CHAPTER II -- KINDRED BRITAIN
FOR America the word "Britain" is of profound significance. It evokes a multitude of thoughts. Whether the word be taken in its narrowest sense as meaning merely England, or extended to the British Isles, or broadened to include those self-governing dominions which go to make up the English- speaking commonwealth of nations, or, finally, widened to signify the vast assemblage of lands and peoples known as the British Empire, we Americans instinctively realize that here is something which to us is of deep concern. This is true of Americans generally, whatever their origin, because the United States is an English-speaking country, settled mainly by people of British stock, who built up a civilization, fundamentally Anglo-Saxon in character, that has set its stamp upon all who have reached our shores. For most Americans the significance of Britain is not merely a matter of cultural acquirement but also of racial inheritance -- in other words, something in the blood. Despite recent immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe, the population of the United States is still basically Anglo-Saxon, while a decided majority of its inhabitants are of British or kindred North European stocks. The essentially Anglo-Saxon character of our stock and 29 civilization makes a study of things British at once peculiarly interesting and peculiarly important. Since race is unquestionably the basic factor in human affairs, we have weighty reasons for observing our British kin. This will aid us not only in our relations with them but also in our own domestic problems. For with folk so similar, a knowledge of what sort of people the British really are, and of what they are thinking and doing, will throw much light on what sort of people we ourselves are and what is the significance of our thoughts and actions. It is a narrow and short-sighted view which holds that the parallel development of the British and American peoples is due chiefly to ease and frequency of intellectual intercourse -- that we are so much alike because we can read each other's books and newspapers and can talk without an interpreter. That is rather putting the cart before the horse. It ignores the much more fundamental query as to how we both got that way. You can realize the significance of this point by a very simple test. Compare a conversation you have had with an Englishman and a conversation you have had with a person of some other nationality. The chances are ten to one that in analyzing those conversations you will discover a very significant distinction between them -- the fact that you met your Englishman on a footing of more instinctive comprehension. As you look back you will probably remember that there were a lot of rather subtle things like viewpoints, ideals, prejudices even, which you could more or less take for granted with the Englishman, but which you could not thus tacitly assume with the other. I am not here referring to knowledge of facts; your 30 Englishman may have been ignorant, while the other man may have been learned in the topics you discussed. Likewise, I am not concerned with the outcome of those conversations; you may have disagreed violently with the Englishman and have agreed fully with the other. Yet even that violent controversy between yourself and the Englishman had an intimate note; that is to say, in all probability it was not a clash between absolutely antagonistic ideals, but rather a family row over details -- a magnifying of differences, perhaps just because you two had started with so much in common. All this is of great practical importance, because it furnishes a clew to the understanding not merely of personal contacts between individual Englishmen and Americans but also of the relations between the American and British peoples. We two peoples cannot be really indifferent to each other, any more than members of the same family can be really indifferent to one another. Anglo-American relations must be characterized by a peculiar family quality which contains great possibilities for good and for ill. Things which between other nations might not make a ripple can, as between Americans and Englishmen, promote warm sympathy or provoke bitter resentment. That is why the fullest possible understanding is so necessary between the two peoples. Here, if ever, "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing." Englishmen and Americans who know each other just well enough to see their differences are apt to quarrel. Englishmen and Americans who know each other intimately realize that such differences are far outweighed by common likenesses and 31 usually succeed in maintaining friendly harmony in outlook and action. Such friendship was never more needed than it is today. The American and British peoples are unquestionably the strongest and stablest elements in a very troubled world, and their friendly co-operation is the best hope of the future. Probably no reflective American or Englishman thinks otherwise. And yet, desirable though this may be, it need not necessarily come about. Minor points of friction exist and misunderstandings are always liable to arise. The best way to better Anglo-American relations is to know each other better, thereby gaining that broader vision and deeper insight that can sense the relative importance of things and act accordingly. Who and what, then, are these British kin of ours? Racially speaking, the British people are at once a blend and a mixture. That fact gives the key to their national character, and explains both their past history and their present tendencies. An English writer once called his country Teutonic with a Celtic fringe. Translating this into modern racial terms, we can say that the population of Britain is predominantly Nordic, with a Mediterranean element that varies widely in strength in different parts of the island. Britain's racial destiny was fixed about 1500 years ago, after the fall of the Roman Empire. Down to that time the British Isles had been inhabited almost entirely by the slender, dark-complexioned race called Mediterranean, which still inhabits most of the lands about the Mediterranean Sea and which settled the British Isles long before the dawn of history. After the fall of Rome swarms of 32 tall blond Nordics, coming from Germany and Scandinavia, invaded Britain and ultimately transformed the island's racial character. This Nordic influx was, however, of a peculiar nature and had peculiar results. If the Nordics had come all at once in vast numbers they would have quickly overrun the whole island, would have subdued the Mediterraneans at a stroke, and would ultimately have intermarried and formed a generally mixed population. But just the reverse of this took place. The Nordics came in relatively small numbers, settling first on the eastern coasts and gradually working inland. Also, the Mediterraneans put up a stiff fight and gave ground slowly. In other words, a situation arose very much like that which occurred during the settlement of America -- an invading frontier pushing slowly westward, with fierce hatred between invaders and natives, little intermarriage, and therefore a thorough racial replacement. For this reason Eastern England is to-day almost purely Nordic in race. Yet Britain was not destined to become a purely Nordic land. The western fringe of the island is rugged and relatively infertile. In these wild lands the Mediterraneans found refuge, while the pursuing Nordics had no special temptation to conquer them. For a long while Britain was divided between two sharply contrasted races, the Nordics occupying most of the island, while the western fringes, especially Wales, Cornwall, and the Scotch Highlands, were solidly Mediterranean. In time these race lines became somewhat blurred by intermarriage; yet even to- day England and Scotland are four-fifths Nordic, while Wales is mainly Mediterranean in blood. 3334 with Mediterranean qualities like heightened temperament, quick imagination, and artistic feeling. This Mediterranean dash has been too slight to upset English stability and poise, but it has been enough to give England many brilliant individuals and partially to correct the tendency to heavy seriousness common among pure-blooded Nordics, whether in England or elsewhere. Despite the valuable contributions that the Mediterranean element has made, it is unquestionably the Nordic stock that is mainly responsible for Britain's greatness. To Nordic energy, intelligence, and common sense are due both England's political development at home and that extraordinary achievement, the British Empire, which today covers nearly one-fourth of the entire land surface of the globe and contains fully one-fourth of the world's total population. Nordic, likewise, is the combination of inventive genius and business ability which made Britain the industrial and financial centre of the world. It is often said that Britain's present wealth is due to the fortunate accident of rich coal and iron deposits beneath her soil. That is true, in a sense. But it is also true that these deposits would not have been developed without a remarkable combination of English and Scotch inventors, manufacturers, financiers, and workers, who first realized the possibilities of coal and iron, got the jump on the rest of the world, and thereby gave Britain the economic position which she has ever since retained. Because Britain's progress has been so consistently successful, some observers have been tempted to think that it just happened -- in other words, that it was due to good fortune or fatality. Nothing, however, could be more 35 untrue. The closer we study English history, the more we realize what immense problems Britain has had to face, and what intelligence, determination, hard work, and common sense the British people have shown in their solution. During the past century Britain has gone through one of the most tremendous transformations that the world has ever seen. A hundred years ago Britain was still mainly an agricultural country, capable of feeding its relatively small population, which then numbered only about 14,000,000. To-day the same area -- England, Scotland, and Wales -- has a population of 43,000,000, four-fifths of whom live in cities or towns. Instead of being self-feeding, Britain grows only enough foodstuffs to nourish its people ninety days in the year. The rest of its food has to be imported, together with all sorts of other raw materials and manufactured products. This, in turn, means that the only way the British people can pay for these things is by exporting to foreign countries a corresponding amount of goods or services. Accordingly, Britain's very life to-day depends upon a complex and delicately adjusted system of manufacturing, commerce, shipping, and banking, which she has slowly built up and which at all costs she must maintain. And yet, as already remarked, the very building up of this system has involved a transformation of Britain's economic, social, and political life so profound that most other countries would probably have fallen into civil war or revolution. The British have, however, succeeded in avoiding these evils and adjusting themselves peacefully to new conditions. 36 How? Primarily because of their national character -- in other words, because of their racial make-up. No one can be long in England without being struck with the basic unity of the English people. Of course, there are extremes of wealth and poverty, of education and ignorance; and these produce a wide variety of manners, ideas, and opinions. Yet beneath all such differences we somehow sense the fact that these people are fundamentally of the same stuff. Englishmen who have lived abroad get this impression as sharply as observant foreigners. Not long ago an English friend of mine who lives in New York City was telling me his impressions of a trip home -- the first in several years. My friend goes to his New York office daily in the subway and is thus accustomed to rub elbows with about every racial and national type on earth. "Do you know," he said, "the first time I rode in a London tube I had the queerest feeling! I couldn't place it at first, but I soon found that I was looking at the people in the car and comparing them with the people in the New York subway. And then I realized that all the people in that tube car were very much alike -- and very much like me; I can't tell you how queerly it hit me; I just can't forget it." In that simple anecdote lies the secret of Britain's stability. In other words, even when Englishmen talk and think differently they feel alike. That is why foreign students of English politics are always going wrong in their prophecies. How many times have we heard the statement from some foreign observer that England was 37 standing on the verge of revolution? Our observer may have made a careful study of the facts, have read all the speeches, analyzed all the arguments, and proved quite logically that such irreconcilable standpoints could not be compromised. And yet the revolution just didn't come off! After everybody had had his say and had blown off steam, those angry Englishmen instinctively realized that every one of them was "very much alike -- and very much like me." Whereupon a compromise adjustment was somehow evolved, the crisis was ended, and the country went on its way. The stable, evolutionary character of English political life is well illustrated by the present situation. The advent of a Labor government to power -- the first in British history -- is certainly a momentous event. But there is nothing revolutionary about it. When I was last in England I made a careful study of British political conditions, and I was interested to observe the quiet, temperate way in which political possibilities were discussed and discounted. Talking informally with representative spokesmen of all the political parties, I found that, when not talking for publication, they differed singularly little in their estimates and judgments. Although the election which swept the Conservatives from power and resulted in a Labor cabinet was not yet on the political horizon, most persons with whom I talked considered a Labor government a distinct possibility within a relatively short period. Yet neither Conservatives nor Liberals were really alarmed at the prospect. A 38 few die-hard Tories and one or two Liberals did express frank pessimism, but the more general view was that the Laborites weren't such a bad lot after all; that they might make some foolish mistakes at the start, but would quickly learn by experience; and that they would be held in check by all sorts of moderating forces like the Liberal elements within their own ranks, the permanent officials of the government services, and the criticism of an alert and intelligent public opinion. Equally instructive was the attitude of the Laborites themselves. In the first place, it must be remembered that a large proportion of the leaders of the British Labor Party are not workingmen in the ordinary sense of the word, many of them being highly educated intellectuals drawn from the upper and middle social classes. But whether intellectuals or hand workers, and however sharp their criticisms of existing institutions, very few of them had even a theoretical leaning toward violent revolutionary methods. I well remember a talk I had with one of the so-called wild men of the Glasgow group -- the most radical wing of the Labor Party in the last Parliament. This radical M.P. was a picturesque person -- a live wire, with keen gray eyes, a great shock of hair, hat cocked aggressively to one side of his head, and a Glasgow burr that you could cut with a knife. He was scathing in his criticism of the existing economic order and eloquent concerning the "intolerable" condition of the British working classes. I broached the possibility of revolutionary action. He shook his head emphatically. "No, no," he answered gravely; "I'm fundamentally opposed to revolutionary methods; they defeat their 39 own ends. Violence, once employed wholesale, can't be stopped. Ye need ever more and more of it, and ruin is the final result. Of course," he added with a twinkle in his eye, "I'm not saying I object to a bit o' rough stuff now and then to throw a scare into the opposition. But -- no real violence; no revolution." Perhaps even more significant was a talk I had with one of the few Labor intellectuals who sympathize with the Bolshevik doctrine of the revolutionary dictatorship of a militant minority imposing its proletarian will on a nation. Despite his intellectual leanings, however, he was as convinced as every one else that a revolution in England was impossible. Not only were the upper and middle classes too powerful, but the working classes were not inclined to such action. Leaders and masses alike, he said regretfully, were too much imbued with what he rather scornfully termed Liberal maxims like the will of the majority and the rights of minorities to make a revolution even a remote possibility. This I believe to be an accurate statement of the case. The British workingman is about the poorest material for a red revolution that can be imagined. Generally speaking, he is a slow, steady fellow, content with moderate comforts and averse to getting excited, especially over matters like abstract theories and principles. He might raise a riot if you suddenly clapped an extra penny on his beer, but he isn't a bit interested in fighting for a phrase like the "dictatorship of the proletariat." Of course there are occasional exceptions to the rule, but I doubt if there are more than a few thousand genuine revolutionists in the whole of Great Britain. Among both Conservatives and Liberals the chief anxiety 40 over what a Labor government may do lies, not in the sphere of domestic politics but concerning the non-white portions of the empire. The importance of this matter can be appreciated when we remember that the entire white population of the empire, including the British Isles and all the self-governing dominions, is only about 60,000,000, whereas the non-white population of the empire is over 400,000,000. Some of the non-white portions of the empire and its dependencies, like India and Egypt, to-day are restless and difficult to govern. Furthermore, the relations between the non-white colonies and the white self- governing dominions present a problem of increasing seriousness. The demand of the Indians to migrate freely throughout the empire -- a demand absolutely rejected by the white dominions -- is an especially ticklish matter. It is most emphatically loaded with dynamite and if roughly handled might cause an explosion that would literally blow the British Empire to bits. On these thorny problems Conservatives and Liberals hold opinions which, however they may differ in details, are basically the same. The Labor Party, however, has in the past taken quite another attitude, and has favored much wider concessions to Indian and other demands for self- government than the older British parties have thought wise or possible. Accordingly in both Conservative and Liberal circles there exists a widespread apprehension that a Labor government may make mistakes in imperial policy that can never be rectified. As a prominent Conservative said to me: "My chief fear is that Labor in power may light a fire in India that neither they nor we can afterward put out." Whether this pessimism is justified 41 remains to be seen. It shows, however, the gravity of Britain's imperial problems and the necessity for continuous statesmanship in their handling if irreparable damage is to be averted. More pressing even than imperial questions are the problems arising from Britain's industrial situation. We have already seen how during the past century England made herself the industrial heart of the world, thereby gaining great wealth and increasing her population nearly 300 per cent. But we also saw that this vast population was dependent for its very life upon precisely that same complex and nicely adjusted system of manufacturing, commerce, shipping, and banking which had brought it into being. We Americans can hardly realize what such a situation means. Our country is so large, our natural resources are so vast, and our climates are so varied that we could get along fairly well if all the rest of the world were to sink beneath the ocean. For Britain, however, such an event would be the most frightful catastrophe. Left to herself, more than half her present population would literally have to starve. Britain's economic situation is thus fundamentally artificial. It is not a natural but a man- made creation, which can be maintained only by tireless foresight, energy, and skill. Furthermore, for many years past it has been getting harder for Britain to keep up the pace. There are two main reasons for this: the increasing severity of foreign competition and the steady growth of her own population. When Britain became an industrial nation, about a century ago, she had the field almost to herself, and for a 42 long time she made something like monopoly profits. But little by little other nations began to take a hand in the game, so that to keep her foreign trade against competition Britain had to work harder, produce more efficiently, and sell more cheaply. That was the only way that she could support her population. Also, that population was rapidly growing. In other words, it was getting harder to feed British mouths, and there were ever more British mouths to feed. Britain's present economic difficulties are no recent development. They are of long standing. As far back as the year 1872 the balance of trade began to run against her; that is, her exports fell below her imports. And the balance of trade has continued to run pretty steadily against her ever since. Of course, Britain has covered the balance by "invisible exports" like shipping services, banking profits, and returns of capital invested abroad. Nevertheless, the fact remains that it became increasingly difficult to support her population. As a matter of fact, not all her population was properly supported. The widespread poverty in England's great cities and industrial centres has long been proverbial, and England's poor consisted not merely of her degenerate pauper elements, who were practically unemployable, but also of many persons able and willing to work yet unable to find work, or able to find it only part of the time. The result was a vast mass of people underfed, living from hand to mouth, and dependent upon public or private charity. Their numbers were disclosed during the war, when Britain's man power was systematically examined by draft boards to determine their physical fitness for military 43 service. The amount of physical unfitness due, not to inborn degeneracy, but to poor living conditions, which those examinations disclosed was far greater than had been previously imagined. Of course, during the war living conditions among the poor were much improved. Millions of men went off to fight, while every able-bodied man and woman left at home was sure of a job to keep Britain's war machine supplied. The problem of unemployment virtually disappeared. But this was an artificial, unhealthy situation which could not last and which was bound to be followed by an acute reaction. Britain was mortgaging her future by huge taxes and loans which would have to be repaid. The war once over, back came the millions of soldiers demanding jobs, while at the same time the war boom collapsed in that great industrial depression which hit not only England but the whole world as well. With markets everywhere disorganized, and with some of her best customers, like Germany and Russia, more or less out of business, Britain's foreign trade was hit a body blow and her whole industrial life slowed down. Once more the spectre of unemployment raised its ugly head. To avert wholesale semistarvation, the British Government supplemented existing measures of poor relief by a great system of unemployment insurance. The need for such action is shown by the numbers of persons applying for assistance. Since the year 1920, when the system went into effect, averages of from 1,000,000 to 1,800,000 persons have been assisted as totally unemployed, while the number of persons assisted as being only partially employed has averaged about 500,000. These people, be it remembered, are 44 genuine employables, able to work if work can be found. In addition to them is the host of unemployables -- the physically unfit, mentally defective and degenerate elements who are supported by public or private charity. Such is Britain's unemployment problem, and it is difficult to see how any political action can really solve it. Wise measures can better it somewhat, while unwise measures can make it much worse. But the cure -- if cure there be -- lies outside Britain, in the general world situation. The hard fact is that, as things now are, Britain's industry and trade cannot support her population, which continues to grow and thus makes the problem more and more difficult. Britain's population is increasing between 300,000 and 400,000 a year. How are these new mouths to be fed? Many Englishmen advocate wholesale emigration to the dominions. Great efforts have been made and much money spent to this end. And yet the annual quota of British emigrants to all parts of the world averages less than 200,000. Thus not even the annual increase of population is taken care of. But under present world conditions Britain probably has at least 5,000,000 more people than can be supported in reasonable comfort. Here, truly, is a problem that will test British statesmanship to the full. It is assuredly one of the great motives in British foreign policy. Determined as she is to build up her foreign trade, Britain feels it absolutely necessary to restore stability and prosperity to the Continent of Europe. This explains British policy toward Germany and Russia. 45 It likewise explains in great measure her policy toward France, which most Englishmen regard as blocking the road to Europe's economic recovery. It is useless for Frenchmen to talk to Englishmen about the possible future political dangers that British policy may evolve. The present economic motive is so pressing that most Englishmen are willing to take the political risks that may be involved. A prominent French politician hit this off very well when he told me about a conversation he had had with a British cabinet minister not long after the war. The Frenchman asked the minister if he did not think England was playing a dangerous game in trying to build up Germany and Russia -- the two powers which she had most feared in the past -- and pointed out several unpleasant political possibilities. "Well," replied the Englishman, "all you say may be true, and if it turns out that way we may have to fight 'em ten years hence. But now we must trade and make money." It is very easy to label this sort of thing as short- sighted and to call the English a nation of shopkeepers and similar unpleasant things. That, in fact, was the way my French acquaintance felt, and he told the anecdote I have just narrated to prove his point. To me, however, it proved something quite different -- namely, British coolness and common sense. Englishmen rarely waste time spinning elaborate logical theories of what may happen in the future. Instead, they look at what is happening in the present, see what is amiss, get after it, and keep their eye on the ball. That is why, in the long run, they usually come out on top. 46 It is just these qualities of practical common sense and dislike of theorizing that cause the English to be so persistently misjudged by their more logical and argumentative Continental neighbors. Except when really stirred, the Englishman is apt to draw into his shell and to become aloof and inarticulate. Not realizing how Englishmen are thinking and working beneath the casual exterior of British life, Continentals frequently underrate them and may even come to think England decadent. That is what happened with the Germans before the war, and when I was recently in Europe I found a distinct tendency of the same sort among Frenchmen and Italians. I discussed this point at length with one of the most thoughtful of England's publicists, having specially in mind the growing misunderstanding between French and British public opinion. My friend considered that the way many Frenchmen were belittling England was perhaps the most serious aspect of the whole situation. "The British people," said he, "are grappling with their problems and are bearing their burdens with unflinching grit and determination. This indomitable spirit is the basic trait of the English people. It also shows what great reserves of energy and poise are latent within them, though this is never visible except in crises, because the English are ordinarily so inarticulate and so self-repressed. That is why Continentals are continually coming to believe England decadent. Germany made that mistake a short time ago. Well, perhaps that is not surprising, because England had not been put to the test for one hundred years. But here is the extraordinary fact: people on the Continent are beginning to say just 47 the same things to-day, despite the lesson of the late war. And therein lies a real danger, because it may lead such people -- notably in France -- to despise England and challenge her in what she regards as life-and-death matters. And then Britain will give the Continent another surprise." Grit and determination are, indeed, the underlying traits of the British people. Those traits do not reveal themselves fully to the passing traveller, for the Englishman is at once reserved and casual before strangers. But after you have been in England a while and have got a bit below the surface, you will be impressed by the calm resolution with which the English are facing their problems and bearing their burdens. The problems are many; the burdens are heavy. England was hard hit by the war. Her people are frightfully taxed and her industrial life is still somewhat out of gear. The working classes are haunted by the spectre of unemployment, while the upper and middle classes have lost much of their old prosperity. Britain is, in fact, going through a period of profound readjustment -- never a pleasant experience -- and Englishmen admit frankly that the process will be hard and long. Yet practically all Englishmen are firmly convinced that Britain will win through. One of the points on which British public opinion is unusually solid is the necessity of good relations with America. That does not mean that the English all cordially like us. Of course many Englishmen do, but others cordially dislike us, while still others know almost nothing about us, their chief acquaintance with things American being derived from the omnipresent American moving 48 picture, which usually presents either a distortion or a caricature of American life. And yet, in the larger sense, all this matters very little. To judge Anglo-American relations on a basis of individual likes and dislikes -- as is too often done -- is a shortsighted and rather silly attitude that quite overlooks the basic realities of the case. The really important thing is that, though some Englishmen may like and others may dislike Americans, practically all Englishmen are convinced that Britain must be on good terms with America. That is one of the corner-stones of British foreign policy. Anglo-American relations are, indeed, inspired by a happy blend of sentiment and self-interest, which is the best guaranty for their stability. As peoples, we may sometimes rub each other the wrong way; but we both feel instinctively that we are kindred in blood and basic ideals. As nations, we may develop differences in policy; yet we both know that such differences are vastly outweighed by the interests we have in common. We both realize profoundly that real enmity between us would be a hideous disaster which might well spell our common undoing. This feeling is particularly keen in the dominions of the British Empire -- Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the rest. The dominions know that conflict in the English-speaking world would be for them the worst of disasters. They are thus added links in the chain of friendship between Britain and America. All signs, therefore, point to lasting concord and growing co-operation between the English-speaking peoples. Disagreements may arise, but they will be settled by the good sense and temperate reasonableness which characterize 49 both stocks. Not for nothing are we both mainly Nordic in blood! The intelligence and self-control inborn in the Nordic race can be trusted to give us sober second thoughts and to guard us against being swept off our feet by gusts of passion which might blind us to our larger interests. America and Britain will never again be foes; and so far as anything can be predicted, they seem destined to become steadily better friends..
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