Sir Edward Grey, Liberal Imperialism and British Responsibility in 1914 – From the British Empire to the American EmpirePosted by Terry Boardman on Jul 7, 2012 in First World War, nwo | 0 comments
This article was first given as a lecture at an anthroposophical conference on modern history in Keene, New York State, August 2001
2. Layne’s Critique of Preponderance
4. British Imperatives in 1900
5. Two Imperialist Streams 1868-1914
7. Balfour’s ‘Anglo-Saxon Confederation’
9. Sir Edward Grey
10. Grey and the Press
11. Grey and Leo Maxse’s ABC
12. Hardinge & Co.: Grey at the Foreign Office 1905-1914
13. Grey the Man
14. August 1914
Liberal imperialism and liberal imperialists – these are terms that historians usually apply to a faction within the British Liberal Party, a faction that was active from about 1890 until the outbreak of the First World War. This faction was primarily inspired by the prominent aristocratic Liberal politician Archibald Primrose, Lord Rosebery. He is mentioned specifically by Rudolf Steiner in lectures given in 1916 and published in English under the title The Karma Of Untruthfulness Vol 1(1); I shall return to Steiner’s comments on him later. At the Liberal landslide victory in the General Election of 1905, the liberal imperialist faction, then known as the Liberal League, consisted of 58 Members of Parliament, with 25 other members who failed to get elected. The faction’s power stemmed first from the inspiration of the widely influential and very well-connected Lord Rosebery, and also from the fact that a troika of Liberal politicians in the prime of their careers, and whose friendship went back 20 years, were the effective leaders of the faction. From 1905 this trio occupied three of the most important positions in the Cabinet: Herbert Asquith was the Prime Minister, Sir Edward Grey was the Foreign Secretary and Richard Haldane was the Minister of War. After the war, imperialism went out of fashion, and the Liberal Party suffered a rapid decline as the Labour Party took the working class vote. Since the Great War therefore, the terms liberal imperialism and liberal imperialists have been largely absent from modern political currency….until quite recently that is, when they have been used by critics of the foreign policy of the Clinton and Bush Administrations in the US and of the Blair government in the UK. In this presentation I shall discuss the liberal imperialism of 100 years ago and that of today in relationship to the replacement of the British Empire by the American Empire – a process that began in World War I – and I shall consider the responsibility of the liberal imperialist Sir Edward Grey for bringing about the war. I shall suggest that he, and those behind him were primarily responsible for the catastrophe. In other words, I shall disagree with the present consensus among historians which in recent years has tended to focus prime responsibility for the war back onto Germany. I shall argue that it is to the Entente Powers of Britain, France, and Russia – and particularly with Britain - that one needs to look for the prime causes of the war that destroyed European hegemony, created the 20th century and made the present American Empire possible.
The US policy elite itself is under no illusions that we are living in the Age of American Empire though they might use the word ‘hegemony’ instead of ‘empire’. Their think tanks’ websites, magazines, conferences and policy papers have for the last few years been humming with debate on the Big Question: can this Empire maintain itself ? This question has stimulated others: can the world be peacefully americanised and, in effect, taken into America ? Will America decay from within, as did Rome ? Should it now be planning its orderly withdrawal from dominance, as it is claimed Britain did ? Or should it wait to be driven out and thus prepare for inevitable war against its major cultural rivals – Islam and China or against a resurgent Japan, Germany, and Russia ? How can America best defend itself in view of these various options ? A fascinating insight into this debate can be had from a paper published in “World Policy Journal” in Summer 1998 by Christopher Layne, then visiting associate professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, where he taught international politics and military strategy. He is also a consultant to the RAND Corporation. The paper was titled Rethinking American grand strategy: Hegemony or balance of power in the twenty-first century? I would like to look at this paper in some detail because, as we shall see, it directly relates to the events of 100 years ago. Layne takes a basically Kissingerian realpolitik stance, criticising those who argue in favour of maintaining US hegemony, or what is euphemistically called in foreign policy circles, the doctrine of preponderance. This doctrine, it is said, was the position of the Clinton administration under Madeleine Albright, who spoke so recently of America as ‘the indispensable nation’ .
How does Layne respond to this? Firstly, and very interestingly, he clearly indicates – as did Zbigniew Brzezinski in a key article in “Foreign Affairs” magazine in 1992 (Vol. 71, No 4) – that the issue in the Cold War was never in doubt and that also it was not an opportunistic response to the challenge of the Cold War which led to the US becoming a world power. Rather, the US, from at least the time of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, had always intended to take over from the British Empire and become the dominant or ‘preponderant’ world power. Layne writes:
Well before the bipolar rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union took shape, Washington was aiming for global pre-eminence. As the diplomatic historian John Lewis Gaddis observes, the United States expected to lead the new world order after 1945. Few historians would deny, today, that the United States did expect to dominate the international scene after World War II, and that it did so well before the Soviet Union emerged as a clear and present antagonist.
To give a more specific example of what Layne means here, one can look to the ideas of James Burnham. Not a household name today, Burnham was extremely influential in the 1940s and 50s, especially with the American right and the advocates of a strong globally engaged America that would stand up to the USSR. In his excellent study of Anglo-American relations, Blood, Class and Nostalgia (2), Christopher Hitchens writes that: Burnham was “the son of a British Catholic emigrant to Chicago” who “made a a partial return to his English roots by becoming a Balliol man” i.e. Oxford University. That University, specifically Balliol and All Souls colleges, had for decades been the centres of what might be called Anglo-Saxon if not Anglo-American imperialist ideology. Later, JK Galbraith ranked Burnham’s book The Managerial Revolution with Keynes’ s General Theory and Berle and Means’s The Modern Corporation and Private Property as one of the 3 great economic texts of the pre-war period, which “had an unquestioning influence on C.Wright Mills and on George Orwell”, who both wrote long critiques on it. It was reviewed over 3 days in the New York Times and Burnham was photographed in Time magazine. After that, everything Burnham wrote gained attention. In The Managerial Revolution published in 1941, the same year America joined the war on Britain’s side, Burnham wrote:
The first great plan in the third stage is for the US to become what might be called the ‘receiver’ for the disintegrating British Empire…The attempt is to swing the orientation of the Empire from its historical dependence on Europe to dependence on and subordination to the American central area. Success in the case of the English Dominion (Canada) and possessions located in the Americas is already at hand….Along with the US receivership plan for the British Empire go still broader aims in connection with the rest of S. America, the Far East (jncluding conspicuously the Far Eastern colonies of formerly European sovereign states) and in fact the whole world.
Later in the war, Burnham worked at the Office of Strategic Studies (OSS) the forerunner of the CIA, and then as a consultant in the Office of Policy Co-ordination, the covert action staff of the CIA. In 1947 he published The Struggle for the World. In that book, to which Churchill seems to have paid considerable attention, he wrote:
The reality is that the only alternative to the Communist World Empire is an American Empire which will be, if not literally world-wide in formal boundaries, capable of exercising decisive external control.
In other words, the kind of American Empire we have today. Like the British anglo-saxon ideologues of 40-50 years earlier - Cecil Rhodes, W.T.Stead, Lord Rosebery and Arthur Balfour – Burnham wrote of common citizenship and full political union between the US and the British Empire:
…the union could not take place through an altogether spontaneous birth. The forceps would have to be used…such a union would mean that Britain, her Dominions and the United States would become partners in the imperial federation [note that these countries and only these are now engaged together in the Echelon global surveillance programme - TMB]. In the first stages Britain would necessarily be the junior partner. This fact, which follows not merely from popular prejudices, but from the reality of power relations, is the greatest obstacle to the union. It is harsh to ask so great a nation, which for 300 years led the world, to accept a lower place than the first, especially when the claim comes from an upstart whose only superior qualification – unfortunately the deciding qualification – is material might.
In 1945 it may indeed have been difficult to ask Britons to accept this role, but today, when so many in Britain, from street corner skateboard rappers to the Prime Minister and his ministers, automatically look across the Atlantic for all their new ideas, it might not be such a problem. In recent years Conrad Black, Canadian owner of the British Telegraph newspaper group has been conducting an annual mini-campaign to urge Britain to forget about the EU and join what he likes to call “our kith and kin” in NAFTA instead. The rest of the British media have started to take him seriously. Last year he was joined in his campaign by Senator Phil Gramm.
In its 1999 report on The Future of Transatlantic Relations, the powerful and venerable American foreign policy think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations called for “a global U.S.-European partnership” to:
- manage the Asian economic crisis and overhaul the world’s financial
– dismantle Russia’s nuclear weapons and promote Russian democracy.
– suppress all Balkan conflicts and keep it that way.
– forge a single transatlantic market with open investment and trade.
– preserve Turkey’s pro-Western orientation.
– broaden NATO strategy to include the whole Middle East, and present a
united front toward Iran, Iraq, and the Arab-Israeli peace process.
– make Europe abandon its purely commercial orientation toward Asia and
help the U.S. manage conflicts among China, Japan, Korea, India, and
– make a larger American, and much larger European, defence effort in order
to modernise and project military force worldwide.
– and, finally, forge common stances toward weapons of mass destruction,
terrorism, the environment, drugs, health, crime, and human rights.
This certainly seems like a programme for imperial preponderance – America busy everywhere. And in a speech to the CFR in Oct 1999 national security adviser Samuel R. Berger justified this, saying that America is a “benign hegemon” :
Our authority is built on very different qualities than our power: on the attractiveness of our values, on the force of our example, on the credibility of our commitments, and on our willingness to work with and stand by others.” The United States acts not to promote its own selfish interests but rather “for the greater good,” he said, and others benefit tangibly from America’s global leadership.He went on: America’s ideals and values legitimise its pre-eminence and enable it to lead on the basis of its moral authority rather than its military might.
Let me return now to Christopher Layne. The Soviet Cold War challenge, he says, was only an interruption in an existing US agenda to become the sole superpower. That is why the US insisted on ‘preponderance’, hegemony, in its own non-communist sphere – the ‘Free World’, and why since the end of the USSR in 1991, it has insisted on preponderance – full engagement – throughout the world. He writes :
Even after the Cold War’s onset, American pre-eminence, not containment of the Soviet Union, was the driving force behind U.S. grand strategy. This was made clear in 1950, in the important National Security Council paper, NSC-68, which laid the intellectual groundwork for a policy of militarised and globalised containment. NSC – 68 stated that: (1) the purpose of American power was to foster a world environment in which the American system can survive and flourish; and (2) the strategy of preponderance was a policy which the United States would probably pursue even if there were no Soviet Union. The role of the Soviet Union in American grand strategy thus was somewhat curious. On the one hand, the Soviet threat was really quite incidental to U.S. strategy because America’s international ambitions existed independently of the Soviet Union. On the other hand, the Soviet Union was crucial to the attainment of U.S. strategic objectives because, both at home and abroad, the Cold War legitimised the extension of American power. Absent the Cold War, [and] U.S. policymakers might have lacked an argument to justify America’s pursuit of global preponderance.
Advocates of preponderance believe that because international politics is highly competitive, the United States should attempt to maximise its relative power (that is, its power compared to that of other states). The strategy of preponderance rests on the assumption that states gain security not through balance of power, but by creating a power imbalance in their favour (that is, by seeking hegemony). [In business, this would correspond to a monopoly, removing all competition - TMB]. In a harsh, competitive world, security rests on hard power (military power and its economic underpinnings) and it is best to be Number One. For the strategy’s proponents, systemic stability (the absence of war, security competitions, and proliferation) is a function of U.S. military power.
Underlying the strategy, says Layne, is fear of what might happen in a world no longer shaped by predominant U.S. power….. Having fulfilled their hegemonic ambitions following the Soviet Union’s collapse, the advocates of preponderance want to keep the world the way it is. American grand strategists view the prospect of change in international politics in much the same way that British prime minister Lord Salisbury did toward the end of the nineteenth century. “Whatever happens will be for the worse”, Salisbury said, “and therefore it is in our interest that as little should happen as possible”. I would draw your attention here to the first two connections between the situation today and that of 100 years ago – fear amongst the elite, and Lord Salisbury, who was British Prime Minster in 1898, exactly 100 years before Layne wrote his paper. Salisbury also had very modern views about the relationship between hegemony and economic interdependence; he spoke of :
the pacific invasion of England… [here he means 'pacific invasions' by England - TMB] Once obtain the unrestricted access, and in a few years you will govern without ever drawing a sword. (3)
A question which arises here is: though Layne may be right about the fear, is that the only motive behind the desire for hegemony? Cynics or Marxists might point to economic motives and say it’s all done by the US conglomerates who control the US government; look how the oil majors control George W Bush, they might claim. But were economic motives dominant in 1776 when the US declared independence? Again cynics will claim they were and point, amongst other things, to British taxation policy. But did not some in the American elite of that time not already have idealistic concepts of building a completely different society from that of the Old World – a new society, ‘an empire of liberty’ ? Was not the assumption already there back then that America was the hope of the world, the most progressive society ?
Layne makes clear that the US elite in the Cold War and on into the 1990s were interested in containing Germany and Japan just as much as the USSR. A 1992 Pentagon planning document prepared by Paul Wolfowitz stated that to implement the strategy of preponderance successfully,
the United States must account sufficiently for the interests of the large industrial nations to discourage them from challenging our leadership or seeking to overturn the established political or economic order.
Most of the U.S. foreign policy community, says Layne, accepts (if only reluctantly) that little can be done to prevent China’s emergence as a new great power because it lies outside the U.S. sphere of influence, but he points out that there is a faction within the strategic community that believes the United States should derail China’s rise to great power status by fomenting internal unrest or, if that fails, by engaging in preventive war. This would be a serious conflict indeed, and if he is right about the existence of this faction, then we are surely justified in a) identifying as soon as possible who this faction are and b) asking whether the Bush administration’s Missile Defence programme is really aimed at dealing with so-called ‘rogue states’, as they tell us – N.Korea, Iraq, Iran, Libya – or whether it is the beginning of preparation for a much more terrible conflict with China later in this century. Indeed, the word ‘China’ is starting to crop up in discussions of the aims of Missile Defence programme, whereas a few years ago, it was conspicuous by its absence. So the US elite are determined to keep two past enemies, Germany and Japan, down and under control and are concerned about the rise of a much greater potential enemy, China. This was also Britain’s situation 100 years ago. Britain had defeated her past enemies – France decisively in the Napoleonic Wars and Russia in the Crimean War - but these two old enemies still presented a residual threat, the more so since they became allies in the Franco-Russian Dual Alliance of 1893. The rising power of the 1890s of course was Germany, which represented a much more formidable challenge, as Germany seemed in every way a more organised and efficient modern state than Britain except in the area of finance, and this Germany, which had already begun to outstrip Britain industrially in the 1880s and commercially in the 1890s, after 1900 began to build a superb navy, which was seen as a direct challenge to the basis of Britain’s hegemony.
Back to Layne: having described the background and meaning of the strategy of preponderance or hegemony, Layne moves on to criticise it:
…the strategy of preponderance may prove more harmful than beneficial to American interests. Whether the strategy is viable turns on the following questions: Can the United States prevent the rise of new great powers and thereby perpetuate indefinitely its hegemony? [this is beginning to sound like the debate over 'splendid isolation' in Britain c.1895: to be or not to be allied with Continental Powers and if so, which ones ? - TMB]
Substitute Britain for America here and this turns out to be the very question that exercised the British foreign policy elite between 1890 and 1900. Layne then considers the fundamental economic concept essential to the strategy of preponderance, namely economic interdependence, and asks: does it really lead to peace?
The belief that liberal democracy legitimises American hegemony pervades the U.S. foreign policy community. … American grand strategy rests on a set of assumptions about the relationship between a liberal international economic order (that is, economic openness based on multilateral free trade) and security. Specifically, U.S. policymakers believe that economic interdependence leads to peace, and hence to increased security for the United States. [peace and security - i.e. the CIA and NSA etc are motivated ultimately by peace and security ! - TMB. ]
Certainly, the concept of economic interdependence has been the bedrock of foreign policies that are called ‘liberal’ since the 1840s,when the British abolished the protective Corn Laws and introduced free trade. British liberals always argued that economic interdependence would lead to economies and nations being knitted together and thus promote peace. “Free markets and democracy” – this has been the consistent slogan of those who have championed the modern anglo-saxon hegemony of the American Empire. American preponderance or hegemony, its sole superpower status, is therefore a concept of American empire that is based on fundamentally liberal principles dating back to at least the 1840s – the idea that free markets lead to peace and prosperity because everyone wants to do business. When everyone can do business freely, ‘liberally’, without trade barriers, then national conflicts will end, because all economies will be interdependent. Problems can be sorted out with goodwill by means of conferences (WTO, World Bank, IMF, G8, Davos). This globally interdependent economic system, however, it is said, needs a policeman to keep order, just as business in any one country requires a police force and laws to provide a secure framework within which business can operate. It is felt that the USA and only the USA can provide that global police force, and does in fact do so, despite what the White House may say to the contrary from time to time.
2. Layne’s critique of preponderance
Layne now turns to criticise this whole liberal imperial paradigm, and in doing so, he soon refers back to the 1890s and the British imperial experience: There is a suggestive parallel, he says, between late Victorian Britain and the United States today. He draws attention to the late nineteenth-cenury British statesman Lord Rosebery, who clearly recognised that economic interdependence could lead to strategic overextension: Rosebery said:
“Our commerce is so universal and so penetrating that scarcely any question can arise in any part of the world without involving British interests. This consideration, instead of widening, rather circumscribes the field of our actions. For did we not strictly limit the principle of intervention, we should always be simultaneously engaged in some forty wars.”
I’ll return to Rosebery later; suffice it now to say that Layne omits to mention that Rosebery was not just any statesman but was in fact the leading, most vocal advocate of the new doctrine of Liberal Imperialism and the direct mentor of Sir Edward Grey, who looked up to him for nearly 20 years as his inspiration and leader.
Critics of preponderance or sole superpower status – and Layne is one – argue that the need to protect America’s global economic interests inevitably leads America into more conflict, not less. Such critics, among whom Henry Kissinger is prominent, advocate a return to a multipolar balance-of-power doctrine. Layne writes:
The proponents of a balance of power strategy believe……that hegemony is inherently unstable, and hence is not a winning strategy. They also believe that the United States lacks the resources to sustain its present predominance. The balance of power alternative to preponderance is an offshore balancing grand strategy. The historical model for such a strategy is Britain during its great power heyday. As an insular great power in a multipolar world, the United States would retain a free hand strategically: although it might need to enter into temporary coalitions, America would disengage from permanent alliance relationships.
[From 1904-14 - the British Foreign Office mantra of the need to keep a 'free hand' in informal Ententes rather than formal alliances and thus avoid entangling commitments was constantly repeated and constantly contradicted by British behaviour towards the other Great Powers, in favour of France and Russia and against Germany - TMB]
America would thus be able to keep ‘a free hand’ . We see here that a section of the US foreign policy elite – that represented by Henry Kissinger - look to the past, specifically Britain’s imperial past, for guidance about America’s future. The British experience serves as a model. Layne goes on :
Insular great powers [unlike continental ones - i.e. he sees America as a "great island", a Greater Britain, in effect - TMB]……can afford to invest less on defense and more on economic growth; they can, that is, act more like trading states [the Venetian spirit - TMB] and less like national security states. Offshore balancing thus would be a more sophisticated power maximising strategy than preponderance: the United States would be able to enhance its relative power without having to confront rivals directly. Great powers that stand on the sidelines while their peers engage in security competitions and conflict invariably gain in relative power.
This was the strategy of Britain - a strategy of “splendid isolation” – from the the 1820s until 1902 when Britain abandoned the policy and signed its first standing alliance – with Imperial Japan. Notice that Layne speaks of the option of America becoming an offshore power; he regards America as an island here, just like Britain. He speaks of the possibility of America becoming more of a trading state, like Japan today, or medieval Venice, or indeed the USA as it was in the 1820s. Some might think this the realm of fantasy, but nevertheless, this is the model offered. Notice also the essentially machiavellian spirit of this option: great powers that stand on the sidelines while their peers engage in security competitions and conflict invariably gain in relative power. This is essentially what Britain did vis-a-vis the continent of Europe from 1950 when it declined to enter the European Coal and Steel Community till 1973 when it finally chose to join the European Common Market, and what it is doing again now over the Euro issue: stand apart, wait for the inevitable fallout from the foreigners’ squabbles and then move in and take advantage of the situation.
Layne now comes to his conclusion:
Simply put, without the Cold War, America will not be able to preserve its Cold War preponderance or stability. International politics is dynamic, not static. As Paul Kennedy has observed, “It simply has not been given to any one society to remain permanently ahead of all the others.” The conditions that made American preponderance possible are changing rapidly. Make no mistake : sometime in the early decades of the twenty-first century, America’s grand strategy will no longer be preponderance. If the United States does not choose now to begin making the transition to a new grand strategy better suited to the new century’s emerging international realities, events will force it to do so.
Here too we see the debate that was consuming the British governing class in the 1890s: the grand strategy that had served Britain throughout its 80 year long period of preponderance, it was argued, no longer served. There was increasing fear that Britain would no longer be able to compete against the growing latent strength of the massive continental powers Russia and the USA or against the sheer efficiency and modernity of Germany. Japan and France also represented annoying challenges in Asia and Africa that required precious resources. The British policy elite was split between those who argued for a continuation of the policy of ‘splendid isolation’ with the British Empire depending on its own strength (this was the position, for example, of Joseph Chamberlain after 1901), and those who wished to make friends with someone and join an alliance grouping as an insurance policy in an increasingly competitive world. The second group argued just like Layne that : If the [country] does not choose now to begin making the transition to a new grand strategy better suited to the new century’s emerging international realities, events will force it to do so.
Let me draw some threads together at this point.
First, we have an American Empire supposedly based on a principle of benign monopoly of power and economic interdependence. America – shall we say – gradually encourages the rest of the world to play by its rules, as Britain did in the 19th century. No-one else’s military power or capacity to project that power comes anywhere near that of the US. Yet this system cannot endure because historical precedent shows that such hegemonies always produce resentment and the emergence of rivals, which leads to eventual conflict, and furthermore, because economic interdependence in today’s conditions will not lead to peace but to conflict because of America’s need to put out all fires everywhere, including those which might just possibly affect the security of countries in which America is particularly interested and thus possibly damage America’s economic interests.
Second, this American Empire replaced a British Empire which was itself based on similar liberal assumptions: free trade, economic interdependence and overwhelming military might – in Britain’s case, naval. Third, beginning perhaps with the arrival in Britain in 1835 of Baltimore merchant George Peabody, whose activities led to the founding of the Morgan banking dynasty, and the arrival in Britain, in the decades between the American Civil War and 1914, of 130 or so wealthy and nubile young American ladies who married into aristocratic and upper class British families, there were close connections between the political and economic elites of the two countries which facilitated the relatively smooth transfer of power from one Empire to the other. Ron Chernow’s book The House of Morgan, for example, shows in detail the intimate connections between J.P. Morgan’s very anglophile financial empire run from 23 Wall Street and the City of London (4). Of course, some might argue that, far from being smooth, World Wars 1 and 2 were actually the price paid for that imperial transition. After all, if the USA had not joined the First World War in 1917, imperial Germany would likely have won or at least there would have been a stalemate, and World War 2 might then not have occurred. Be that as it may, there WAS an imperial transition and this transition was actively desired by significant members of the British establishment. The American scholar Carroll Quigley described the origins of the anglo-saxon imperial movement in his book The Anglo-American Establishment (1949)(5). The letters of Walter Hines Page, US ambassador to Britain during the First World War and the papers of Col. House, Woodrow Wilson’s special advisor make it clear that the US elite calculated on taking the British Empire in tow after it had exhausted its energies in the war. Indeed, Layne’s paper itself and the current balance-of power advocates in the US foreign policy elite who he alludes to are themselves surely examples of the enduring influence within the US of the Atlanticist pro-British and mostly East Coast groups. As Mexican-American playwright Louis Valdez put it:
New York has its face turned towards England and Europe in general and its ass turned towards California….
This brings us to the decades immediately prior to 1914. Now, as I have suggested, an interesting thing about Layne’s paper is that so much of it clearly and sometimes explicitly refers to the situation facing those responsible for British foreign policy 1890-1914. The question of fear as a motive for major foreign policy changes, the rise of new great power rivals, alliance or isolation, hegemony or balance or power, arguments for and against economic interdependence, Lord Salisbury, Lord Rosebery – these were the points of similarity that featured in Layne’s analysis.
The media today, with their vast information resource banks often as a matter of habit create stories out of what happened a century ago, but sometimes one sees evidence that people in high or strategically placed positions are alert to resonances between events 100 years ago and today. From an anthroposophical viewpoint, one is aware of such resonances because of Rudolf Steiner’s insight (23.12.1917 Basel) into the 33 year rhythm of social events which is based on the life of Jesus Christ. Since the birth of Jesus, said Steiner, events, positive or negative, that occur in society in any one year have a kind of resurrection 33 years layer. They then have two further resonances 33 and 66 years later. 3 x 33 years makes a century, and this rhythm underlies the reality of connections between events. This has been a new factor in human history for the last 2000 years, an earthly factor, separate from the cosmic influences on historical events which astrologers have traditionally traced.
What then is Layne, or indeed other members of American foreign policy circles, especially those of an Atlanticist or pro-British orientation, aware of in the events of 100 years ago ? What was the situation of the British Empire at that time and how was it similar or different to that of the American Empire today ?
4. British Imperatives in 1900
The advocates of US preponderance feel that the US should be fully engaged everywhere in order to defend US economic interests and to further what they call “American values” of democracy, namely, ‘the rule of law’, ‘pluralism’, ‘free’ markets. This full engagement requires a system of alliances with various countries that have accepted these values. This is clearly different from British ‘preponderance’ in the 19th century in that Britain then had no alliances. The governing elite chose to engage only in overseas situations where it felt its interests were severely challenged – usually in connection with the defence of India. Even the Opium War had an Indian dimension since the British Indian economy (as well as the British home economy) was dependent on the Chinese buying opium. Apart from India after the Mutiny in 1857, the Empire was run in a very semi-detached manner, especially in the white Dominions. However, at the end of the 19th century, the British opted to become more fully engaged in their Empire for reasons I’ll discuss in a moment, and this eventually led them into alliances with their imperial rivals in order to protect their new commitment to the Empire. Meanwhile, in relation to Europe, they continued to hold to their traditional policy of the Balance of Power - keeping a free hand which they could use to combine with the opponents of whichever continental country the British elite deemed to threaten to dominate the Continent and thus be in a position either to invade Britain itself or else to damage British trade. At least, this was how they rationalised the Ententes they made with France in 1904 and with Russia in 1907. Germany, they reasoned, was threatening to take over the Continent, so Balance of Power doctrine required they ally with Germany’s enemies to keep Germany in check and preserve the peace of Europe. The policy of course failed; the Entente system only made the German elite feel more threatened, and eventually led to the cataclysm of 1914-18, which ultimately brought about the end of British imperial power and its de facto transference to the USA. Despite the increase in size of British imperial territory in 1919 as a result of annexing German colonies, and despite seeming American isolationism, Britain was, from 1916 onwards, financially in hock to the USA; it had lost its financial independence and had become America’s debtor on a massive scale. The process was completed in 1945 when, after the Second World War, which grew directly out of the First, the USA effectively dismissed the exhausted British Empire and forced it to close up shop, (in James Burnham’s telling phrase, the British Empire went into ‘imperial receivership’), and also stationed permanent US military bases in Britain. After the First World War, the British elite tried to cover up and justify this failure of their pre-war Entente policy by saying that German policy had been evil and bent on war, and that therefore no rational calculation of interest such as the Balance of Power could have stopped Germany from provoking the war.
Why did the British opt for greater involvement in their empire after 1870 ? One answer is : as a solution to domestic problems. The most reactionary elements in British society, those close to the Crown and the hereditary aristocracy, were facing a steady decline in their power in favour of the middle classes. Then after 1860, the socialist movement too began to get underway as the industrial working class started to organise itself and demand rights. The elite were faced with a serious problem: how could these new historical developments be coped with ? In the 1840s and 1850s materialism was at its peak in Britain, philosophically and industrially; it produced a doctrine of utilitarianism and an economic liberalism based solely on so-called rational self-interest, and a crass ugliness and artificiality spread throughout urban and civic life. Then in 1859 Darwin published his Origin of Species, the implications of which were soon applied to human society by writers such as Spencer, Huxley and Galton, whose ideas came to be described as Social Darwinist. In response to the univeralist and rationalist Deism of the Enlightenment, the powerful Victorian evangelical movement, infused with a heady draught of romanticism, had already decided that Britain’s greatness must surely be God-given and that the Anglo-Saxon race was therefore obliged to be active in the world. By the last few decades of the 19th century then, both science and the Bible were said to have ‘proved’ the superiority of the white, and especially of the Anglo-Saxon, race that was seen to be so evidently carrying all before it.
The great wave of mid-century materialism inevitably produced its own counterreaction which can be seen for example, on the one hand in the spiritualist movement, the arts of the Pre-Raphaelite painters or the poems of Tennyson such as the phenomenally popular Idylls of the King; and on the other hand, in the desire for transcendance, one form of which permeated late Victorian imperialism with a yearning for the East. One could even see this yearning for transcendence as part of the unconscious impulse to develop ‘fraternity’ in the 19th cent. alongside the movements for liberty and equality that had emerged respectively in the 17th and 18th cents. Socialists appealed for a fraternity of class, and imperialists appealed for a fraternity of race and nation – a common national or racial purpose. Between these two, radical liberals called for an internationalist fraternity of freetrading Man, but their reluctance to modify their anti-state dogmatism meant that their voices were increasingly ignored by the masses, who were cruelly oppressed by the self-seeking and exploitative “liberties” of capitalists and plutocrats.
5. Two imperialist streams 1868-1914
There were different imperialist streams advocating different solutions to the problems, both domestic and foreign, faced by Britain’s ruling class. One stream, more racist in tone, advocated abandoning the non-white colonies as alien and unproductive. It was argued that Britain, in order to compete with the future superpowers America and Russia, should federate the white Dominions and create a “Greater Britain”. This view was propounded by the Cambridge historian John Seeley in his hugely successful book The Expansion of England (1883), which sold 80,000 copies in its first 2 years and continued to be well read right into the mid 20th century. The year after its publication, the Imperial Federation League was founded, which worked to federate the white Dominions. Seeley, who had been appointed Regius Professor of History at Cambridge by the Liberal Prime Minister Gladstone in 1869, came from a liberal evangelical background yet a wrote a book about Christ that scandalised Victorian society Ecce Homo (1865). He considered Christianity as a national religion and Christ simply as an ethical legislator. For Seeley, church and state were one. This more racist stream of imperial federation which wished to have nothing to do with non-white peoples – whom it regarded as irredeemably alien to anglo-saxon traditions - was later to merge with Joseph Chamberlain’s movement for Imperial Preference and Tariff Reform in 1903. Arguments over the Empire and Ireland split the Liberal Party in the 1880s, and the more imperialistically inclined formed a faction – the Liberal Unionists, who joined in a semi-detached union with the Conservative Party. Chamberlain, the powerful and dynamic Birmingham City mayor, was the leader of this group. After a visit to Canada and the USA in 1887 (which netted him a young American wife) he also fell in love with the racial dream of imperial federation and Anglo-American unity. Rudolf Steiner, in a lecture of 20.2.1920 in Dornach, Switzerland, drew attention to Chamberlain in connection with Imperial Federation , and certainly, Chamberlain united in his own destiny very strongly the radical, liberal, middle class stream with the aristocratic authoritarian urge to dominate. In the life of this image-conscious man, who always wore a monocle and an orchid in his buttonhole, the glory and pomp of the imperial race ultimately transcended the spirit of individual liberty.
A year before Seeley’s appointment by Gladstone, another radical republican and close associate of Chamberlain, Sir Charles Dilke, the first liberal imperialist politican, published his book Greater Britain (1868) written after a visit to the USA and the white Dominions. Dilke was one of the most radical and progressive Liberals of his day. Here is a quote from Greater Britain:
In America we have seen the struggle of the dear races against the cheap—the endeavors of the English to hold their own against the Irish and Chinese. In New Zealand, we found the stronger and more energetic race pushing from the earth the shrewd and laborious descendants of the Asian Malays; in Australia, the English triumphant, and the cheaper races excluded from the soil not by distance merely, but by arbitrary legislation; in India, we saw the solution of the problem of officering of the cheaper by the dearer race. Everywhere we have found that the difficulties which impede the progress to universal dominion of the English people lie in the conflict with the cheaper races. The result of our survey is such as to give us reason for the belief that race distinctions will long continue, that miscegenation will go but little way towards blending races; that the dearer are, on the whole, likely to destroy the cheaper peoples, and that Saxondom will rise triumphant from the doubtful struggle.
Despite Dilke’s republicanism, from 1880 to 1886 he was a firm friend of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. Evidently, the Prince shared Dilke’s rabidly imperialist views. Dilke wrote:
The Prince is of course in fact a strong Conservative, and a still stronger Jingo [i.e. a gung-ho imperialist - TMB], readily agreeing in the Queen’s politics, and wanting to take everything everywhere in the world, and to keep everything if possible.(6)
Although Dilke shared his radical liberalism with Chamberlain, he and the Prince represented the second stream of imperialists, which clearly believed in ‘preponderance’ - universal dominion by the English people - wanting to take everything everywhere in the world, and considering it their mission and duty to lord it over lesser breeds. This more grandiose stream of imperialism was the one first advocated by Benjamin Disraeli at a famous speech at Crystal Palace London, in 1872, the year after the foundation of the German Empire and one year before the onset of the Great Depression. The location, Crystal Palace, was highly significant and surely not accidental; it was the place of triumph of Prince Albert, who hosted the Great Exhibition there in 1851. The Exhibition had been the highpoint of the classical liberal freetrading stream, which was uninterested in acquiring colonies. Disraeli united radical and imperial impulses within himself. He hated what he called the Venetian Whig oligarchs who had ruled England since ‘the Glorious Revolution’ of 1688, yet despite his genuine radical concern for the lower orders, he had a romantic penchant for aristocracy. A successful and imaginative novelist, he dreamed of a Tory Democracy, an alliance around the Crown of the true landowning aristocracy and the working people of Britain that would oppose the narrow commercial impulses of the urban middle classes and their oligarchical leaders. Highly conscious of racial distinctions and his Jewish heritage, Disraeli looked always to the East and saw in a new more glorious Indian Empire, ruled by Gloriana, the fairy queen as he called Victoria, a great East-West mission for the British people, one that would surely distract them from bitter social class divisions. Meanwhile, the Conservatives and their aristocratic supporters saw in Disraeli’s vision a new hope for their tottering political fortunes. Moreover. that vision also appealed to large sections of the middle class, for at one level, democratic Toryism was an attempt to extend the aristocratic principle of nobility to the entire English people, and the middle classes, the ‘snobs’ who aspired to the social status of the aristocratic ‘nobs’ proved particularly partial to Disraeli’s pretentious and seductive imperial temptations. Disraeli’s pride in his Jewishness – as can be seen in his political novels of the 1840s, especially Coningsby and Tancred, was a deep source of his imperial visions and policies focused on Asia. His dream was to establish an Empire of East and West, guided by English practical sense and the inspiration of oriental religious wisdom.
A form of religious wisdom, if not exactly the one Disraeli had in mind, duly appeared in the shape of the exotic Theosophical Society, the pseudo-religion of the New Age, which was established in New York in 1875. Two years later, Disraeli declared Victoria Empress of India, and the son of his old friend Edward, Lord Bulwer Lytton – like his father a writer of Romantic bent - he made Victoria’s first Viceroy in India. In 1879 the Theosophical Society, which had quickly spread through the upper echelons of English society, moved its headquarters to India.
Disraeli’s grandiose dream appealed to what Corelli Barnett in his excellent study of The Collapse of British Power scathingly called the “romantic souls” of the British middle and upper classes :
in the last resort the place of India in the British mind was founded not upon calculation but upon love. India, and life in India, induced the British middle and upper classes to bloom. Nothing made the British feel so imperial as India. (7)
India also represented to the British a gigantic field for social experiment. Ex-public schoolboys, raised on the Roman classics and Plato’s Republic, could indulge their imperial Roman instincts for civilising the natives. It seemed a jolly good, a jolly moral thing to do, they reasoned, to bring light where before there had been only darkness. Many British upper class men were also Freemasons to whom such imagery of light and darkness was second nature, while very many middle class men were evangelical or nonconformist churchgoers to whom the challenge of bringing the light of the Gospel to the heathen was the Lord’s express command. In short, India made the British ruling classes feel good about themselves. Lord Curzon, viceroy a century ago, said India was “the biggest thing that the British are doing anywhere” and that if they lost it, they would straightaway fall to the rank of a third-rate power.
Disraeli’s Reform Act also extended the franchise to every male adult householder living in a borough constituency and his government passed Education Acts providing for basic state education for all. In 1896 newspaper tycoon Alfred Harmsworth, later Lord Northcliffe, launched his Daily Mail, the first British mass daily aimed at this new mass literate readership. Northcliffe made sure that the Daily Mail’s prime goal was to serve as ‘the Voice of Empire’ in London journalism. The Daily Mail was founded in 1896, between two mighty imperial events held in London: the Empire of India exhibition in 1895 and Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. The Daily Mail’s rival, The Daily Express, first appeared in 1900 trumpeting : “Our policy is patriotic. Our faith is the British Empire.” Whole swathes of the working classes - what was called the music hall vote - lapped it up.
India and the Empire therefore appealed to all classes – romance and exotica for the upper classes, a stage for earnest religious endeavour, financial investment and professional expertise for the middle classes, and an excuse for racial oneupmanship for the working classes at the bottom of the social ladder. By the year of the glorious Diamond Jubille celebrations of 1897, when all the colonial glamour and exotica were paraded through London like a Roman triumph, the Empire had become an opiate for the British, an intoxicant they could not do without. Already in the late 1880s there were those in the Liberal Party who felt that the Party had to reckon with this fact if it was to survive. Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery, became their champion. In a major speech as Foreign Secretary in 1893 he called for an ever greater Empire:
We are engaged in ‘pegging out claims’ for the future. We have to consider, not what we want now, but what we shall want in the future. We have to consider what countries must be developed either by ourselves or some other nation. . . . Remember that the task of the statesman is not merely with the present, but with the future. We have to look forward beyond the chatter of platforms, and the passions of party, to the future of the race of which we are at present the trustees, and we should, in my opinion, grossly fail in the task that has been laid upon us did we shrink from responsibilities, and decline to take our share in a partition of the world which we have not forced on, but which has been forced upon us….we have to remember that it is part of our responsibility and heritage to take care that the world, so far as it can be moulded by us, shall receive the stamp of our people and not that of another (8).
His words are worth pondering for a number of reasons. First, we see here a man who looks beyond party to a bipartisan foreign policy; Rosebery was the first to do this. When he became Foreign Secretary, he angered the radicals and evangelicals in his own party, who clung to the old Gladstonian moral basis for foreign policy, by announcing the new principle of ‘continuity’ in foreign policy: he would continue the policy of his Tory predecessor, Lord Salisbury. Rosebery followed the example of the great Whig Foreign Secretary Palmerston 50 years earlier, whose creed was that Britain had “no permanent friends, only permanent interests”. Party interests should give way before the national interest. But who was to define this national interest ?
In lectures published in English under title The Karma Of Untruthfulness Vol 1 (hereafter KOU 1), Rudolf Steiner drew attention to the fact that certain great families had held power in Britain since the days of Henry VIII and Elizabeth. Steiner spoke of Rosebery in connection with Thomas Moore’s Utopia. More, he says, was in fact executed for criticising the power of these families. They included the families of Lord Salisbury, Lord Rosebery and Lord Palmerston. Steiner also drew attention to the 1890s as the time when ‘the imperialist stream’ took over from what he called ‘the puritanical stream’, by which he meant the evangelical or non-conformist liberal stream. Furthermore, he pointed out that in the ’90s, a special Cabinet committee was set up to oversee imperial defence, and that here an element of undemocratic secrecy stole into the British parliamentary system. This committee was the initiative of Arthur Balfour, Lord Salisbury’s nephew, when he served as First Lord of the Treasury in his uncle’s government. That government remained in office for 20 years, and when Salisbury stepped down in 1902, his nephew Balfour simply stepped into his place as Prime Minister. Balfour’s biographer Kenneth Young has said that the two men thought “as one on the future of the Empire and Pan Anglo-saxonism …”.
During these 20 years of the Conservative governments of Salisbury and Balfour, it was said that Britain was in effect run from ‘Hotel Cecil’ i.e. by the Cecil family, the family of Lord Salisbury, whose ancestors had been Secretaries of State to Queen Elizabeth and King James I, as well as presiding over the founding of the British Secret Service. Under Elizabeth, the Cecils’ key agent had been the occultist John Dee, the original 007, as he styled himself, and the first ideologue of the British Empire and advocate of British control of North America. It was at Dee’s instigation and with the aid of Dee’s navigational mathematics that the first British colony was planted in North America by Sir Walter Raleigh (9). Arthur Balfour was a highly cultured man, a philosopher and, like his uncle, an amateur scientist. He was also a founder member of the Society for Psychical Research and stood close to those concerned with spiritualism and Theosophy. A study of his biography reveals a man who was a master of understatement, intrigue, and secrecy. In the 1890s he was the originator of the Cabinet Office. If the Treasury is Whitehall’s motor and brake, wrote Young,
the Cabinet Office is the mirror and the vacant space at the mechanism’s heart. Like a palimpsest, all the “might be’s” and “might have been’s” of the machine of government are shadowed in its surface (10).
In other words, it was the first government ‘thinktank’. As Prime Minister from 1902, Balfour soon reorganised the Defence Committee which he had founded 7 years earlier but which had not proved to be so effective during the Boer War, and he established a much more solid and efficient organisation -
the Committee of Imperial Defence, meeting regularly under himself and intended to create ….a strategy defining the future roles of the Army and Navy. He meant to install a creative mechanism at the heart of government attended only by certain Ministers and interested grandees, free of Departmental strings. There were however no arrangements for the Committee to gather intelligence or to communicate its views to those who might act on them (11).
“Attended only by certain Ministers and interested grandees…” – this Committee was to coordinate the entire military resources of the Empire for the war which Balfour felt was approaching. His biographer says obliquely:
…quite early in the ’90s [ie during the Liberal government dominated by Rosebery 1892-5 - TMB] Balfour became aware that the era of peace was in all probability drawing to a close…Both in the privacy of his thoughts and in the publicity of the House [of Commons] Balfour began to develop …his rising flair for military matters (12).
Actually Balfour had no real flair for purely military matters, but he did have a flair for grand strategy and foreign policy; this was what interested him, and he sought to arrange military matters in a way that would support his strategic intentions. Note that his biographer does not say anything about how Balfour became aware that the era of peace was drawing to a close. He says only:
where, when and how war on a large scale would break out was not …apparent to him; but…there were indications from Germany, from France and from the Far East that war was a possibility (13).
He omits to mention here the main indication that from 1890, as soon as the Kaiser had sacked Bismarck, France had been making advances to Russia with a view to an alliance, and the Franco-Russian Dual Alliance was duly signed in 1893. Salisbury, Rosebery, and Balfour were all aware that the more territory Britain took in Africa and elsewhere, the more she aroused resentment and hostility. Nevertheless, they accepted this fact, went on taking territory and planned accordingly [see Rosebery's 1893 statement about pegging out claims quoted above].
7. Balfour’s ‘Anglo-Saxon Confederation’
In 1908 Theodore Roosevelt wrote a letter to Balfour which suggests he had read Balfour’s recent lecture on the subject of “Decadence”. This prompted Balfour to send Roosevelt a long letter early in 1909 detailing his visions of the future. It was headed The Possibility of an Anglo-Saxon Confederation and was sent to the British ambassador. This is now in the Royal papers, and it may well have been seen by King Edward VII. Balfour begins by saying that such a confederation can probably not be realised for many years until some other power arises in the world which makes a rapprochement of England and the USA a matter of importance from the point of view of defence. It was, he said all important that the USA should be well disposed towards England in the coming decade (14) [i.e. to 1919 when the Treaty of Versailles was signed - TMB]. He described himself as in favour of Imperial Preference in principle, but that Germany would not allow it and would build up her Navy to stop it, demand most favoured nation status, and rouse the world against Britain. He writes to the ambassador that before Roosevelt’s departure for Europe:
it is as well to impress upon him before he starts, with the possibility of an Anglo-Saxon Federation. He will then, if he does not already.…view European affairs through the glasses tinted with this point of view instead of some other, such as a German-American alliance….Roosevelt might easily be inspired to lay the foundation of an Anglo-American understanding.(15) He goes on to say that the world will belong in the future to a few major Powers: Universal peace will come only when these powers have divided the world between them….or if one nation becomes overwhelmingly superior to the rest….people who can look forward and grasp the essential factors which will govern the future grouping of the nations may be able to exert a profound influence on the political future of the world (16).
Technology – a subject in which Balfour, a keen and astute observer of his times, was extremely interested, was, he wrote, driving the growth of pan-nationalisms and racial groupings. Today we call these groupings trade blocs. Small nations such as the Balkan countries or the South American republics, he said, would go under. Russia would inevitably become an invulnerable superpower. Germany would seek to dominate Europe and take over parts of Holland, Switzerland and Denmark. He forecast a Latin federation to balance the Germanic one; such a Latin federation may seem not to have happened, though doubtless there have been those among the architects of the EU project who have had this in mind. He asserted that no European people could absorb the Asiatic peoples. They must develop for themselves. However, they may be exploited for commercial purposes in the meantime (17). A modernised Japan and China, he said, would probably create an Asiatic empire which would include India. He spoke of Britain gradually withdrawing from India, a process which will involve no dislocation of the trade connection between England and India and Egypt, even when autonomy is practically complete (18). Herein lie the seeds of the future British Commonwealth – a plan to ‘remote control’ the former colonies of the Empire. The great Powers, he went on, would support a reformed Turkey gaining at the expense of Russia. Africa could never be the home of the white race, for it was already in the possession of many millions of an inferior black race with whom white men cannot live and work on equal terms. Africa north of the Zambesi [i.e.that part considered more or less devoid of mineral resources - TMB] will be given over to the negro… and to the Mahommedans (19).
The world was dividing into great racial states, Balfour said, but there were certain areas such as S.Africa, with its vast reserves of gold and diamonds, and Australia, which Japan and Germany were after. These needed to be rapidly populated by Anglo-saxons and protected by an invincible navy. But Balfour knew that the Royal Navy was no longer up to the task, and this is where the USA came in. The USA and Britain, he argued, should federate to be a more than equal counterpoise to the other great nations of the future and also partly in order to secure to them the undisputed possession and development of the still thinly populated areas of the world (20). If Britain failed to carry through imperial preference with a strong navy, Japan and Germany would take Australia and S.Africa.
If America elects to pursue its destiny alone, he wrote, it must either make up its mind to be content with its present boundaries, and have no real say in the politics of the world…or it must embark on a career of conquest (21).
The USA, he pointed out, had already done this in the Philippines, Cuba, and Panama. The danger was,
to put it bluntly, America can only expand at the expense of Britain….Unless England and America begin to come together, the Canal is certain to be a fertile source of friction between the two races (22).
Balfour asserts that the two peoples have nothing to gain by fighting and everything to gain by joining forces: race, language, political ideals and history serve to bring them together:
In a loose federation neither will sacrifice its own individuality. There will simply be imposed on English, American, Canadian, South African and Australian national sentiment a common anglo-saxon patriotism….if England and America do not federate, the history of the world will continue to be one of warfare, for a number of powers will be competing for the supremacy….If they unite against the rest of the world they will be beyond attack…Such a federation would be a sea empire with no land borders to defend. It would possess the thinly populated areas and all the seas….The Federal Council would only deal with the question of preference and …defence…No permanent government would be required…such a confederation would be practically unassailable and would dominate the world…It would practically dictate peace by sea to the rest of the world…The balance of power…would be permanently upset (23).
Balfour did not think public opinion was yet ready to accept this scenario but he thought the way might be paved and people accustomed to the idea. For example, the great American publicist Walter Lippman in 1915 wrote that U.S. foreign policy would experience a crowning disaster if uninformed by a vision of the Anglo-American future (24) Balfour concluded his letter for Roosevelt by appealing to Roosevelt’s pride:
It would be a fitting combination to Roosevelt’s career that he should go down to history as the prime author of the greatest confederation the world has ever see (25).
Balfour’s biographer notes:
it was a bold and vsionary scheme…but not merely an idealistic dream. It was in fact a development of pax Romana in which peace was to be (in Balfour’s word) ‘legated’ [a Roman word - TMB] to the rest of the world – a world government…enforced not by tramping legions but by sea.
With typical mid-century anti-German prejudice, Young then states: If it had been originated by a German, one might regard it as a typically grandiose scheme of world power, but Balfour knew it would mean a diminution of British power.
No doubt Balfour [and Rosebery] thought that British diplomatic skill and the genius for (occasionally
[!] devious) compromise would prevent [Britain] being submerged in such a confederation, and indeed against the still largely untested American diplomacy, would enable her to be the effective leader (26)
Young describes this letter to Roosevelt as revealing his deepest political thinking, and indeed, in a speech to an Anglo-American elite audience at a Pilgrims Society Dinner in London in 1917 when he was Foreign Secretary in the wartime Cabinet, Balfour proclaimed:
We have not learned freedom from you, nor you from us. We both spring from the same root…Are we not bound together forever? Will not our descendants, when they come to look back on this unique episode in the history of the world, say that among the incalculable circumstances which it produced, the most beneficent and the most permanent is perhaps, that we are brought together and united for one common purpose in one common understanding – the two great branches of the English-speaking race?….This is a theme which absorbs my thoughts day and night. It is a theme which moves me more, I think, than anything connected with public affairs in all my long experience (27).
Although the US was established largely on British foundations in the 18th century, it sought in the 19th century to emancipate itself fully from subservience to Britain. But with the end of the Civil War in 1865 and the death of the anti-American Lord Palmerston in the same year, those steering the ship of state in Britain realised that the USA could not be controlled by the traditional British method of divide and rule. They determined rather to try to appease and even ultimately reunite with the USA, to reinfuse their aristocratic and oligarchical, profoundly antidemocratic, spirit back into the US on the basis of a putative racial solidarity.
Rudolf Steiner pointed to the existence of an inner connection between the events of the 1840s and the years of the First World War. He saw the war as the consequence of the materialism of the 1840s; in particular, he related the years 1841 and 1917 as mirroring each other around the axial point of 1879 in accordance with a ‘historical law’ he described, in which there are particularly significant years in history that function as axis points. Years on either side of these axis points mirror each other. For example, he said, the spiritual events of 1878 are mirrored in the earthly events of 1880 and so on in either direction out from the axis year. Accordingly, the spiritual events of 1841 are mirrored in the practical events of 1917.
In 1847 Disraeli wrote his novel Tancred in which the following words appear: All is Race. There is no other truth. Other novels of his expressed the same message. In 1860 he wrote to his friend Mrs Brydges Willyams:
What is preparing? A greater revolution perhaps in Austria than ever happened in France. Then it was the rights of Man; now it is the rights of Nations. Once I said in “Coningsby”, there is nothing like race; it comprises all truths. The world will now comprehend that awful truth.(28)
Ultimately, the drive to Anglo-American power is a matter of racism, which itself was the product of the materialism that had been brewing in Britain since at least the days of Henry VIII. For some of the Anglo-Americans of the Edwardian era who called themselves ‘race patriots’ like Balfour, Rosebery, and Roosevelt, it was the physical race that mattered. For those who looked further ahead, like Lord Alfred Milner, it was the values of the race that were all-important. Milner wrote in his “Credo” :
My patriotism knows no geographical but only racial limits. I am an imperialist and not a Little Englander because I am a British race patriot. It is not the soil of England…which is essential to arouse my patriotism, but the speech, the traditions, the spiritual heritage, the principles, the aspirations, of the British race…(29)
This is the more modern form of Anglo-American prejudice which one can frequently find in The Economist or Foreign Affairs and in numerous Hollywood movies. It might be summarised in the following way : “by all means let us have people of different races working together; let us open the gates to immigration, but only as long as these people of different races have decent anglo-saxon ideas in their heads.”
Balfour the Conservative, who described himself as a Liberal, and Rosebery, who was a Liberal, were only a year apart in age, came from very similar backgrounds and even had similar characters – highly intelligent and articulate, cultivated, superior, lazy, and unphysical – and yet they disliked each other. Nevertheless, their families were close; they moved in the same circles around the Prince of Wales; were both devotees of the imperialist and Pan-Anglo-saxon cause and both remained, despite their imperialism, committed to Free Trade, strongly opposed to Joseph Chamberlain’s movement for Imperial Preference, protectionism and tariff reform, which was taken up by many in the Conservative party. In this, Balfour and Rosebery remained close to their contacts in the City of London, fearing that imperial preference and tariff walls would separate Britain from America. They believed in Anglo-American unity of action and even dreamed of eventual unity of political constitution. Here is Rosebery, a man at the centre of Britain’s aristocratic political establishment, and Queen Victoria’s favourite politician, in his rectorial address at the University of Glasgow in 1900 (16 Nov) imagining what would have happened if the Earl of Chatham, William Pitt the Elder, had not left the House of Commons as Prime Minister; it would have saved America for the Empire, he says:
And at last, when the Americans became the majority, the seat of Empire would perhaps have been moved solemnly across the Atlantic, and Britain have become the historical shrine and the European outpost of the world empire. It would have been the most sublime transference of power known to mankind. Our conceptions can scarcely picture the procession across the Atlantic, the greatest sovereign in the greatest fleet in the universe [!], ministers, government, parliament, departing solemnly for the other hemisphere…under the vigorous embrace of the New World (30).
Rosebery in particular had huge investments in that New World, not least from his marriage to Hannah Rothschild [Disraeli, a family friend, had given her away at the wedding] – in silver mining interests in Montana. During World War One and after, Balfour was to play a key role in knitting together British and American foreign policy and in setting up the League of Nations with his cousin, Lord Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury’s son. Rosebery was also a propagandist historian of the imperial cause, writing best-selling biographies of leading imperialists such as Oliver Cromwell, William Pitt the Elder, Lord Chatham, Pitt the Younger, and also Napoleon. Indeed, Rosebery once declared in 1896 that imperial federation was the dominant passion of his life (31). Rosebery’s maternal grandfather was the 4th Earl of Stanhope, who had been, with his close friend Edward Bulwer Lytton, a member of the occultic Orphic Circle in the 1830s. Stanhope was a secret agent, an amateur homeopath and a lifelong keen researcher into the occult who also played a key role in the tragedy of Kaspar Hauser in 1828-33. Very close to Bulwer Lytton and Stanhope in the 1830s and involved in their sceances was the young dandy and aspiring politician Benjamin Disraeli; it was the aristocrat Bulwer Lytton who provided the socially unprivileged Disraeli with his entree into “Society”. Rudolf Steiner said that:
Lord Rosebery himself was not particularly important…” [but that he was] “an individual who is backed by various concealed groups…the firm doctrine that had come into being in the secret brotherhoods must be heard resounding in the words of Lord Rosebery, for we must learn to look in the right places (32).
The early death of his wife in 1890 seemed to knock some of the stuffing out of Rosebery and further reduced his will, which was never very strong, to involve himself energetically in practical politics. Gladstone almost had to beg him to become Foreign Secretary in 1892. After 1895 the liberal imperialist faction of the Liberal Party, including Sir Edward Grey, longed for Rosebery to take a strong lead and command the Party, but Rosebery chose to “plough his own lonely furrow” as he put it. Resistance from the old classical liberal stream in the Liberal Party required too much energy for him fully to defeat. He continued to make influential keynote speeches from the sidelines and after 1905 faded somewhat from the political scene, withdrawing to his villa near Naples. In a stream of elegant and passionate speeches, Shakespearean in tone, which burned the ears of literate Englishmen, Rosebery continued to urge the Liberal Party to abandon its old indifference to Empire and colonies. This is an example of his rhetoric in November 1900 to the students of Glasgow University about the British Empire:
How marvelous it all is! Built not by saints and angels, but by the work of men’s hands … and yet not wholly human, for the most heedless and the most cynical must see the finger of the Divine. Growing as trees grow, while others slept; fed by the faults of others as well as the character of our fathers; reaching with a ripple of a restless tide over tracts, and islands and continents, until our little Britain woke up to find herself the foster-mother of nations and the source of united empires. Do we not hail in this less the energy and fortune of a race than the supreme direction of the Almighty? (33)
Such eloquence appealed to the British sense for the dramatic.
Rosebery is often said to have been if anything pro-German in the 1890s – he was indeed a friend of Herbert Bismarck, son of the Iron Chancellor, and admired the strength of Herbert’s father – and he certainly criticised the Entente Cordiale with France in 1904, saying that it would likely “lead to complications” rather than peace, but actions speak louder than words; in fact he only spoke once against the Entente Cordiale in public. If he had thought it such a disastrous foreign policy move and dangerous to Britain, he would have continued to speak out against it, but it is significant that he chose not to do so, and when war against Germany came in 1914, he was as gung-ho as the rest about winning it decisively. Although Rosebery failed to transform the Liberal Party completely into a Party of imperialist free traders as opposed to Little Englander or isolationist free traders, he did succeed in creating a substantial faction within the Party and in particular, he succeeded in inspiring the trio of friends who would dominate the Liberal government after 1905 and lead Britain into the First World War: Asquith, Haldane and Grey.
Now, before turning to Sir Edward Grey, I must make another long jump back to modern America. Today, American balance of power advocates, usually on the rightwing, wish to abandon preponderance and they cite 19th century Britain as a model. In effect, Britain abandoned both preponderance (in the mode of splendid isolation) and balance of power (the notion of the free hand) in 1902-07 by allying itself with Japan and by negotiating Ententes with France and Russia. Despite the constant claims of Sir Edward Grey that Britain still had ‘a free hand’ as a result of these arrangements and was still working with the balance of power, Britain was in fact now inexorably committed to one side of that balance, and a survey of the economic, demographic, geographic, and military factors will show that the balance was overwhelmingly in favour of the Triple Entente: Britain, France and Russia. As Col. E. House, special assistant to President Wilson, wrote to the President from Berlin 29th May 1914:
…there is some day to be an awful cataclysm…there is too much hatred, too many jealousies. Whenever England consents, France and Russia will close in on Germany and Austria. [emphasis - TMB] England does not want Germany wholly crushed, for she would then have to reckon alone with ancient enemy Russia; but if Germany insists upon an ever-increasing navy, then England will have no choice.(34)
By abandoning preponderance today, America’s balance of power advocates argue, America will avoid arousing the resentment of other major powers and will avoid the complications and conflicts that result from economic interdependence. In this way, they claim, America can hope to remain prosperous and still reasonably dominant in the world. It is beginning to look as if the Bush administration has decided to adopt this strategy by creating a national missile defence shield which will enable America to become an offshore, insular or rather, insulated, Power and by hunkering down under this shield with the rest of the American hemisphere. The Spanish-speaking Bush Jnr has made it a priority for his foreign policy to extend NAFTA down into Central and South America – the Free Trade Area of the Americas project (FTAA). In the long run – and let us never forget that, like Rosebery and Balfour, foreign policy elites like to think long term – as with the EU, this will tend in the direction of a continental American Union, thus fulfilling an old dream going back to the days of the early American Republic and more recently to Woodrow Wilson, whose special adviser Col. House also dreamed the dream of a Pan- American Pact. He wrote about the union of north and central America in his novel of 1912 Philp Dru – Administrator and in late 1914, he took steps to realise a Pan-American Pact between North and South America. He claimed the purpose of this was to provide the warring European states with an example of a better way to do things after the end of the war, but it may easily be surmised that bringing South America under the wing of the USA would render valuable service to Britain in its war against the Central Powers, a war which House wholeheartedly supported. (Incidentally, House’s 1912 novel Philip Dru included a postscript from Sir Edward Grey’s cousin Albert, then Governor-General of Canada, on the subject of Co-partnership in industry) During the war, House worked closely with Grey on various issues and together with Lord Robert Cecil, the two did the most to promote the idea of the League of Nations. On 21 Feb 1916 Col. House wrote :
the thought then occurred and I expressed it to Grey that…the British Government might join the American guaranty as far as their American colonies were concerned. This, I told him, was one way [for Britain -TMB] to bring about a sympathetic alliance not only with the US, but with the entire Western Hemisphere….Grey… thought it should be done (35)
Here we see House trying to link Britain and parts of its Empire to the US-dominated Pan-American Pact. In 1939, on the edge of war, Clarence Streit issued his famous call for transatlantic Union, and most recently, Gordon Brown, the British Chancellor has called for Transatlantic Free Trade, which would link the EU and NAFTA, knowing full well that for a decade and more, a whole array of committees and organisations have been busy knitting the two together.
Meanwhile, we see American efforts to get the Russians to agree to Missile Defence, and NATO advancing ever further eastwards into the Balkans to get nearer to Central Asia where western companies are trying to gain control over the massive oil and gas reserves that are said to be the likely battleground of the 21st century. From the Chinese point of view, this looks both like western encroachment on China’s interests in Central Asia and a US-dominated Pacific and American hemisphere – China encircled as effectively as Germany was in 1914. China is not being “balanced” by the West any more than Germany was by Britain; China is being surrounded, and the most likely outcome of that, I would say, is a major war sometime within the next 10 years or so, before China has a chance to stabilise its political and economic systems and build up a really potent computer-controlled offensive intercontinental nuclear missile delivery system. The US military cannot do much about the People’s Liberation Army, anymore than Britain could do about the German army in 1904, but if indeed the US military are looking back 100 years and seeing in China another imperial Germany, they are not likely to want to see the growth of the modern Chinese equivalent of the Imperial German Navy.
9. Sir Edward Grey
Those who have the absolute power of preventing lamentable events, and knowing what is taking place, refuse to exercise that power, are responsible for what happens – Lord Salisbury (36)
Balfour was in the front rank of practical politics almost all his life, while Rosebery was a reticent and retiring politician who eventually became a political recluse. The two men were, along with Lord Salisbury and Jospeh Chamberlain, the greatest British politicians of the 1890s. Rudolf Steiner characterised English politics as being:
under the influence of what lies behind them…the main concern is to find ways of placing suitable people in the right places. The people in the background who are involved in occult manipulations are often like a number one; they do not amount to much on their own. They need something else: a nought…if more noughts are added, so long as there is a one somewhere as well, a great deal can result, for instance a thousand…So the aim is combine the noughts in a suitable way with the ones, whereby the noughts have no need to know much about the way in which they are combined with the ones. (37)
Rosebery was such a number one. Temperamentally, he was indolent and would not have achieved much alone, but he was a successful racehorse owner and thus appealed to the racing public; from the classes to the masses, everyone loved a winner. The readers of The Daily Mail, “written by office boys for office boys” as Lord Salisbury condescendingly described it, would have warmed to articles on the Empire written by “that good sport” Lord Rosebery. As a literary man, Rosebery had many other connections with the Press which he cultivated assiduously. He helped the editor of The Times choose correspondents for the key posts of Berlin and Vienna. Indeed, he excelled in selecting and suggesting people for important positions; one of the most important such suggestions he made was for Reginald Brett, Lord Esher, perhaps the preeminent fixer of the Edwardian era, to take charge of the royal households; in this position Brett became close adviser to King Edward VII. Perhaps Rosebery’s biggest achievement however, was to function, Steiner’s sense, as the number one to his three acolytes, the three zeroes - Asquith, Haldane and Grey - and through them he became the number one to their many liberal imperialist followers. This trio were firm friends. Haldane was the thinker, much given to German philosophy and culture; Asquith was the lady’s man, the political fixer, opportunist and mediator, while Grey simply did his duty, the strong silent type, the man of principle, who knew little of foreign affairs yet was widely regarded as ‘the expert’ and whose passion was fly fishing and silent communion with Nature. Throughout the ’90s Rosebery educated the trio in the tenents of Liberal Imperialism and brought them to the point where they were regarded as key figures in the parliamentary Liberal party, faithfully representing his point of view. After 1902, however, when he opted to step back from active leadership of the Liberal Imperialist group, the trio struck out on their own, all the while looking back wistfully over their shoulders, especially Grey, for their lost leader.
The Conservative Party hierarchy, dominated by Balfour and the Cecil family, regarded the trio as ‘sound’ on free trade, on Ireland and above all on foreign policy, and no Liberal was seen as more sound than Grey. After all, he had followed the example of Rosebery and had opted for the principle of ‘continuity’ in foreign affairs. As Foreign Secretary, he followed in the footsteps of his Tory predecessor Lord Lansdowne, who had ended ‘splendid isolation’ and oriented Britain towards the Franco-Russian Dual Alliance. The atmosphere of the House of Commons has often been likened to a an elite private schoolboys’ common room, and Grey was especially seen as ‘sound’ because of the noble figure he cut and the supremely gentlemanly image he projected. Grey had attended Wykeham School and Balliol College, Oxford under its most famous Master, Benjamin Jowett. Balliol was the seedbed of academic imperialism, and the essence of Grey’s reputation was that, to his fellow members of the ruling class in Parliament, most of whom had a similar social and educational background, he seemed to be an Englishman through and through – straight, simple, upright, good-looking, ‘square’ and dependable, and this image that a man cut on the stage was very important to Englishmen of that era - though they might have been the first to deny it.
Rudolf Steiner described Grey as a well-meaning zero, an honest nice man, a perfectly honest fellow, who in his own way longs to speak the truth (38). The British Socialist activist Beatrice Webb echoes Steiner’s judgment; after her first meeting with Grey in February 1902 she wrote:
a slight person; he has a charm of appearance, of manner and even of character; but he is I fear essentially a stick to be used by someone else (39).
The German historian Margret Boveri was more generous. Writing in 1932, she seemed to grasp something essential about Grey when she said that
one never gets to the kernel of the man …. he lived a life dominated by duty and did nothing out of himself, out of the joy of exerting his will. He waits in the hope that things will work out by themselves. He lets everything come to him; much comes over to him, and some of it he takes up. His significance lies in his passivity, a passivity which is not one of weakness but is borne by an iron kernel of convictions. He is in the true sense of the word ‘liberal’, that is, not one who just lets himself be pushed from above or from beyond but stands for allowing forces to develop freely by themselves in the conviction that this play of forces and all the dissonances which it produces must lead to another harmony; and that the value of compromise lies in creating an agreement, in finding the positive that lies in every onesided striving for a goal and in leading it to merge with another positive to a higher unity (40).
In his recent book The Pity of War Niall Ferguson, the Cambridge historian, adds another important dimension to this picture of Grey by emphasising Grey’s passion for fly fishing: he quotes from Grey’s own book about the sport where he describes landing an eight-pound salmon:
There was no immediate cause for dreading catastrophe. But….there came on me a grim consciousness that the whole affair must be very long, and that the most difficult part of all would be at the end, not in playing the fish, but in landing it….It seemed as if any attempt to land the fish with [my] net would precipitate a catastrophe which I could not face. More than once I failed and each failure was horrible…For myself, I know nothing which equals the excitement of having hooked an unexpectedly large fish on a small rod and fine tackle.(41)
Others have noted a streak of anarchism and risktaking in Grey’s makeup, combined with a dogged stubborness. Ferguson comments:
It is with this Grey in mind – the excited anxious fisherman on the riverbank, rather than the broken self-apologist of the memoirs, that we should interpret British foreign policy between 1905 and 1914. but Ferguson notes that in one sense the analogy is misleading. For in his dealings with Russia and France, it was arguably Grey who was the fish others hooked. (42)
Grey can thus indeed be said to have been the stick that others used to beat the Germans. This assessment is bolstered by a penetrating comment from Sir Roger Casement, the Ulster politician :
At bottom a peace-loving, homely, quiet man, he came to an office for which he was entirely unsuited, and mainly for this reason. The powers that guided the destiny of the State had no use for an able man….I should not regard him as the stage villain of the piece. As he once said of himself, he is a fly on the wheel of State..…the victim rather than the defender of the aims of British Imperialism. These aims were already fixed and the driver of the coach of State was already at his post when….Sir Edward Grey mounted the coach. Instead of driving it himself, he was taken up as passenger.(43)
10. Grey and the Press
A moot question is: who was the driver to whom Casement referred ? It is not easy to assess how much Grey was his own man in his foreign policy decisions, and how much he was an empty space filled by others’ promptings. It must be remembered that Grey was no linguist and had very little experience of foreign countries. He became Foreign Minister in December 1905 but never travelled to the Continent until April 1914. Before that, he had only been to the West Indies in 1897 and India ten years earlier. He had no close foreign friends nor social acquaintances from Continental countries. He tells us that he read few newspapers: The Times, the weekly Spectator and the Westminster Gazette, edited by his friend Spender. The first two were generally supportive of the Conservative Party and from 1896 on, tended to be fiercely anti-German. The daily circulation of The Times in 1908 was only 38,000 but it was read by everyone in the elite – indeed, it was written for them - and some London gentlemen’s clubs carried no other paper. In those days when everyone got most of their current affairs information from the Press, foreign correspondents had a great responsibility for forming opinion. None were more influential than those of The Times. Two key men at The Times in the ’90s, manager C. F. Moberly Bell and Foreign Editor-in-chief Mackenzie Wallace were close to the three centres of power : the official government centre which revolved round the Cecil family, Salisbury and Balfour; the unofficial centre, the Marlborough House Set of the Prince of Wales; and between these two and commmon to both, were the financial powerbrokers of the City of London - Barings, Rothschilds and Sir Ernest Cassel. Rosebery flitted between these three centres like a will o’ the wisp.
Lord Salisbury’s foreign policy had, before 1888, if anything, leaned towards the Triple Alliance, but the ultimate block in Anglo-German relations proved to be South Africa. Its gold and diamonds, its strategic position made the British elite judge it to be vital to British interests. They determined to take it from the Boers and keep all competitors out. In fact, there was no competition there except for Germany which had considerable investments as well as nearby colonies. In 1896 a major row broke out between Britain and Germany over Cecil Rhodes’ effort to stage a coup d’etat in South Africa and seize power from the Boers. We now know that Joseph Chamberlain, the Colonial Secretary, was deeply involved in the conspiracy, but the Press, led by The Times, successfully diverted national attention away from this charge and from danger to the imperialist cause by focusing on a foolish telegram sent by the German Kaiser that congratulated the leader of the Boers on suppressing the coup. In doing this, Wilhelm was signalling the very great commercial and financial interests Germany had in South Africa and warning Britain not to take over S.Africa’s wealth for itself – but that was precisely what the British imperialist elite were determined to do.
From that year 1896 onwards, The Times under Bell and Wallace shifted into a noticeably anti-German mode. It hired in that year as correspondent in Berlin George Saunders, a Liberal of the progressive but imperialist evangelical variety who had been trained and brought to Germany in 1888 by W.T.Stead, the zealous advocate of Anglo-American imperialism and famous campaigning editor of the Pall Mall Gazette and later, The Review of Reviews. Stead also happened to be a longstanding occultist who was close to Annie Besant and the Theosophists; he communicated regularly with his own spirit guide ‘Julia’. Rosebery was well acquainted with both Stead and Saunders. Saunders knew Germany well and had married into a rich, well-connected German family, but he despised the country and was a fierce liberal imperialist, an upright but very driven, obsessive man. Often suffering from ill-health and in his militant forties for most of his Berlin posting, Saunders proceeded to write a veritable stream of vitriolic reports on Germany, claiming that Germans hated England and wished only for her downfall. He did this by focusing on what was called the ‘yellow journalism’ among the German Press and playing down or ignoring the moderate or pro-English German papers. The American historian Oron J Hale wrote that
Under the impact of Boeritis and Anglophobia, which he encountered on all side, [Saunders] completely lost his balance and his dispatches often degenerated into tirades against everything German (44).
In his book Publicity and Diplomacy, too frequently overlooked by British historians today on this point, Hale describes how Saunders’ reporting was so often appallingly selective and prejudiced.
Englishmen reading Saunders’ inflammatory yet well-written, seemingly objective accounts of Germany day after day over a period of 12 years sitting in their clubs, sipping their whiskys, could hardly be blamed for developing something of an anti-German bias themselves. If they did not know the country, this was the only current view of Germany to which they were exposed. Sir Edward Grey was no exception. When one compares the words of Saunders about Germany with the thoughts expressed by Grey about that country in later years, one sees that Grey faithfully repeats the views and sometimes even the phases and images used by Saunders, most notably the idea that “they all hate us and mean to take our place”. In his memoirs Grey pays homage to Saunders for “his sincerity and knowledge”. Those British historians, usually from Oxford, Cambridge and close to the Cecil network, who have sought to excuse Saunders have often quoted the following comment by the German Chancellor of the day, von Bülow:
…those Englishmen who, like Chirol and Saunders, know from personal observation the acuteness and depth of Germany’s unfortunate dislike of Britain are the most dangerous to us. If the British public clearly realised the anti-British feeling which dominates Germany just now, a great revulsion would occur in its conception of the relations between Britain and Germany. (45)
But this was said in November 1899, a month after the outbreak of the Boer War, when Germans were indeed furious, as were most Frenchmen and Russians, by Britain’s actions. Certainly, the Germans were perhaps more upset than others because of the racial affinity that some of them felt for the Boers and because of concern for German investments in South Africa ; they realised that Britain was really trying to acquire South Africa’s wealth for itself and to keep the Germans out. Von Bülow’s words “just now” above should be noted. It is quite another thing to assert that from 1890 till 1914 the German nation as a whole veritably hated the English, which is exactly what the English teutophobic Press claimed.
Saunders’ harping on the theme of ‘hatred’ and ‘friendship’ must have struck a chord with Grey, because Grey’s own correspondence is full of concerns and fears of losing the friendship of France or Russia. He sometimes took this to obsessive lengths, as for example in 1907, when he stopped a military band of the British Army’s oldest regiment, the Coldstream Guards, from visiting Germany for fear that it might upset the French and cost Britain France’s friendship.
11. Grey and Leo Maxse’s ABC
On 24.11.1901 – still during the Boer War - Grey wrote to Leo Maxse, the fanatically teutophobic editor of the National Review. Maxse himself had been set on his own anti-German crusade by a visit to Saunders in Berlin in late October 1899, just as the Boer war was breaking out. Grey wrote:
the business of the British government is to bring about a better position and the first step is an understanding with Russia….The first practical point is to establish confidence and direct relations with Russia and to eliminate in that quarter the German broker, who keeps England and Russia apart and levies a constant commission upon us, while preventing us from doing any business with Russia.
This image of the broker and his commission had been repeated countless times by Saunders and was to be repeated countless more times by Maxse. Grey’s correspondence with Maxse had begun in 1893, the year that Maxse became editor of the National Review, but in 1901 Maxse invited him to collaborate in writing a joint article of major importance that would attempt to force a change in the direction of British foreign policy and bring about an Anglo-Russian Entente that would pave the way for an Anglo-French Entente. Grey willingly cooperated in this. Valentine Chirol, in charge of foreign news at The Times and former Times correspondent in Berlin, Sir Charles Hardinge, then First Secretary at the embassy in St Petersburg, Sir Rowland Blennerhassett, a liberal Catholic close to the country’s Catholic hierarchy and a veteran teutophobe, also contributed, as well as a mysterious Russian financial agent in London named Tatistcheff. The article was published anonymously in Maxse’s magazine in November 1901 under the title British Foreign Policy by ABC & etc; it was widely circulated by Maxse among foreign policy circles at home and abroad and caused a major stir.
In 1902 Maxse and his friend Strachey at the Spectator (another paper often read by Grey), supported by Chirol and Saunders at The Times, led a ferocious anti-German Press campaign designed to destroy any hope of Anglo-German reconciliation or agreement. By January 1903, Grey was writing to his friend Henry Newbolt:
I have come to think that Germany is our worst enemy and our greatest danger…the majority of Germans dislike us so intensively that the friendship of their Emperor or their Govt cannot be really useful to us…..I believe the policy of Germany to be that of using us without helping us, keeping us isolated, that she may have us to fall back on. Close relations with Germany mean for us worse relations with the rest of the world [!], especially with the USA [!], France and Russia
From 1895 to 1905 Grey was out of government and he never travelled to Germany himself, so what was forming his views? It is known that from 1902 on, he was a member for several years, with Maxse, of an informal dining group called “The Coefficients” that had been organised by the Fabian Socialist leaders Sidney and Beatrice Webb. The Coefficients were what we would today call a thinktank. The Webbs wanted to find bipartisan ways to make the Empire more efficient and more socialist – a kind of Edwardian Third Way, a Social Imperialism that actually had a strong whiff of proto-fascism about it, racial solidarity, improved eugenic breeding of the masses, widespread state control and of course, a world controlled forever by the British Empire which would merge with America and become the World State. The group was deliberately selected by the Webbs to be bipartisan and included luminaries from across the political spectrum such as the Webbs themselves, Bertrand Russell, H.G.Wells, Lord Robert Cecil, Balfour, Clinton Dawkins the City financier, Lord Milner’s right hand man Leo Amery, Leo Maxse, Halford Mackinder the architect of geopolitics, and Col. Charles Repington, military correspondent of The Times. Grey was brought in by Haldane to be the group’s ‘foreign policy expert’. Biographers of Grey tend to pass over this group lightly – he has not left many references to it in his correspondence - and indeed it soon got into trouble when its members began arguing about tariff reform and Imperial Preference after May 1903, but it continued to meet and attract high level participants until about 1909; Milner and Asquith both attended occasionally. In his Experiment in Autobiography (46) Wells identified Edward Grey at Coefficients’ meetings as a promoter of the strategy of provoking Germany to attack France, without adequate warning of consequent British intervention, so that Germany could be laid low sooner than later while the British Navy was still supreme, and Bertrand Russell noted in his Autobiography that:
One evening Sir Edward Grey (not then in office) made a speech advocating the policy of Entente, which had not yet been adopted by the Government. I stated my objections to the policy very forcibly, and pointed out the likelihood of its leading to war, but no one agreed with me, so I resigned from the Club (47)
None of this sounds like the innocent upright Sir Edward Grey most people in the English-speaking world have for 80 years associated with doing his best to prevent the beastly Germans from going to war in 1914. the man who reluctantly took Britain into war to defend Belgium, the civilised melancholy gentleman who made the famous statement about the lamps going out all over Europe.
So, before he became Foreign Minister in 1905, Grey had been habitually exposed to the views expressed in The Times and at Coefficients meetings, none of which were, to say the least, well disposed towards Germany. Keith Wilson, historian of foreign policy at the University of Leeds, argues that “Fear was the key to Grey’s foreign policy” and that “avoiding isolation was his only principle” (48) – ironic in that Grey shared with Rosebery a love of solitude, but Wilson does not take into account Grey’s membership of the Coefficients, where a far-reaching agenda was discussed and the rivalry between Britain and Germany frequently debated in apocalyptic terms. For example, Wells argued that
the British Empire had to be the precursor of a world-state or nothing . . . It was possible for the Germans and Austrians to hold together in their Zollverein [tariff and trade bloc - TMB] because they were placed like a clenched fist in the centre of Europe. But the British Empire was like an open hand all over the world. It had no natural economic unity and it could maintain no artificial economic unity. Its essential unity must be a unity of great ideas embodied in the English speech and literature. (49)
It is not difficult to see how such views, already present among elite circles in Britain in 1902-03, could develop into war propaganda that claimed Germany was a reactionary threat to world development and civilisation.
Grey contributed to W.T. Stead’s Review of Reviews on 1 June 1898 on the subject of Anglo-American reunion. Joseph Chamberlain had been making vague noises that seemed to favour an alliance with Germany. Citing his dislike for German diplomatic methods, Grey opposed the notion of any such alliance. Indeed both Grey and Asquith strongly turned their faces away from Chamberlain’s efforts to get closer to Germany. Like Rosebery, they remained Liberal free traders, whereas Chamberlain was moving in the direction of protectionism and respected the German Zollverein as an effective means for achieving this. As a businessman, Chamberlain had some respect for the successes of German commerce and as a racialist politican, he looked forward to a future dominated by the anglo-saxon and germanic peoples. Rosebery, Grey and Asquith did not share Chamberlain’s experience or his vision; their racialism was more narrowly focused on the English-speaking world. Like Lord Salisbury, Grey said he didn’t believe an alliance was necessary and believed that German public opinion was very anti-British. Two conclusions arise from this:
1) he was already disposed to an anti-German stance before the Boer War,
2) he followed Saunders’ line about German public opinion.
In his memoirs Grey denies having anti-German sentiments before taking office in December 1905 and says he had no prejudice in 1892. Yet in a letter to Goschen of 26.10. 1910 (Boveri, p176) he traces the bad relations between Britain and Germany back to his time as Parliamentary Under-Secretary 1892-5. This is instructive, because whereas other Foreign Office staff resorted to historical cases further back in the past to account for Anglo-German differences (e.g. the Congress of Berlin 1878 or even Frederick the Great’s actions in 1762 !), Grey, largely ignorant of such details, referred to his own experience. He insisted that Germany behaved badly and exploitatively in 1892-5, although Hermann Lutz in his book Lord Grey and the World War effectively demolishes Grey’s arguments, and even The Times, notably Valentin Chirol, criticised the British government for its devious behaviour in the argument with Germany over the Congo in 1894, when Grey was serving in the Foreign Office under Rosebery. The History of The Times also supports this interpretation.
In 1895 when the Rosebery government fell, Grey left a comprehensive statement of his views on foreign policy in a letter to Liberal MP Sidney Buxton:
…The fact is that the success of the British race has upset the tempers of the rest of the world, & now that they have ceased quarrelling about provinces in Europe & have turned their eyes to distant places, they find us in the way everywhere. Hence a general tendency to vote us a nuisance & combine against us. I am afraid we shall have to fight sooner or later, unless some European apple of discord falls amongst the Continental Powers, but we have a good card to play yet & I think a bold and skilful For Sec might detach Russia from the number of our active enemies without sacrificing any very material British interests. I have never been very devoted to the blue eyes of the Mediterranean & if Old Sarum [Lord Salisbury] has the pluck to do a bold stroke of policy & play the dog in the manger there less, I for one should be glad….Unless Russia is bent on annexing Persia, room could easily be found for her wants and ours both in Asia and Europe…
Grey here is largely repeating the views of both Salisbury and Rosebery. Salisbury in 1895 was already exploring the possibility of demolishing the Ottoman Empire, convinced it could not last, though Germany was strengthening her own ties with the Ottomans with a view to economic development, not least via what was to become the Berlin to Baghdad Railway. How far Berlin and London had their eyes already in 1895 on exploiting possible oil reserves in Mesopotamia I do not yet know, but Admiral Fisher had long been clear that the British Royal Navy of the future would have to be adapted to run on oil. Grey was clearly imagining a Russia either at the Dardanelles or in control of Constantinople ( “her wants in Asia and Europe” ), and since Russia was allied to France, it would not have been hard to imagine that an accommodation with Russia might easily lead to one with France – and where would that leave Germany ? Grey does not say. The “bold and skilful For Sec” eventually turned out to be Lord Lansdowne, the Conservative whose policy Grey the Liberal maintained and developed, though Lansdowne sought an arrangement with Russia not directly but via the Entente Cordiale with France. The European “apples of discord”, of course, were to be French aspirations in Morocco in 1905-06 and 1911, Austrian and Russian aspirations in the Balkans in 1908-09 and Serbian aspirations in 1912-14, by which time the British governing elite had decided that Britain would have to fight anyway.
From at least 1895 then, until 1901, we see Grey desiring an accommodation with Russia. France was an annoyance in Africa and Siam, but could be dealt with. This is why the British elite did not hesitate to face down France at Fashoda in 1898 when the French attempted to advance into Sudan. But Niall Ferguson is surely right in saying that Britain sought to appease Russia because it realised that Russia would become an invulnerable threat to British interests in Asia. France was manageable; Russia was altogether another kettle of fish. Despite its defeat at the hands of Japan in 1905, its latent power made its revival inevitable, and by 1914, both German strategists and British liberal imperialists were exercised about it. H.C.G. Matthew in The Liberal Imperialists draws attention to Grey’s emphasis on ‘national sentiment’ and says:
whatever caused Grey’s hostility to the Germans – the destruction of his papers makes it difficult to trace its private development – it was not the result either of profound study or of Foreign Office pressure..…he entered the Foreign Office in December 1905 having already for some years the suspicions about German policy which his advisers later encouraged. (50)
12. Hardinge & Co: Grey at the Foreign Office 1905-14
I must now turn to look at those advisers, the men who surrounded Grey when he was Foreign Secretary. Grey became Foreign Secretary in December 1905, because Haldane and Asquith insisted on it as part of the deal for their entry into Campbell-Bannerman’s government. Campbell-Bannerman, no liberal imperialist, was not happy about it but he knew that to oppose the troika of the ‘limps’ would split the Liberal Party. What kind of Foreign Office did Grey enter? The New Course in British foreign policy had begun under the previous Conservative Foreign Secretary, Lord Lansdowne, who was Lord Salisbury’s successor, Rosebery’s close friend since schooldays and Foreign Secretary under Arthur Balfour, Salisbury’s nephew. Lansdowne had ended splendid isolation by allying Britain to Japan in 1902 and forging the Entente Cordiale with France in 1904. All of this was actually the policy desired by the circle around King Edward VII: Admiral Fisher, Lord Esher, and Edward’s two favourite diplomats Sir Francis Bertie, ambassador in Paris, and Sir Charles Hardinge, ambassador in St Petersburg, men whose advancement he had personally arranged. The internal workings of the Foreign Office, however, had not altered much. That was now about to change in significant respects. Salisbury, a very secretive Foreign Secretary, had tended to do most of the important work by himself; his staff were little more than clerks and were not allowed to make much in the way of their own comments about policy issues. Hardinge, like Lansdowne, King Edward, and Grey in fact, was convinced that Britain and Russia should settle their differences and get togther. Bertie and the King pressured Lansdowne to make Hardinge the new Permanent Undersecretary at the Foreign Office, no 2 after the Foreign Secretary and the real head of the Foreign Office. Hardinge took up his post almost at the same time as Grey, having made sure that his own protégé, the fiercely anti-German Sir Arthur Nicolson, should take over his own place at St Petersburg and that another of his protégés, the equally anti-German Louis Mallet, should become Grey’s private secretary.
Who was Hardinge ? He was one of King Edward’s closest friends, a man whose interest was always in power: I had realised that the only way to get on in the service was to disregard material advantages and seek only power(51). He was the man with whom King Edward had secretly planned his daring trip of 1903 which had contributed so much to the sealing of the Entente Cordiale, and he was the only member of the diplomatic corps whom Edward took with him. In fact, he accompanied the King on most of his trips. Not even the Prime Minister Balfour, or Lansdowne the Foreign Secretary, were informed of the details of the trip, on which Hardinge also wrote most of the King’s speeches. Margret Boveri writes of Hardinge:
This man, who was familiar with all European and many non-European countries [he spoke various languages], who had corresponded for years with a whole array of leading diplomats, who had already as assistant undersecretary at the Foreign Office [before St Petersburg] mastered the work down to the smallest details and who possessed the trust of the King to the highest degree, now came as adviser to a new Foreign Secretary who had never left England, who spoke French badly and German not at all, and who – with a few exceptions – had never busied himself intensively with foreign affairs [yet was regarded as the Liberal Party's expert !]. They were an unequal pair as far as knowledge and ability went, and also in their temperaments. On the one side the reserved careful Grey, who preferred to express himself unclearly in doubtful cases, who liked to wait rather than press forward; and on the other the side the Permanent Under-Secretary, who sized things up speedily and could form quick judgments, who had a number of solid views about European power relationships and who had the nerve and the confidence to conduct positive forward driving policies. It was inevitable that Hardinge in many respects would become the actual former of foreign policy – that he pressed on, while Grey above all moderated and damped things down.(52)
Together with Eyre Crowe, the extremely able and consistently anti-German Senior Clerk at the Foreign Office, Hardinge carried through a reform of Foreign Office operations, the main effect of which was to allow junior staff to comment on documents as they passed them up the line to the Foreign Secretary for action. Since Hardinge brought it about that there were hardly any staff that were in favour of Anglo-German reconciliation, let alone cooperation, this meant that Grey received a stream of anti-German policy recommendations, warnings, and other such counsel, from the bottom up via Crowe and his subordinates and then via Hardinge, Grey’s number two. This continued week after week, month in year out, until Hardinge, after the death of King Edward, moved to India in 1910 to become Viceroy. By this time, Grey had ‘served his apprenticeship’ as Foreign Secretary, so to speak, and no longer needed Hardinge to keep him on track. This was Hardinge’s role from 1906-1910. There was never such a close relationship between a Foreign Secretary and a Permanent Under-Secretary as that between Grey and Hardinge; it was one of equals, not of superior and subordinate. The two men were equals in the sense that the Permanent Under-Secretary was treated as the equal of the Foreign Secretary; in experience and ability, however, they were most definitely not equals. When Hardinge left for India, Grey wrote to him: I am grieved that our time together is over. I can’t tell you what a comfort it has been to me in these years to have someone who could be a friend to work with. Here again we see Grey’s concern for the sentiment of friendship, and by implication, loneliness. Grey’s official relationship with Hardinge began at the same time as his wife’s death, his mother having died six months before Hardinge’s arrival. Both Grey and Hardinge were in their forties when they took up their high positions at the Foreign Office.
Grey himself, as we have seen, had already since at least 1899 been convinced of the need to stay away from Germany and to link up with France and Russia. Yet there were many in the Liberal Party, in the Cabinet and in the Liberal Press who did not share this view and who were always attempting to change Grey’s mind. They were aware of what was at stake: As E.D. Morel put it, the Hardinge crowd and I are fighting one another for the possession of Grey’s mind. (51) and W.T. Stead in the Review of Reviews in 1909 (by this time Stead had converted to pacifism, but was still a strong imperialist – a somewhat bizarre combination !) called on the government to prove that Sir Edward Grey is master in his own office and not Sir Charles Hardinge. Hardinge and his acolytes could ignore all this criticism, safe in the knowledge that Grey and his two Liberal Imperialists in the Cabinet, one of whom, Asquith, was now the Prime Minister, would continue to follow the foreign policy of the Conservative Party. They continued to keep their boss in line, “square” and “sound”, as they put it, on the question of Germany. Only one official, Parliamentary Under-Secretary Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice, Lansdowne’s brother, actively opposed the anti-German line, but he could not get through to Grey and in 1908 he was retired out of the Foreign Office. Meanwhile, those in the key ambassadorial positions constantly wrote letters to Grey from abroad urging upon him the same course – suspicion of and antipathy towards Germany: “hold fast to France and Russia.” These men had mostly been put in their places by King Edward; ambassadorial appointment was one of the few explicit privileges remaining to the monarch. The only leading diplomat who continued to appeal for Anglo-German understanding was Sir Frank Lascelles in Berlin, but before Grey could read them, Lascelles’ reports were constantly countered and criticised by Eyre Crowe, regarded by everyone as ‘the expert on Germany’ at the Foreign Office. In 1908 Lascelles too was replaced, by Viscount Goschen, who also followed the Hardinge line.
British historians are ever wary of anything that smacks of conspiracy theory and are keen to poohpooh it. For example, Zara Steiner, the leading historian of the Foreign Office, has said that:
The anti-Germans did not constitute a formal group. There were variations in their views and different degrees of intimacy between the men concerned. The impression of an organised lobby led by Charles Hardinge pressing the Foreign Secratary in an anti-German direction is a misreading after the fact. (53)
It is true that they did not constitute a formal group in themselves despite all working for the Foreign Office or the Diplomatic Service. Nevertheless, one could also say of any group of army officers that while they all belong to the army and share a common goal, there are, however, “variations in their views and different degrees of intimacy between the men concerned”. Indeed, officers in the same army, which is working towards the same goal of defeating the enemy may have furious disputes about tactics or hate each other on a personal level; their strategy remains the same – to defeat the enemy. The same was true of the anti-Germans at the Foreign Office. They may not all have liked each other, or they may have had different approaches to dealing with Germany, but they all shared a common antipathy towards and/or fear of Germany. It should be recalled, furthermore, that this was not an accident. They had for the most part, as I have noted, been selected by their superiors because of the anti-Germanism in their thinking about British foreign policy. Zara Steiner’s view quoted above is, moreover, somewhat naïve, because the British never like to work in terms of formal groups that can be pinned down; they have always preferred to keep things loose. Keith Wilson, at the University of Leeds, despite his excellent study of 1985 debunking the Entente Policy of British government – The Policy of the Entente - has written a paper called: The Question of Anti-Germanism at the British Foreign Office Before The First World War in which he concludes that there was in fact no such anti-Germanism. Yet the essential basis of his argument is that he simply accepts statements by such as Hardinge, Crowe and Bertie that they were not anti-German but rather, Anglomane and pro-British. The answer to this is that the actions of the individuals in question speak louder than their words. It is again naïve to expect that such men, as professional diplomats, and with a view to posterity in mind, would openly admit to anti-German sentiments; indeed, men of their type would have regarded such a public admission as vulgar. It was said as far back as the 16th century that a diplomat’s skill consists of lying artfully in the service of his government. Even if Crowe may have seemed too much the gentleman to indulge in lying about his feelings towards Germany, the same cannot be said for the more slippery characters of Bertie, Hardinge, Sir Arthur Nicholson, or Louis Mallet.
At the Foreign Office then, the thoughts of Sir Edward Grey, who Rosebery once said had never had a thought in his head to distract him from whatever paper he was studying, were maintained in a certain direction, and at home or at his club when he read the newspapers, especially The Times, he would read the same views; when he attended the meetings of the Coefficients he heard the same views. Grey’s mental world was surrounded and occupied by thoughts that impelled in a single direction: the possibility of war with Germany for the sake of preserving what was increasingly called the Triple Entente with France and Russia. As Hardinge put it:
We have no pending questions with Germany except that of naval construction, while our whole future in Asia is bound up with the possibility of maintaining the best and most friendly relations with Russia. We cannot afford to sacrifice in any way our entente with Russia even for the sake of a reduced naval programme.(54)
Germany was thus seen by Hardinge as dispensable and if necessary, would be sacrificed to appease Russia. But Britain’s alliance with Japan and Russia’s subsequent calamitous defeat in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 had blocked off East Asia as an area for possible Russian expansion and had forced Russia’s attention back to Europe and to her traditional policy of interference in the Balkans in order to ‘protect her ethnic and religious brethren’ among the Slavic peoples (with whom, it should be noted, she had no formal treaties of alliance) and to recover Constantinople for the Orthodox faith. Russia’s aspirations in southeast Europe could obviously only be realised at the expense of Germany’s ally, Austria-Hungary, and Germany’s friend, the Ottoman Empire. To realise these aspirations, Russia needed French capital and the support of the French army. The British Foreign Office mandarins were so afraid of Russia (especially her supposed threat to India) that they calculated that Britain must gain Russia’s friendship, since Russia needed France. This led them to the conclusion that Britain also needed France. Grey himself had no personal interest in France; he could not really speak French nor did he share the traditional radical liberals’ positive sentiments for France as the home of radical social change. He was, however, determined to maintain the Entente Cordiale with France at all costs, because France was Russia’s friend.
13. Grey the Man
We have looked at the influences on Grey and around him. Finally, we must look to the man himself and his actions as Foreign Secretary. As soon as he entered office in December 1905 he declared his intention to continue Lansdowne’s policy – the policy of his Conservative opponents. The bipartisan principle of continuity in foreign policy – of Country before Party – had been in his head since it was first announced by his leader Lord Rosebery in 1892. Sir Edward and his wife spent Christmas 1905 with Lord Rosebery. A few days later, on 29th December, Grey was made aware by fellow Coefficients member Col. Repington of The Times – who had helped to arrange them – that secret talks had started between British and French staff officers with a view to coordinating operations against Germany in the event of war in northern France and Belgium. Let us remember that this was 1905, not 1914 ! The French, said Repington, wanted to know what Britain would do if Germany suddenly attacked France. George Clark, Director of the Committee of Imperial Defence, soon confirmed the talks to Grey, but the two of them agreed not to inform the Cabinet. It is also clear that Grey was made aware of the key importance of Belgium already at this point. Meanwhile King Edward had urged the French ambassador Paul Cambon (20 December 1905) to discuss continuation of military talks with Sir Edward Grey telling him to seek authorisation to discuss everything with Sir Edward Grey. It will be very useful.. In a letter to the Prime Minister of the 9th January 1906, Grey did not mention anything about the military talks, and without getting prior permission from the Prime Minister, who was out of London, Grey and Haldane themselves authorised the military talks to go ahead on an official footing from 15th January 1906. Grey also authorised military talks to begin with the Belgian armed forces. These continued in great detail until May, effectively compromising Belgium’s neutrality. The Foreign Office sent written approval to General Grierson, Director of Military Intelligence, to begin talks with the French for the purpose of obtaining such information as you require as to the methods in which miltary assistance could in case of need be best afforded by us to France and vice versa.(55)
This was obviously far beyond the terms of any deal over settling fishing rights in Newfoundland and colonial boundary rights in Africa – the kind of settlement of outstanding colonial disputes which the Entente Cordiale in 1904 was purported to be. And in fact on 19th December 1905 at an unofficial meeting of the Committee of Imperial Defence, chaired by Lord Esher, the King’s eminence grise, the four men present concluded that assistance of all kinds that we could bring to the alliance is probably much greater than the French anticipate. During the weekend 27-29 January 1906 Grey met the King and the Prime Minister at Windsor. Paul Cambon reported to Paris that he had been confidentially informed that the three had decided not to inform the Cabinet and have thus thought that it was better to keep silent and to continue discreetly the preparations which would put the two governments in a position to plan and act rapidly in case of need. The source of Cambon’s information remains a mystery, but unlike some other diplomats such as the Russian, Izvolski, he was not considered by the diplomatic community to be a habitual liar. Cambon met Grey on 31st January 1906, and was told that if Germany attacked France over the Morocco crisis, which was then in full swing, British public feeling might be so aroused as to compel the British people to go to war. He also told Cambon at the meeting that British “public opinion” would not countenance a war for French interests in Morocco, but would be prepared to fight to save the Entente if Germany attacked France. The man who has so often been claimed a peace-lover and who declared in 1914 on the edge of catastrophe “I hate war! I hate war!” was already using the cover of “public opinion” to help him contemplate war when he had only been in office a month ! He was to resort to “public opinion” in this way many more times in the years leading to August 4th 1914. Yet between 1906 and 1914 were there any mass demonstrations, was there any civil unrest over these issues comparable with, say, the turbulent campaigns of the suffragettes, the miners or the Ulster Protestants? Not at all. By “public opinion”, Grey meant what the British governing elite had always meant – the shouting in the bear pit of House of Commons debates, and the vehement opinions of Press editors – in other words, the “public opinion” of the ruling class itself.
The day after Grey spoke to Cambon of Britain going to war for France, February 1st, he met the Belgian minister Count de Lalaing and told him that your country has always been considered as sacred, as a kind of sanctuary. Yes, replied the Belgian, a sanctuary of which England [is] the guardian priest. To this, Grey replied: It is still our manner of seeing today.(56) . That same day 1st February 1906, Grey lunched with John Morley, pillar of the old radical Liberal establishment and one of the only two men to resign from the Cabinet in 1914 over Grey’s decision to take Britain into war for Belgium. Later that day, hardly a month after he had taken over the reins of the coach of State at the Foreign Office, his beloved wife Dorothy was killed in an accident after being thrown from her carriage. This was not the first of Sir Edward’s personal misfortunes. The two brothers of this nature lover would both be killed by wild animals in Africa; he himself began to lose his sight early in 1914 and in 1928 lost his second wife, Pamela Tennant, after only six years of marriage.
I could cite many more cases of duplicitous behaviour by Sir Edward Grey between 1906 and 1911 but there is not time. This is not to suggest that he was consciously the member of any conspiracy to bring about a war, but rather that his deceptive behaviour was based on his own fear and stubbornness, and was informed, indeed prompted, by a set of ideas filtered into his mind over a period of years. Grey deliberately hid all knowledge of the Anglo-French staff talks from his Cabinet colleagues until 1911. Eventually, he shared it with the other two members of the Liberal Imperialist troika, Haldane and Asquith, but the three continued to keep it from the rest of the Cabinet. When Grey was finally forced to reveal the fact in 1911, there was such a commotion that he was lucky to keep his job. He had of course been afraid that discussion of it in Cabinet would damage Anglo-French relations and split the Government. The stubbornness and anarchic streak in the character of this peaceful and upright gentleman led him on many occasions to threaten resignation unless he got his way, knowing that if he went, Asquith and Haldane would go too and the government would fall. The most notorious case of this none too subtle blackmail was at the desperately fraught Cabinet meeting on 2nd August 1914, two days before Britain declared war. Bolstered by a very timely message of support from the Opposition Conservative Party leaders, Lansdowne, Balfour and Bonar Law, it seems that Grey, by sheer force of will, got his way by threatening to resign unless the Cabinet supported his policy of intervention on the side of France – not in the first instance to save Belgium, but rather to save France - to save the Entente. On the 2nd August then, Grey got the Cabinet to agree to send the Royal Navy to defend the northern coasts of France against a possible German naval attack [!]. In effect, he declared war on Germany before Germany went into Belgium ! In his memoirs the French ambassador Paul Cambon writes:
I was satisfied that the game had been won. A great Power does not go to war with half measures. The moment it decides on carrying on war at sea, it has no chance left but to prosecute it on land as well.
There are two remaining points which should be briefly touched upon before I finish. Rudolf Steiner, like many others, insisted that if Grey had only said clearly to Russia in July 1914 that Britain would not fight for Russia on Serbia’s behalf, or on the other hand, if he had only said clearly to Germany that Britain would confront Germany together with Russia and France if Germany mobilised, then Russia or Germany would have backed down and a general war would have been avoided. Grey answered his critics after the war, saying:
I felt impatient at the suggestion that it was for me to influence or restrain Russia…If I were to address a direct request to Sazonov [the Russian Foreign Minister in July 1914] that Russia should not mobilise, I knew his reply…I did most honestly feel that neither Russian nor French mobilisation was an unreasonable or unnecessary precaution. In Germany…was the greatest army the world had ever seen.(57)
The phrase “I knew his reply” speaks volumes. Hardinge had said that:
if a promise to render material assistance in the event of war were invited by Russia and refused, it is almost inevitable that Russia would be compelled by her military weakness to come to terms and to modify her attitude towards the aims of the Central Powers. (58)
Hardinge’s acolyte and chosen successor as Permanent Under-Secretary, Sir Arthur Nicholson, wrote to the ambassador to Russia, Sir George Buchanan, in April 1914:
I am also haunted by the same fear as you – lest Russia become tired of us and strike a bargain with Germany. The Russians…could seriously shake the British in India. This is to me such a nightmare that I would at almost any cost keep Russia’s friendship. (59)
“…at almost any cost…” – this gamble was to be tested to near destruction during the consequent War. In his annual report for 1913, delivered in March 1914, Buchanan wrote to Grey:
It is useless for us to blind our eyes to the fact [Nb just at this time Grey had learned he would go blind. Did Buchanan know this ? - TMB] that, if we are to remain friends with Russia, we must be prepared to give her our material as well as our moral support in any conflict in which she becomes involved in Europe.
These were the kind of arguments that Grey had been hearing consistently from his advisers for years. They said, in effect, that if Russia was not appeased, Russia would behave like Britain had done in 1904-07, namely, she would reverse her policy and take the side of those she had been opposing for decades. This supposition seemed to betray an ignorance of basic interests that many in the Russian elite had been asserting for centuries, not decades – that Holy Russia should take Constantinople, birthplace of Orthodoxy, from the infidel Turks and firmly establish her leadership over the Slavic and Orthodox peoples of Europe. The fact that Grey “knew [Sasonov's] reply” is no excuse for not seeking to restrain Russia, since the alternative, he must have known, could well result in a general European war. Unfortunately, however, Grey had never shown much interest in understanding military realities; he had never troubled, so he himself said, to find out anything about the actual military details of the Anglo-French staff talks betwen 1906 and 1911. If he had known something about such realities, he would have realised that general staffs throughout Europe regarded mobilisation by a Great Power to be an immediate trigger of war. Already in 1894, Generals Boisdeffre and Obruchev, who had negotiated and signed the secret military convention to the Franco-Russian Alliance in that year for their respective countries, both agreed at that time that mobilisation meant war. This was still the conventional wisdom among General Staffs throughout Europe in July 1914, but at the moment of supreme crisis, Sir Edward Grey, who knew everything there was to know about the details of fly fishing, seemed to be ignorant of this most crucial and awesome military fact.
14. August 1914
The final act of deception in the tragic story of Sir Edward Grey came on 3rd August 1914 when he made his momentous speech to the House of Commons explaining Britain’s position and preparing the Members for what he personally had decided was now an inevitable war. Grey told the assembled parliamentarians that he wanted them to approach the crisis from the point of “British interests, British honour, and British obligations” . He started with Britain’s obligations to France, described the evolution of the relationship, and, when he came to the weak point in his argument – the extent of Britain’s obligations to France - with great deftness, he appealed to each man’s consciousness, saying :
how far that friendship entails obligation….let every man look into his own heart and his own feelings, and construe the obligation for himself. I construe it myself as I feel it, but I do not wish to urge upon anyone else more than their feelings dictate as to what they should feel about the obligation.
G.P. Gooch, the first editor of the official British documents on the War, comments however that:
his whole speech breathed the conviction that we should be forever disgraced, if we left France in the lurch. The assurances that we were unpledged were formally correct, but inaccurate in substance…..
Lloyd George declared on August 7th 1918 that in August 1914 “we had a compact with France” but later corrected himself, saying “in my judgment it was an obligation of honour.” Grey in his memoirs 10 years later wrote that if Britain had not entered the war,
we should have been isolated; we should have had no friend in the world; no-one would have hoped or feared anything from us, or thought our friendship worth having. We should have been discredited…..held to have played an inglorious part. We should have been hated.
“For Grey then, the war was at root ‘a matter of honour’ : the legal commitment to Belgium and, even more, the moral commitment to France”. So writes Niall Ferguson in his recent book The Pity of War (60). In his speech – arguably the most momentous ever given by a British Minister to the House - Grey of course dealt with what he called “the obligations of honour and interest as regards the Belgian Treaty” of 1839 and mentioned at length Gladstone’s stated view in 1870 of Britains’s binding obligations under the Treaty, but he omitted to mention that under Lord Salisbury in 1887, the British Government had determined that the clauses of the Treaty did NOT bind the parties to it to render individual assistance to Belgium, nor did they bind the parties to assist Belgium under all and any circumstances, and that the British government as recently as 1905 had come to the same conclusion. When he came to speak about France, Grey ignored the lack of formal obligation and appealed to sentiment and conscience, but when he spoke of Belgium, Grey chose to insist that Britain was bound by a formal obligation that she could not, in all honour, disavow. He did this because he had determined that Britain should fight for France.
Honour – an aristocratic medieval ethic, a ‘sound’ ethic for imperialists of the old type. In three lectures on imperialism which he gave in Dornach, Switzerland, for visitors from England in 1920, Rudolf Steiner outlined three stages of imperialism that have manifested over the last several thousand years. He described how, after the first oriental stage of imperialism, in which the king WAS seen as an actual god on earth, and the second, European mediaeval stage of imperialism, in which the king was but a symbol of God, we are now living in the third stage, that of economic imperialism, which inevitably happens to be the stage of “empty words”, the empty phrase when self-centred economic realities are the only ones that actually motivate politics but out of embarrassment, these motivating realities are covered over, masked and dressed in empty words lauding the dead husks of the values of former ages.
An excellent example of this can be seen in the empty words of the editorial of The Times on 6th August 1914. It was clearly written to gird up the elite’s loins for Armageddon and with a weather eye for events exactly 100 years before; the writer declared that the British people were drawing their collective sword in ‘the good old cause’ :
…once again, in the words which King William inscribed upon his standard, they will maintain the ‘liberties of Europe’. It is the cause for which Wellington fought at the Peninsula and Nelson at Trafalgar; the cause which saw its crowning triumph on the field of Waterloo. It is the cause in which Oliver’s Ironsides and their French comrades beat the finest infantry of Spain, and for which Drake and Howard of Effingham routed the Armada – the cause of the weak against the strong, of the small peoples against their overweening neighbours, of law against brute force, of the Commonwealth of Europe against the domination of the sword.
Here we see, artfully mixed, the mediaeval motives of the military and imperial aristocrat – honour, combat, glory – with those of the 19th century liberal: defending the liberties of Europe, defending the small and weak from the brute bully, and implying at the same time a thoroughly specious idealistic continuity to British foreign policy. Not a word is said about contemporary economic realities.
One of Sir Edward Grey’s Cabinet colleagues, Colonial Secretary Lewis Harcourt, showed that he was clear about his own motives. On 5th August, just one day before Chirol’s call to arms and one day after Britain declared war on Germany, Harcourt explained in a letter to a friend:
I have not acted from any obligation of Treaty or of honour, for neither existed…There were three overwhelming British interests which I could not abandon:
1. That a German fleet should not occupy, under our neutrality, the North Sea and the English Channel
2. That they should not seize and occupy the Northwestern part of France opposite our shores.
3. That they should not violate the ultimate independence of Belgium and hereafter occupy Antwerp as a standing menace to us.(61)
Here we see the old straightforward argument for survival – survival of the fittest – the doctrine of early Victorian capitalists, merchants and millowners – most of them Whigs and Liberals to a man. Britain as battleship would blow out of the water any other ship that dared to rival it, especially one that dared to sail the North Sea and whose crew did not speak English.
Rudolf Steiner emphasised in his three lectures on imperialism in 1920 that the possibility for a genuinely new culture was great in English-speaking societies because paradoxically, there the culture of empty words in the age of economic imperialism had made the most inroads. Within that culture of emptiness a new spiritual substance could be developed, he maintained, but for that to happen, first, something was needed; it was necessary that the English-speaking peoples should experience SHAME – the shame that they had created a culture, the goal of which was to satisfy merely bodily needs, something animals were able to do without the benefit of their own individual intelligence. When they were able to experience this shame, English-speaking people would come to see the truth of Christ’s words: “My Kingdom is not of this world”, and then would seek to complement their material, purely economic culture with a really new spiritual substance. Have we in our English-speaking societies really begun to feel this shame ? There is still too little sign of it in our political culture, at least. Clinton, Blair, and Bush have continued to boast about the uniqueness and importance of the Anglo-American contribution to world culture, the English-speaking “liberal empire”. I believe, however, that developing a historical conscience with regard to how we got where we are now may help to nurture this necessary feeling of shame which can be the stimulus to a new moral understanding and a spiritual reformation of society.
1. Rudolf Steiner, The Karma of Untruthfulness Vols. 1 & 2 (hereafter KOU)
2. Christopher Hitchens, Blood Class and Nostalgia, (London: Chatto & Windus, 1990) p.243-50
3.D. Gillard in K.M. Wilson ed., British Foreign. Secretaries and British Foreign Policy, (London:
Croom Helm, 1987) p.132
4. Ron Chernow, The House of Morgan, (New York: Touchstone, 1990)
5. Carroll Quigley, The Anglo-American Establishment – From Rhodes to Cliveden, (New York: Books
In Focus, 1981)
6. C. Dilke, quoted in Philip Magnus, King Edward The Seventh, (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books,
7. Corelli Barnett, The Collapse of British Power (London: Eyre Methuen, 1972) p137 ff
8. Rosebery, quoted in KOU Vol 1 p 80; Robert Rhodes James, Rosebery (London:Phoenix, 1995), p284
9. On Dee, see for example Benjamin Woolley, The Queen’s Conjuror (London: HarperCollins, 2001)
10. Kenneth Young, Arthur James Balfour, (London: Bell, 1963)
11. Young, Balfour.
12. Young, p. 175
13. Young, p. 175
14. Young, p. 278
15. Young, p. 278
16. Young, p. 279
17. Young, p. 280
18. Young, p. 281
19. Young, p. 281
20. Young, p. 282
21. Young, p. 282
22. Young, p. 283
23. Young, p. 283
24. Chernow, p. 430
25. Young, p. 283
26. Young, p. 284
27. Young, p. 385
28. RW Davis, Disraeli, p.138
29. John E. Kendle, The Round Table Movement and Imperial Union, (Toronto: Univ of Toronto 1974)
30. WT Stead, The Americanisation of the World, (London: Review of Review, 1902) p. 152
31.Speeches 1896 pp. 56-7
32. 11.12.1916 Dornach KOU Vol. 1
33. Robert Rhodes James, Rosebery, ( London: Phoenix, 1995) p.419
34. Charles Seymour ed., The Intimate Papers of Colonel House Vol I, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin,
35. Seymour ed., Vol. I p.228
36.Anita Leslie, The Marlborough Set, (New York: Doubleday & Co, 1973) p.86
37. KOU Vol. 1
38. KOU Vol. 1
39. Keith Robbins, Sir Edward Grey – A Biography of Lord Grey of Falloden (London: Cassell, 1971), p.106
40. Margaret Boveri, Sir Edward Grey und das Foreign Office, p. 183-4
41. Niall Ferguson, The Pity of War, p. 59
42. Ferguson, p. 59
43. Hermann Lutz, Lord Grey and the World War p72, from Sir Roger Casement’s Collected Writings
44. Oron J. Hale, Publicity and Diplomacy, (1940)
45. History of The Times 1884-1912 (London: Printing House Square, 1947), p.308
46. HG Wells, Experiment in Autobiography, p.652
47. Bertrand Russell, Autobiography, Vol 1, p.230
48. Keith Wilson, p. 172 ff
49. HG Wells, p.652
50. H.C.G. Matthew, The Liberal Imperialists,
51. Briton Cooper Busch, Hardinge of Penshurst – A Study in the Old Diplomacy, (Hamden, Conn:
Archon, 1980) p.96
52. H.C.G. Matthew, The Liberal Imperialists
53. Z.Steiner, FOFP p.103-4
54. Z.Steiner, FOFP, P.95
55. S.R.Williamson, The Politics of Grand Strategy: Britain and France Prepare for War, 1904-1914,
(Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 1969). p. 86
56. S.R.Williamson, p86
57. D.J. Goodspeed, The German Wars, (London: Orbis, 1977) p. 132
58. Hardinge to Nicolson, quoted in Zara Steiner, FOFP, p. 95
59. Zara Steiner, FOFP p137
60. Ferguson, p. 168-9
61. Ferguson, p. 163
© Terry Boardman 2001
This page was first uploaded on 3rd April 2002 and updated 14.2.2014