The Round Table and the Fall of the Second British Empire


This article was first published in The Present Age magazine Vol. 3 No. 11 Feb. 2018

In the January 2018 issue of TPA, (‘The Anglo-Saxons’ and the European Union Project) I wrote, amongst other things, about a book published by Cambridge Scholars Press  in the run-up to the 2016 EU Referendum in Britain titled June 1940, Great Britain and the First Attempt to Build a European Union. The 393-page book was written by an Italian professor of political science who specialises in “the history and theory of European integration”, Andrea Bosco (photo below). He is an ardent advocate of the EU and of federalism in general, which he regards as an ‘Anglo-Saxon idea’, contrasting it with what he sees as the ‘continental idea’ of nationalism. Bosco forecast in 2014 that the EU will expand to 50 states by the mid-21st century and will include the states of the N. African littoral and the Middle East (also Israel and Palestine), but I pointed out in the article that this seemingly utopian view of the future of the EU had actually been underpinned by an almost identical prospect of  EU expansion laid out in that bastion of global elite thinking, The Economist of London, seven years earlier, on 15 March 2007.

Bosco’s 2016 book on Britain and the origins of the EU, rather drily written like all his books, and with many lengthy footnotes, was written not so much for the general public  – it retails for an immodest  £52.99 – but by an insider for other insiders, by a member of a certain academic elite for other members of the same elite. Bosco also happens to be the founder and director of The Lothian Foundation, which exists to propagate the federalist ideas of Philip Kerr, 11th Marquess of Lothian, usually known as Lord Lothian (1882-1940). A leading acolyte of Alfred, Lord Milner (1854-1925), Philip Kerr was, with his close friend Lionel Curtis (1872-1955), one of the two main ideologues of Milner’s Round Table group (founded 1909) which played a key role in preparing Britain for the coming conflict against Germany which it saw as inevitable, and in transforming the British Empire into the British Commonwealth. Kerr and Curtis saw the British Empire and Commonwealth as the germ of a future world state which they felt would, of course, have to be ‘supervised’ by the English-speaking peoples – by which they meant people rather like themselves -  until the rest of the world had ‘caught up’ with the level of “the Atlantic democracies”. To this end Kerr and Curtis were firm advocates, first of the closest possible transatlantic ties and then, after 1938, of an ‘Atlantic Union of the democracies’, along the lines advanced in the much-hyped  book Union Now (1939) by the American Rhodes Scholar and New York Times journalist, Clarence Streit (1896-1986), whose widely-read writings influenced the process that eventually led to the formation of NATO in 1949.(1)

Bosco’s ‘Second’ Empire book

On 1 January 2017 the assiduous professor Bosco brought out a book titled: The Round Table  Movement and the Fall of the ‘Second’ British Empire (1909-1919) (534 pp.), completed in 2016 and also published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing.(2) When it first appeared, at £128, it was twice as expensive as his 2016 book, but  a year later, it now retails at £73.99, so this was another book not exactly intended for the general public. The contents of this volume, however, are far more significant than the rather overblown claims he made about the significance of the British federalists of 1938-1940 in his 2016 book and they deserve to be more widely known by the general public, because what Bosco reveals to his fellow-insiders here is that Lord Milner and his Round Table group were actually the main element in Britain responsible for the First World War and also for the fall of the British Empire, which he calls the ‘Second’ British Empire, the ‘First’ Empire having been lost in 1781-83 after defeat at the hands of the American colonists. The ‘Second’ Empire was that which was focused on Asia, especially India, on Africa and on the white-ruled Dominions (Canada, Australia, New Zealand and S. Africa). Milner and his acolytes, Bosco argues – and we should recall that Bosco is himself broadly  in tune with their aims – sought to bring about the war in order to save the British Empire and the principle of imperial federalism, or federation, but only succeeded in losing it because their fellow English-speakers in the Dominions and in the USA succumbed – in Bosco’s view – to a narrow-minded nationalism that was not prepared to tolerate an imperial federation controlled from a British centre. This was as true of Canadians and Australians before 1914 as it was of Americans after 1918 who supported their country’s withdrawal from the League of Nations and who were not prepared to accept a transatlantic foreign relations institute which Kerr, Curtis and the Round Table had wanted to establish in 1919 to coordinate Anglo-American foreign policy through elites operating outside the political system. The Round Tablers and their American friends had to wait until 1921 when the Rockefeller and J. P. Morgan-backed institute, the Council On Foreign Relations, was set up in New York, ostensibly independent of influence from London. But within a decade or so, the London Round Tablers, led by Kerr and Curtis (Milner having died in 1925), desperate for American support for the ailing British Empire and looking now to transform the age of the British Empire into the age of the Anglo-American Empire (or as they preferred to call it, World Commonwealth), had succeeded in forging a tight link between their own Institute of International Affairs, also known as ‘Chatham House’ (founded 5.7.1920, first joint Presidents Lord Robert Cecil, Arthur Balfour and Viscount Grey of Fallodon (Sir Edward Grey)) and the Council On Foreign Relations (CFR) in New York (founded 29.7.1921). Bosco’s book very candidly makes clear that the British foreign policy elite, steered by Milner and the Round Table and later by Kerr and Curtis, carefully laid traps for Germany into which the Germans obligingly fell twice, in 1914 and in 1939, and that these traps were part of the deliberate process by which that same foreign policy elite had determined that the German challenge to the British Empire (1895-1945), already so obvious by the end of the 19th century, would be met and comprehensively defeated. This had to be done in two phases, as it had been done insufficiently in 1919; Germany would be thoroughly overthrown and subjugated and the elites of the English-speaking peoples would go on to lay the foundations of a ‘World State’ in accordance with their own federalist principles, a world dominion ‘supervised’ i.e. ruled, by themselves.

Lionel Curtis                                                                                                       Philip Kerr

This is, de facto, the state of the world in which we live today, and although it is not perhaps exactly the ‘Utopia’ Kerr and Curtis had in mind, the world is nevertheless ‘supervised’ today by the Anglosphere, notably its financial and military forces. However, China and Russia are now attempting to challenge that hegemony and behind them are India, Brazil and the ‘mixed king’ that is the EU.(3) Bosco’s book clearly implies that the Anglo-American federalist principles should continue to dominate the world in the coming century. He writes in the introduction (p. 29) that the book “traces the emergence of the supranational idea within the British Empire, with the formation of a political culture which first triumphed within the Anglo-Saxon world and was then universally exported, becoming the interpretative criterion and guiding principle of the present supranational course of history.” And at the end of the book (pp. 465-6) he writes: “the policy of Atlantic Alliance was not therefore the result of just a temporary convergence of the reasons of state of Great Britain and the United States…..but the accomplishment of a political project pursued by the two organisations [he means Chatham House and the CFR] specially created at Paris in May 1919(4) and active since then on both sides of the Atlantic. They succeeded because the project was in fact rooted in the Anglo-Saxon political tradition – of which federalism is a component – and because of a twenty year-long process of elaborations, debates and clashes among political organisations active on both shores of the North Atlantic. The Round Table was the most prominent among them, playing a pioneering role, both on the theoretical and organisational profiles. The historical role of the Round Table had been that of theorizing, promoting and managing the transition from a British to an American world leadership, playing a decisive role in the survival of Anglo-Saxon world hegemony through the creation of the Atlantic order.”

“The present supranational course of history…”

These ideas present a challenge to anthroposophical thinking because, of course, “the present supranational course of history” is the Michaelic era (1879-c.2300). In the winter of 1919/1920 Rudolf Steiner stated very starkly – and to an audience that included a number of British visitors – that the responsibility for outer dominion in world affairs had now fallen to the victors in the First World War but that the question was: would they be able to add a spiritual dimension to this outer dominion, and if they failed to do so -  if, for example, they failed to complement this outer dominion with “a threefold ordering of society” that reflected the threefold nature of the human being understood in terms of occult science – then the Anglo-American world dominion “will flood the world with the death of culture and the sickness of culture. These are a gift of the Asuras, just as falsehood is a gift of Ahriman, and selfishness is a gift of Lucifer.”(5) It surely ought to be clear to everyone by now that the Anglo-American elites that took on this world dominion – and according to Bosco, they have in fact been exercising it not only since 1919 but, increasingly, for four centuries already, since the defeat of Philip II of Spain – have indeed failed to complement this outer dominion with any spiritual counterpart and that as a result, humanity faces today problems of an existential nature on various fronts. Bosco writes (p. 25): “the Atlantic Alliance rather than representing the passing of the torch – whose delay cost Europe and the world two global conflicts – marked the continuity, the enlargement, and the deepening of Anglo-Saxon hegemony in world politics. Such hegemony has since the seventeenth century been able to prevent the unification of Continental Europe by means of violence by the strongest continental power – Spain of Charles V and Philip II, France of Louis XIV and Napoleon I, Germany of Wilhelm II and Hitler, and Russia of Stalin and Brezhnev. It encouraged, on the contrary, Europe’s economic and political unification through peaceful and constitutional means with the building of supranational institutions.” This is, of course, propaganda; it is the familiar chauvinist refrain of the Anglo-Saxon elite from both left and right and it is susceptible to withering historical criticism. Of the men mentioned above, only Napoleon actually sought to conquer or dominate the whole of Europe and even he was drawn into war by the British, who recognised that he represented a serious potential threat to their control of India which was for them always the cornerstone of their Empire. Neither Wilhelm II or Hitler wanted to unify Europe by violence; they too were skilfully drawn into war by the British, as Bosco himself describes later in his book! Bosco ignores the attempted military invasion of Europe by Lenin’s Bolsheviks in 1920 which was stopped by the Poles at the Battle of Warsaw, while Brezhnev never came close to unifying continental Europe by violence nor did he ever try.

Certainly, it was good for Europe that the British defeated Philip II’s armada in 1588 and made signal contributions to the defeats of Louis XIV and Napoleon. These men all looked backward to the impulses of former epochs. But the British elite’s 30 year war against Germany was something else. This was a struggle between two cultures of the modern epoch. But Bosco makes clear that Britain fought it out of a consciousness of inner weakness and imperial decline and was only able to win with the support of the rest of the English-speaking world (not to mention all the other peoples of the Empire, notably the Indian Army in both world wars, and the assistance of other European peoples). For example, Bosco writes (p. 5): “the place of the Round Table Movement in the history of the British Empire could be compared to that of the sun at noon, the moment of its greatest radiance but also the beginning of a rapid and inexorable decline. What the Round Tablers attempted to do was reverse that inexorableness. Could the history of the British Empire diverge from the fate which marked all the empires in the course of history? This was the challenge which the Round Tablers took up.” On p. 20 he writes: “The study of the Round Table brings us to the central fact of the first half of the twentieth century, the Anglo-German rivalry, which resulted in two world wars because of the weakness of the British Empire… [emphasis TB] [Britain]  prevailed over Germany only thanks to the intervention of the Dominions, India and her thirteen former colonies on the other side of the Altantic.”


Milner and the Round Table

Bosco makes a good case for the warped idealism of the young men of the Round Table, notably of Kerr and Curtis, and of their great leader, their would-be King Arthur, Lord Alfred Milner (above). He describes at length their spirit of self-sacrifice and dedication to the imperial cause which they genuinely believed was one of progress, civilisation and Christianity: the imperialism of the white man was historically necessary to raise the standards of the non-whites and contribute the most to human progress, and of all the white imperialisms, the British was of course best, so the British way must be made to prevail over any challengers. The British Empire was of the light as against Prussian darkness; it was freedom contrasted with Prussian autocracy; it was Athens to Prussian Sparta – such were the mantras of the Round Table from its inception in 1909, which also happened to be the year of the inception of the modern British secret service that gave rise to MI5 and MI6, both aimed from their beginnings at “the German menace”. The young men of the Round Table, inspired by their own ‘King Alfred’ and with St. George in mind, would devote their entire lives to defeating this new dragon which, they believed, had arisen on the Continent, and to asserting the civilizational supremacy of their own race, even while talking endlessly of the brotherhood of mankind.

Bosco paints a balanced picture of Milner, who was clearly a remarkable individual. Of German ancestry on his father’s side, born and educated in Germany, Milner was a complex personality of tremendous willpower, incisive thought and subtle feeling. An intellectual social radical who leaned towards the Radical wing of the Liberal Party, he despaired of democracy and party politics, as he was conscious of their obvious failure to prevent the decline of British society and economy. An idealistic view of the Empire became his religion, his holy cause, inspired by the art critic John Ruskin, the social philosopher Arnold Toynbee, and the radical journalist W. T. Stead. But as a man born in the mid-19th century, Milner grew up steeped in Social Darwinist thought and the racism and materialism of the era. Bosco shows how the ideas of the younger Round Tablers diverged from their chief’s during the First World War. Although Milner acknowledged that Britain and America had to work together as ‘racial compatriots’, his concern was always for the British Empire, whereas by 1917, Curtis and Kerr, who were nearly 20 and 30 years younger than Milner respectively, had realised that the British Empire was finished; it would have to become the Anglo-American Empire, or rather, the Commonwealth of all the English-speaking peoples, in which the USA would lead. Till his death in 1925, Milner never really accepted this, whereas the younger men actively worked for it; “Kerr and Curtis felt they had to prepare the transition from an Anglo-French to an Anglo-American dyarchy in the management of world power.” (p. 438)  Still in service to this aim 20 years later, Kerr even died in 1940 as UK ambassador to the USA.

Kerr is Bosco’s hero, so Bosco evidently feels he has to paint the figure of Milner more negatively in contrast to his hero – Milner as a great man but more stuck in the racial past, while the younger man Kerr, the more ardent federalist, is portrayed as the hope of the future. Of Milner, Bosco writes that he was the lynchpin in an intersecting network of elite figures, notably those of the Cecil family nexus, hence his reach, influence and effectiveness in the worlds of politics, business, finance, the media, publishing and academia. He was “the most lucid interpreter of the British imperialist tradition, which in federalism found a device to perpetuate the privileges of the ‘few’…against the rights and interests of the ‘many’.  Milner  was the ‘strong man’…of that small but powerful group of men  – representing the historical families of the British establishment – who had run Great Britain behind the throne since the Act of Union in 1707. Milner became their intellectual leader, bringing to them as dowry the impressive financial resources of the Rhodes Trust.” (p. 360)

Milner was the main instigator of the Boer War 1899-1902, and according to Bosco he was “one of the major figures who bear the moral responsibility – on the British side – for the First World War” (p. 12) He created the Round Table near an old Druid sanctuary on the island of Anglesey in N. Wales “in order to gain the Dominions’ support for Great Britain in the event of a new European war.”

Milner’s kindergarten in S. Africa

In discussing the significance of Milner, Bosco argues that “Britain’s controversial entry into the Great War could be seen as a desperate attempt to save Britain from a civil war – the Anglo-Irish conflict, in which Milner was about to take on a leading role, secretly arming the Ulster Volunteers, a private army loyal to the Crown – and from the breaking-up of the Empire, without which Britain would have regressed to the rank of a second-rate Power. According to this interpretation [which Bosco does not criticise or challenge – TB], Wilhelmine Germany fell – like the naïve Boers…into a trap skilfully set by the British imperialists to reaffirm with weapons a global and political hegemony by then almost completely lost.” He means lost economically to Germany and the USA and increasingly lost in terms of global strategy to the Franco-Russian Alliance.

‘Milnerism’, he says (pp. 13-14), was “the dominant ideology of the late Edwardian era….It was Milnerism [through Milner’s allies in the Press -TB] which ‘invented’, to a large extent, the ‘German threat’ in South Africa [where Milner had been the High Commissioner and had set up the Boer War 1899-1902 – TB] and in Continental Europe in order to foster the closer union of the Empire, and to maintain Ireland under British rule…..The strategic choice by Milner and his disciples to favour the Tsar, rather than the King’s cousin [Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany] in the creation of a Balkan sphere of influence revealed itself to be disastrous for the Empire and for Europe.” Germany “was transformed into an enemy, in ideological terms, by Milner and his disciples. In order to stand, Empires fed themselves with wars.” (p. 14) Indeed, the very first issue in Nov. 1910 of The Round Table, the movement’s journal, featured an article titled ‘Anglo-German Rivalry’ by Philip Kerr which was what today would be called an agitprop hit piece against Germany and what Kerr claimed it represented in the world. Bosco argues that in most of the key military and strategic decisions made in the Edwardian period, owing to Milner’s extensive network of friends and allies in high places and his groups of energetic young acolytes in the Round Table, “the influence of Milner behind the scenes runs from beginning to end”. (p. 14) “Without the creation of an external threat, the attempt to bring about the political union of the Empire would have been doomed to failure. In order to survive, the Empire desperately needed the Hun….in ideological, political and economic terms…..the creation of the ‘external enemy’ was certainly not the only cause which generated World War I, but in Weberian terms it could be considered the ‘adequate cause’, namely, the cause without which the course of events would have been different.”

British imperial strategy

In the winter of 1916/17 in the lectures known in English as The Karma of Untruthfulness GA 173, GA 174) Steiner pointed out incisively (6 Jan. 1917) that “what the British Empire is striving for is a closer-knit relationship between the motherland and the colonies…Every means that might serve this idea has been found acceptable…To make this possible an impulse was needed that would steal into people’s hearts and turn their minds towards something they would not otherwise have found acceptable [e.g. many articles in the Press such as Kerr’s article Anglo-German Rivalry in 1910, or  slogans such as “we must defend gallant little Belgium!” in 1914 – TB] It is with this that the war in Europe is connected  for out of the mood of this war certain impulses will arise which the British Empire needs in order to create a uniformity between the motherland and her  colonies…if the British Empire wants to draw its colonies closer together, if it wants to generate impulses which will tend towards going along with the motherland, then it needs a war, and this war  is the means to that so-called higher end desired by the state, and wherever such thoughts are thought the end sanctifies the means.” Bosco’s book entirely bears out what Steiner said here in January 1917. An apostle of federalism himself, Bosco argues that there were three Anglo-Saxon federalist moments: the founding of the Imperial Federation League of 1884, the Round Table in 1909, and the Federal Union movement of 1939-1940. Having already described the less than noble motives for the war of men like Milner, Curtis and Kerr (i.e. imperial federation in the face of imperial decline, creating a fictional enemy) he nevertheless insists on seeing the two world wars as Anglo-Saxon federalist crusades against an anti-democratic, nationalist continental enemy. “Created in an effort to halt the decline of an Empire which had reached its apogee, and representing the most advanced and well-organised expression of British nationalism [!], the Round Table with its actions produced precisely the opposite results on all fronts, by accelerating the break-up of the Empire [Ireland, India, Palestine] and demonstrating how the federalist culture is the exact opposite to the nationalist one. In trying to reconcile opposites  – Empire and federation – the Round Table in fact witnessed and to some produced the Empire’s crucifixion…it was just the application of federalist schemes to former colonies which served to speed its break-up.” (p. 18)

After the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, at which Kerr was responsible for drafting the so-called ‘war guilt’ clause Article 231, which attributed sole responsibility for starting the war to Germany, Kerr and others in the Round Table group began to argue that Germany had been treated too harshly. This was traditional British policy: after you defeat an enemy, you affect magnanimity towards him in order to gain his support for any upcoming struggle with your own former ally who may now be your new rival. After Milner’s death, Kerr and most of the Round Table moved to an apparent stance in favour of appeasement of Germany and until after the Munich Crisis of 1938, argued that Hitler’s territorial demands were justified as long as Hitler did not resort to force. “In the implementation of a policy diametrically opposed to that of Milner,(6) Lothian actually contributed to the establishment of Hitler’s supremacy in Central and Eastern Europe, [which was] exactly what Milner…had denied to the King’s cousin [Wilhelm II]. It is interesting to note how the architects of these diametrically opposed policies towards Germany belonged to the same organization, and how those policies were in any case unable to prevent the outbreak of two world wars… At different historical moments, but in the same context, the Round Table had strong ideological reasons for adopting opposite policies, which were the major causes of two world wars. [emphasis – TB] If Milner failed, Lothian at the end succeeded, using Germany for other purposes.”(p. 19) “…opposite policies, which were the major causes of two world wars” – we would do well to reflect on that statement.

Tragic figures?

Bosco sums up his two central characters, Milner and Kerr (above),  as “tragic figures” who combined success and failure: “If Milner was a patriot – who….bears the major responsibility for the crucifixion of the Empire – Lothian [Philip Kerr] on the other hand, laid down the foundations of the ‘Atlantic order’ as we know it, contributing to the resurrection of the ‘First British Empire’….under a new supranational, not yet federal form, at the price, however, of appeasing Hitler. Once again, Germany had been used ….. to rally the Anglo-Saxon democracies against a renewed ‘external threat.’”  Here Bosco is referring to the fact that between the Munich Conference in September 1938 and Hitler’s move into Bohemia in March 1939, Kerr and the Round Table did a rapid volte-face and now adopted a hard-line against Hitler, advocating rearmament and readiness for war. During the years of appeasement and his meetings with Kerr and other members and allies of the by now very well-connected Round Table, Hitler had been suckered into believing that the weak-willed British would give him exactly what he wanted. But he fell right into the carefully laid trap.  The intention all along had been to finish off what had only been half-achieved in 1919 – the reduction of Germany to vassal status and the termination of its cultural, political and economic challenge to the Anglo-American world.(7)

The significance of Bosco’s very well-sourced and referenced book about The Round Table is that, like The Anglo-American Establishment (1949) by Prof. Carroll Quigley, it is told from the point of view of someone who sympathises with the aims of the oligarchical elite group in question but whose work ends up providing very helpful information that reveals the truth  about the nefarious role played by that group in the history of the last 100 years. Like Curtis and Kerr, Bosco is not averse to the blasphemy (“crucifixion”, “resurrection”) of comparing the British Empire to Christ. For these men, their ideology truly is a deity, an idol to be glorified and worshipped, because, as elite representatives of the outer dominion of the Anglo-American world, they failed to provide what Steiner saw as the necessary complement to that outer material dominion, namely, a truly spiritual dimension, hence the title of Curtis’ 1938 book about the evolution of the idea of the Commonwealth or federation – Civitas Dei (The City of God).


2. The book’s introduction can be read here:
3. The mixed king is the fourth king that features in Goethe’s Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily (1795), alongside the gold, silver and brass kings. He ends up collapsing at the end of the tale.
4. The aim of Curtis, Kerr and their American collaborators in Paris at their discussions in May 1919 was to create a single transatlantic Institute of International Affairs jointly based in London and New York. This turned out to be unfeasible because of isolationist resistance in the USA, so the British went ahead in 1920 with the establishment of the British (later Royal) Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), and the Americans created the CFR a year later.
5. Lecture of 15 Dec. 1919 (Collected Works GA 194).
6. After 1918 Milner had favoured creating a West German state under the leadership of Konrad Adenauer and of abandoning eastern Germany (Prussia) to the Bolsheviks. See the text of his letter to Kerr 24 April 1919 suggesting this, cited in Markus Osterrieder, Welt im Umbruch Nationalitätenfrage, Ordnungspläne und Rudolf Steiners Haltung im Ersten Weltkrieg (2014), pp. 1442-1451.
7. For details of how this trap was laid by Kerr and others in 1919-1939, see Conjuring Hitler – How Britain and America Made The Third Reich (2005) by Guido Giacomo Preparata.