensational glory, adventure and the sporting spirit: current history falsified in coarse flaring colours, for the direct stimulation of the combative instincts. But while various methods are employed, some delicate and indirect, others coarse and flamboyant, the operation everywhere resolves itself into an incitation and direction of the brute lusts of human domination which are everywhere latent in civilised humanity, for the pursuance of a policy fraught with material gain to a minority of co-operative vested interests which usurp the title of the commonwealth.


55. England in Egypt, p.97.

56. How far the mystification of motives can carry a trained thinker upon politics may be illustrated by the astonishing argument of Professor Giddings, who, in discussing “the consent of the governed” as a condition of government, argues that “if a barbarous people is compelled to accept the authority of a State more advanced in civilisation, the test of the rightfulness or wrongfulness of this imposition of authority is to be found, not at all in any assent or resistance at the moment when the government begins, but only in the degree of probability that, after full experience of what the government can do to raise the subject population to a higher plane of life, a free and rational consent will be given by those who have come to understand all that has been done” (Empire and Democracy, p.265). Professor Giddings does not seem to recognise that the entire weight of the ethical validity of this curious doctrine of retrospective consent is thrown upon the act of judging the degree of probability that a free and rational consent will be given, that his doctrine furnishes no sort of security for a competent, unbiassed judgment, and that, in point of fact, it endows any nation with the right to seize and administer the territory of any other nation on the ground of a self-ascribed superiority and self-imputed qualifications for the work of civilisation.

57. Addendum to The Downfall of Prempeh.

58. “The North is my thought” (Cecil Rhodes: His Political Life and Speeches, p.613).

59. Passages from a recent report of the British Consul at Canton.

60. An address at the annual meeting of the Society for Propagation of the Gospel, May 4, 1900.

61. The Chinese Crisis from Within, by Wen Ching, pp.10, 12, 14 (Grant Richards).

62. The River War, by Winston Churchill, vol.ii, pp.204-206.

63. The British Empire, p.114.

64. Imperialism, p.7.

65. “There are masked words droning and skulking about us in Europe just now which nobody understands, but which everybody uses and most people will also fight for, live for, or even die for, fancying they mean this or that or the other of things dear to them. There never were creatures of prey so mischievous, never diplomatists so cunning, never poisons so deadly, as these masked words; they are the unjust stewards of all men’s ideas; whatever fancy or favourite instinct a man most cherishes he gives to his favourite masked word to take care of for him; the word at last comes to have an infinite power over him, and you cannot get at him but by its ministry” (Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies, p.29).

66. The Map of Life.

67. M. Novicow, La Federation de L’Europe, p.158.

68. Baden-Powell, Aids to Scouting, p.124.

69. Letter in The Manchester Guardian, 14th October 1900.

70. For striking illustrations cf. Spencer’s Facts and Comments, pp.126, 127.

Last updated on 12.11.2006