MOMENTARILY forgotten in the ritual and myth of the Coronation, some hard essential questions remain unanswered. Has the Queen’s realm become a fable in its own time? Has the liquidation of the British Commonwealth and the remnants of the Empire—so scornfully rejected less than ten years ago by Winston Churchill already passed the point of no return? Can such a loose-knit sprawling structure possibly endure in a world revolution now surging toward its watershed?
To a pragmatist the answers must have a negative and fateful ring. It is true that the Queen’s realm still covers one quarter of the world’s habitable surface and that its five hundred and fifty million people are a fifth of the world’s population. But three quarters of these people are not British by race and can feel no emotional attachment to Britain or the Queen.
Of the eight sovereign nations within the Commonwealth, the most populous, India, is actually a republic and its teeming neighbor, Pakistan, is also considering a divorcement from the throne. Two others, Australia and New Zealand, are now joined with the United States in a defense treaty from which Britain has been ostentatiously excluded over the protests of the British Prime Minister. In South Africa a ferment of racial and nationalist conflict has made outright secession something more than a distant threat. Canada, the wealthiest of the Commonwealths, remains strongly pro-British and passionately monarchist by most of the emotional and spiritual yardsticks, but by the sterner measurements of political and economic policy it strives to recognize no sovereignty but its own. Of the seventy-two dependent areas within the Queen’s realm, some, like Kenya, are torn by anti-British violence; others, like the Sudan, are turning toward or being embraced without much choice by new protectors; others, like Malaya and the strategic pin point of Hong Kong, are isolated and under duress on the tidal shores of Communism.
In mere physical terms the Commonwealth is incredible and, by every law of logic and common sense, impossible. If this is true of the present, it has also been true of most of the past. And therefore we can only hope to understand its present and guess its future if we take a steady objective look at the past.
The first fact that leaps to the eye is that the Commonwealth has just emerged from a long period of tragically bad management. In retrospect it is clear that the Commonwealth escaped shipwreck in our time by a hair’s breadth.
Those events had long roots.
The British Empire, as it was called then, was established in the first place on a smug racialist theory repulsive to its current citizens. Cromwell stated the theory thus: “We are people with the stamp of God upon us, whose appearance and whose providences are not to be outmatched by any story.”
At the end of the nineteenth century Lord Curzon repeated the same doctrine of an elite born to rule: “My patriotism knows no geographical, only racial limits.” As late as the twentieth, Joseph Chamberlain, glaring through his famous monocle, was calling the British people “that proud, persistent, self-asserting and resolute stock which is infallibly destined to be the predominating force in the future history and civilization of the world.”
To such thinkers, through more than two hundred years, the Empire was British, a racial expression, ordained of God. If it had remained only that it would have died long ago.
By the middle of the last century, in the noonday of classic liberalism and the Industrial Revolution, most British statesmen by reason, and most British people by instinct, had learned better. For a brief time they seemed determined to liquidate an empire which had become too heavy a load to be borne.
When Sir John A. Macdonald visited London to complete the Confederation of Canada in 1867 he also brought with him Alexander Galt, who wrote: “I cannot shut my eyes to the fact that they (the English) want to get rid of us.”
The great Cobden had been more candid, saying of Canada and Britain: “We are two peoples to all intents and purposes and it is a perilous delusion to both parties to attempt to keep up a sham connection and dependence which will snap asunder if it should ever he put to the strain of stern reality.”
A few years later Goldwin Smith was telling a moonfaced boy in Toronto that Canada inevitably would he absorbed into the United States. That boy was W. L. Mackenzie King, who was to become in his old age a passionate monarchist. The Cobdens and the Smiths never understood Canada and could not imagine a commonwealth wide enough to hold it.
In Britain this phase of disillusionment was brief. By Victoria’s last years a new, noisy and doomed imperialism was in full cry, of which Rudyard Kipling was the brassy trumpet voice: “Walk wide o’ the Widow at Windsor, For ’alf o’ Creation she owns.” Which was false.
The twentieth century had hardly begun before it was evident that the British crown owned very little of the Empire and its ownership was shrinking. The title deeds were falling into new hands. The seed of overseas self-government, first planted in Canada by the Durham Report of 1839 and confirmed by Governor Elgin ten years later while the Montreal mobs stoned and almost lynched him, had grown quietly into a league of independent nations which no constitutionalist could describe and no foreigner could comprehend. The First Empire, ended by the American Revolution, had been followed by the Second, and the Third, stemming out of Canadian autonomy, would last only for a century.
Restless, sometimes truculent and often quarrelsome, the nations of the Third Empire instantly combined in 1914 to save the world from Germany. To all appearances the Third Empire, soon to be called the Commonwealth, emerged from the First World War at the zenith of its power. In 1919 it girdled the earth, fat with newly acquired territory, the king’s writ ran across a large part of the map and Britain, ruling the waves and presiding over Europe’s new power balance, in fact dictated the policies of several foreign states and many barbarous territories without Kipling’s Law.
In those sunny and delusive days the Commonwealth consisted, like a Chinese box, of four nesting compartments: Britain and the self-governing dominions in the centre; around them the colonies and protectorates; beyond that a sphere of influence making British power paramount in Portugal, Greece, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Afghanistan and Tibet; and finally such nations as Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Columbia, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina, largely influenced and sometimes dominated by the financial power of London.
At this very point of supremacy, established by the victory of 1918, the retreat of the Commonwealth began and ended at the knife edge of disaster.
From the Mediterranean to Asia local nationalism, long pent up, erupted in perpetual revolutions, steadily sapping Britain’s old authority. The more vital regions of Near East oil seemed scarcely worth defending. In India a spidery little man, wearing a bedsheet and a dollar watch, was building a new state (two as it turned out) with nothing more than a spinning wheel and a dream. On the Pacific, Britain’s old ally, Japan, having long guarded the back door of the Empire, was lunging into China and preparing to lunge southward against the precious regions of tin and rubber. At home Britain was living beyond its means and disguising its deficits by eating invisibly into capital.
By the years of the depression British statesmanship seemed to have lost the name of action.
The vacuum created by this sudden paralysis was quickly filled, first by a third-rate Italian adventurer who, on his march through Ethiopia toward his own hanging, could temporarily defy the power of Britain and the broken League of Nations. The Commonwealth was in retreat all along Kipling’s far-flung battle line to the final humiliation of Munich, where a paper hanger from Vienna could blackmail the heirs of the Victorian age.
The paralysis was not confined to Britain. It was actually centred in the United States which, by repudiating Woodrow Wilson’s internationalism, had destroyed the world power balance apparently established at Versailles. The free world was now sick unto death and the Commonwealth looked sicker than it was.
Those, like Hitler, who saw it dissolving by an act of divorcement called the Statute of Westminster had misread the whole record and genius of the English-speaking peoples. When the moment came to stand in defense of Poland the long malaise ended in one night. The retreat of Dunkirk was the first stage in the largest advance since the days of Wolfe and Clive, but a very different sort of advance.
It was, first, a recovery of the spirit, not to be measured in military or economic terms. Secondly, it included the most profound development of modern times—the return of the United States to the world as Churchill and Roosevelt replaced the figures of George III and Washington. And this single act of itself assured the new phase of Commonwealth evolution now under way. At which the shade of Bismarck must have chuckled grimly, for had he not long before discovered the most important fact of the modern world, that the British and American peoples both spoke English?
In the process culminating in the defeat of Germany and Japan the Commonwealth had learned certain important lessons.
It had learned the bitter truth that it was no longer defensible within its own resources, as the fall of Hong Kong and Singapore and the siege of Britain had proclaimed.
It had learned also—a lesson never learned by any previous empire—that it could never control or compel its members, even the weakest ones; that they must be linked together by nothing more than free will, joint interest and similar notions of life. Nothing more than that—a thin thread but a thousand times stronger than any constitution.
When Britain took the final step of freeing India in 1947—the biggest and most enlightened gamble in the record of politics—when, in 1948, sitting by the sick bed of Mackenzie King in London, Nehru decided to remain in the Commonwealth and accepted the unparalleled paradox of the Indian Republic, an imponderable structure which may be called the Fourth Empire emerged with hardly a tremor, with only a few clipped sentences of explanation.
No Longer in the First Class
What of the Fourth Empire which we call the Commonwealth, after dropping even the adjective “British” because it applies to only a quarter of the whole?
At first sight a survey of the assets and liabilities of that strange company is depressing. The statesmen I have questioned assess the balance sheet about as follows:
Britain itself, drained by two world wars and by bad management, is poor as it never has been since Victorian times. It has achieved, by peaceful politics, the kind of egalitarian social revolution which has shattered many great states and bred many familiar monsters. It is no longer a Power of the first class comparable to the United States and Russia. It can never hope to recapture its old dominant place in Europe and the world. It has never lived truly within its means since the last war, even after its huge labors of increased production and a self-disciplined austerity such as no great nation has ever willingly accepted before.
India, by far the largest nation of the partnership, is a highly sceptical and often unrealistic republic, recognizing Elizabeth not as Queen but only as Head of the Commonwealth. It has no racial or emotional ties with Britain or any of the other English-speaking partners. It remains in the Commonwealth solely as a decision of enlightened self-interest and would leave at any moment if its interests seemed to lie elsewhere. Its foreign policy often conflicts with that of the Western nations. It watches them with a mixture of sympathy, hope and suspicion.
Of all the free nations in the Commonwealth and outside it, India is the most imponderable and, in some ways, the most strategically important. It is the West’s only real bridge into Asia. Its withdrawal from the West would complete the catastrophe of China and perhaps assure that ultimate nightmare, the war of color.
India thus stands with the West only through the flexibility, the historical understanding and the genius of the Commonwealth. If it had done nothing but hold India in the free world without an ounce of compulsion the Commonwealth would have justified its existence
Nevertheless, the future of India is still incalculable and it remains a prickly partner, often maddening to the Western partners in its foreign policies of theoretical neutrality. Moreover, by insisting on the repayment of war debts, it has bled the economy of Britain in a long hemorrhage of goods that otherwise could be sold. The price of voluntary partnership comes high. But India, as the West’s only great friend on the continent of Asia, is an asset beyond price in civilization’s present civil war. An asset which only the Commonwealth could hold.
Pakistan, the second state spun by Gandhi’s potent spinning wheel, is equally disturbing. It seems to he turning into a Moslem theocracy, whose spiritual home is with the other Moslems in the Near East. And it has long faced India, with threat of force on both sides, across the borders of Kashmir.
Not far away lie the sovereign nations of Australia and New Zealand and they, too, are feeling the oats of nationalism and the strains of the Fourth Empire. It is surely one of the most arresting and significant facts in the Commonwealth that these two southern nations signed their defense treaty with the United States over the anguished cries of Winston Churchill himself. Significant because it confirms the lessons of Hong Kong and Singapore; because it shows that the Commonwealth cannot defend itself alone; because it places Australasia and all the nearby British possessions under the protection of the United States; and because, above all, this Anzus Pact is a new and powerful link binding the American and the other English-speaking peoples together on the Pacific, as they are bound by the North Atlantic Treaty in the West. Only in this Commonwealth, and in no empire before it, could such a thing come to pass.
South Africa alone has returned, in a grisly anachronism, to the doctrine of race. It has antagonized the whole dark continent with possible consequences terrible to contemplate. By persecuting its Indian immigrants it has angered the whole population of India in a dangerous inter-Commonwealth quarrel. It remains a strategic asset on the long seaway to Asia but has become a political liability which no one is willing to defend in the United Nations, a liability which can prove too heavy to be carried if Malanism refuses to live in the twentieth century. (At this writing the Government of South Africa talks openly of establishing a republic as a preliminary step toward complete resignation from the Commonwealth. It does not mention in public, however, that South Africa is tied to London by financial and economic arrangements essential to its prosperity.)
Finally there is Canada, bound to Britain by ties of blood, history, emotion and self-interest but the only dollar nation of the Commonwealth, hound to the United States by trade, by the Ogdensburg defense agreement and by long friendship. Organically Canada is a part of the North American economy. It is trying harder than it ever tried before to be a North American nation, a suburb neither of London nor Washington.
The second fact of Canadian life, often overlooked, is that less than half our people are British by race.
The third fact, which most Canadians have yet to grasp, is that Canada, within half a century or so, will be a more powerful nation than Britain, simply because it possesses far more of the raw stuff of power than the British Isles contain. Canadian children now living may well see Canada become the most formidable Commonwealth partner.
Introducing the British North America Act into the British parliament, Lord Carnarvon said that the Canadian state thus created might some day be stronger than its mother. That was a wild surmise in 1867. In 1953 it has become a certainty, if Western civilization continues.
With one foot in the new world and one in the old, Canada is unique in its present position and in its potential power. As on pilot Abraham’s Plains, its future must vitally affect and could largely determine the future of the Commonwealth. Canadians therefore carry constantly increasing responsibilities, not only for themselves but for the Commonwealth.
We Canadians have been busy and sometimes belligerent for nearly a century in asserting our status in the Commonwealth. We are only beginning to understand our responsibilities. In the recent havoc of the world Canada has been the beamish boy of fortune. Our exemption from the harsher trials of these times will not continue long and probably is ended already. In our youth, now closing, our eyes were turned inward upon the treasure of our wilderness. In our manhood, now beginning, we must think of ourselves and make our decisions as part of a free world under siege.
And not a minor but an essential part. Without Canada the Commonwealth is almost unimaginable. Equally true, without the Commonwealth the nation of Canada might well have been impossible.
In the past it has been as a member of a powerful world-wide organization that we have possessed sufficient implicit power to maintain our independence, often against great pressures. In the future, as a member of that organization, we can exert our maximum influence on our own destiny and that of our friends.
The art of government in Canada, you might say, has been largely a tightrope act between the power of Britain and the United States. As the disputes between Britain and the United States on Asiatic and on economic problems have indicated in recent months, our influence has shifted from one side to the other on what we conceive to be the merits of the immediate case in point and sometimes has deeply affected both our friends.
Thus we have acted as a North American dollar nation in influencing the economic policies of the Commonwealth; we have acted as a Commonwealth nation, fully supporting British policy, in resisting some American policies toward China.
As the fulcrum between the United States and the Commonwealth Canada’s influence on both will steadily increase as our own intrinsic power grows. Our use of that influence will provide the future test of Canada as a great nation. In such large affairs as the West’s uncertain policy in Asia we are only starting now to feel the full impact and bite of our unique middle position. From now on we shall feel it more and more.
That, in the roughest sort of draft, is the political state of Elizabeth’s Commonwealth. Its economic state is perhaps less satisfactory.
Oversimplifying a problem of infinite complexity, the plain fact is that the whole Commonwealth, apart from Canada, has been living beyond its means since the last war and masking its deficit by inflation at home and by gifts from the United States and Canada. As the Manchester Guardian puts it: “With all its wealth of resources, production and capital, this powerful group of nations cannot earn its keep in the world, except by drastic restrictions on imports.... The Commonwealth has drifted into an impossible situation.”
Britain itself is the centre of that impossible situation. By its peaceful revolution at home Britain attempted after the war a standard of living and of governmental services, and later a courageous rearmament, which it could not support without American and Canadian aid. It has produced goods on an amazing scale but too much of its energy has gone into the wrong kind of production, often at too high a price and too low an efficiency for sale in North America, from which Britain must buy many goods not obtainable elsewhere.
Part of the British economy is obsolete in the period of sharp international competition now under way. Part of it has been distorted by too much production of nonessential things and neglect of essentials. Moreover, Britain has been grievously impoverished by the repayment of wartime debts to Commonwealth nations, mainly India—exports which buy no imports.
At the same time such overseas Commonwealth nations as Australia have built up artificial and uneconomic manufacturing industries, protected by tariffs against British and other imports, instead of concentrating on the efficient production of foodstuffs and raw materials that Britain needs.
The Commonwealth conference last November candidly admitted that the whole economic fabric of the Commonwealth was desperately out of balance as a trading organization, that all its members (Canada much less than the others) were individually sick with the disease of inflation, held in precarious check by direct state controls.
To create a new balance in trade and to cure inflation will be a long and painful process. It will involve the revision of many popular social policies in Britain and elsewhere. It certainly will enforce continuing austerity in Britain for years to come. The key problem of Britain, indeed, is to save more of its total production and invest the savings in more efficient industries at home and in raw-production territories abroad. Britain must produce more without consuming much more. No miracles are on the agenda, except the miracle of Britain’s courage and patience.
“The sad truth,” the Guardian concludes, “is that the world does not owe us a living.” That living cannot be earned within the Commonwealth but only in a reconstructed world economy which only the United States is strong and rich enough to build.
Some of the political and economic facts thus stated are not palatable. But I doubt that anyone in authority at London or Ottawa will deny them. In this coronation year they are being faced piecemeal, rather late.
All of them bring us back to the question originally asked here: Can a Commonwealth so strained politically and economically long endure? Assuredly it can, but only if it evolves once more into another and broader form.
A Theory Was Interned
This is not a new idea in Canada. After the First World War John W. Dafoe, then almost a minority of one, put starkly the theoretical issue which now has become an urgent immediate fact. The political strains of the Commonwealth, he said, can never be resolved within it. They must be resolved within a much wider world organization fully capable of maintaining world order.
Dafoe’s thesis of the 1920s was proved in the Forties. Before the second war the Commonwealth, lacking American support, was not capable of maintaining world order. In the war it was not capable of defending itself without the full military power of the United States. As the official statement of last November’s conference in London implied, the Commonwealth cannot support itself economically today except by greatly increased commerce with the world at large and especially with the United States. The whole theory of an economically self-contained Commonwealth was finally buried at that conference.
It is easy to say that the Commonwealth must now perform another of its many feats of evolution. Is this in fact possible? The answer is that the latest evolution already has begun, is further advanced than most Commonwealth citizens realize and steadily expands with hardly a sound of growth.
Nothing, however, has gone according to plan.
When the victors of the last war assembled at San Francisco in the naive springtime of 1945 they hoped to form the kind of world organization that had been attempted in the League of Nations and destroyed by American isolationism and a paralysis of action in Europe. If the United Nations had gone according to plan the problems of the Commonwealth could have been solved within a new world community, ruled by agreement and law. Instead, the plan was wrecked by Russia, which never intended to let it work. The glazed cannon-ball face of Molotov at San Francisco hid both Russia’s secret hopes and its historic misjudgment of free men.
The resulting bisection of human society brought free men to the ultimate point of peril. It also confronted the Commonwealth with peculiar difficulties of its own. The dilemma foreseen by Dafoe had been reached. Indefensible alone, and on the brink of financial bankruptcy, the Commonwealth must seek powerful allies and economic aid. It found both in the United States.
The best hope, the world-wide authority of the United Nations, had failed. A good second best appeared in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, a new regional grouping of peaceful states determined to defend themselves and, if possible, the peace. Both NATO and the still larger grouping of nations in the defense of Korea demonstrated the same truth that only in such a community of states could the divisions of the free world and of the Commonwealth be bridged.
If the Commonwealth, under threat of war, now began to feel the delayed tensions inherent in its structure, it was presented at the same time with an historic opportunity. As that opportunity is grasped or abdicated the Commonwealth will flourish, break up or slowly rot like the empires of the past.
The danger is clear to anyone who looks at a map or reads a newspaper. The opportunity, so far, is clear only to a few men like Churchill and Eden in Britain, St. Laurent and Pearson in Canada, Nehru in India, Menzies in Australia.
When Churchill makes his perpetual pilgrimages to Washington he is not concerned with such technical problems as dollars. He is concerned with something infinitely more important. He is repealing George III’s fatal blunder. His Harvard and Fulton speeches, his every policy, act and gesture, are directed to the final task of welding together the English-speaking world.
It is tempting but unwise to say that Churchill, the child of a British-American marriage, is busily marrying the Commonwealth to the United States. When I used that phrase to a group of ardent thinkers in a Fleet Street pub an eminent Briton became more crimson than the Burgundy in his glass. Such loose talk, said he, will only enrage or terrify the British, the Americans and especially the suspicious Indians. But after a few more glasses and explanations we found ourselves in complete agreement and parted friends.
We agreed, in short, that the cardinal problem of the Commonwealth under Elizabeth is to embrace American power on terms satisfactory to both; to construct not some fragile constitutional fabric on paper but a practical day-to-day working arrangement of parallel policies and joint objectives.
Thereby the power of the Commonwealth will not be diminished. It will be vastly increased. Managed properly the joint power thus amassed will be far greater than the sum of its parts. Separated, the parts will not be strong enough to save anybody. No one knows that better or announces it more candidly than the hopeful men in the Kremlin.
The trans-Atlantic embrace already is closer than a man like Churchill would have dared to hope a few years ago. His celebrated wartime remark that the affairs of his country and the United States were mixed up together is now seen to be a deliberate masterpiece of understatement.
During the war the Commonwealth and the United States were mixed up together only by joint danger, improvised solutions and casual ad hoc arrangements. Now the alliance is legal by the contract of NATO. For its own safety, the United States has permanently installed its military power within the Commonwealth. Forty thousand American servicemen in Britain tell us more of the facts of life than any formal document. The United States bestrides the lifeline through the Mediterranean. It guarantees the defense of Australia and New Zealand under the Anzus Pact, of Canada under the Ogdensburg Agreement.
All these steps represent the typical and instinctive Commonwealth approach to every great problem the practical, experimental approach in complete disregard of precedent, theory and logic.
That approach has worked in the Commonwealth. It can work over a much, larger area, with all kinds of different arrangements of detail in different places among different peoples—if they have the wisdom to adopt it.
Though Churchill has publicly imagined a common British American citizenship of the future many people feel that the less said now about formal arrangements the better. Arguments of constitutional theory will only confuse and retard the larger movement which must be based on feelings and common purposes, not on words. After half a lifetime Churchill discovered that the Commonwealth was not tied together with “bits of string.” Bits of string, in the form of constitutional arrangements, even if available, could not tie the free world together either, at its present stage anyway.
Nevertheless, the Commonwealth, by its whole history and by the compulsion of modern events, is committed to a larger hegemony of free peoples or it is committed to future decay.
If that seems a surprising statement consider what is the paramount fact of the twentieth century. It is, surely, that nation states are growing obsolete, that unrestrained national sovereignty is a dangerous anachronism, that a community of peace-loving states is essential if civilization itself is to endure. After five thousand years of brief apprenticeship civilization must unite or explode.
An Experiment In Unity
The Russians, like former dictators, know how to unify the world in slavery. No organization in human history understands so well as the Commonwealth how the world, or half of it, can be united in freedom, for it has achieved that miracle within itself. Better than any other political organism it can leach the final lesson to the world by its own experience.
As Mackenzie King said in his greatest speech to the British parliament, the strength and glory of the Commonwealth lie in the fact that its lessons are not exclusive. They are capable of indefinite expansion. The structure of the Commonwealth, created haphazardly and intuitively by trial and error, is the first successful experiment in unity without compulsion. Its system (whatever names and forms it may be given and however it may be varied) is a working model for the only kind of world which can hope to avoid man’s latest weapons.
In theory and, to a surprising degree, in practice a community of free peoples has been accepted in the Commonwealth and in the United States. How Western Europe fits into it is, at this writing, a subject of irritating debate, especially among the rather too logical French.
Whatever happens in Western Europe the first priority of American and Commonwealth policy is clear enough: However it may expand in future, the core of any workable community must be the Commonwealth and the United States, and the core-within-the-core must be the English-speaking peoples if only because they speak the same language and have similar notions of life. If, for a start, the English-speaking peoples cannot live and work together the Russians already have won the struggle for the world.
It is foolish and dangerous, however, to imagine that living and working together effectively will be a simple business. The difficulties are immense. Without the Commonwealth’s experience in life, without the full return of the United States to the world, they would be impossible.
You see some of the difficulties in Britain this spring. Britain’s holiday mood does not hide a grim determination, a patient frustration and disappointment, a superb self-discipline mixed with natural envy of rich North America and deep suspicion of a supposedly trigger-happy and irresponsible United States. Here the American people are seen in a Hollywood caricature, as the British people are usually seen as a Punch caricature across the ocean.
You cannot expect the British people, who once ruled the world, to accept without heartbreak a lesser role beside the American and Russian colossi. You cannot expect them to understand quickly that within a larger community Britain’s real power will expand.
You cannot expect British housewives who have stood in a queue for fourteen years to appreciate sound but condescending economic advice from North Americans who never missed a meal, whose hands (in Lloyd George’s phrase) are dripping with the fat of sacrifice.
And you cannot expect them to take exactly our view of war when London is still pock-marked by the blitz and, as an influential Englishman told me, “an atomic war would reduce our island to a bog of radioactive mud while you in North America have a continent to absorb this punishment.”
If the British people have yet to adjust themselves to a changed scheme of things, as only one among equal partners in the Commonwealth and the free world, the Americans also have some deep soul-searching ahead of them.
Economically the United States’ problem is obvious. It cannot re-create the kind of world economy it is always preaching so long as it exports about four billion dollars a year more than it imports and creates a world dollar shortage of the same magnitude. Plain business sense should solve that problem. The political test now facing the United States is far harder.
As no great nation before, it has suddenly reversed the isolationist policy begun by the Founding Fathers. Like Britain in Pitt’s time, it is leading a vast unwieldy coalition of defense, paying for its leadership in blood and treasure. But it is not making friends. There is the dangerous flaw in its leadership.
Its leadership is based, so far, primarily on its unequalled power and wealth, not on the admiration of its allies, not on its way of life, which its allies generally misunderstand. The frictions in the alliance can usually be disguised in the statements of governments. They cannot he disguised in the talk of the British, Canadian, European and Indian man on the street. In London they assail the Canadian as soon as he opens his mouth and by his accent is taken for an American.
On the other hand, the American man on the street and even his government hardly attempt to disguise their irritation with allies because they fail to accomplish in a year or two the normal progress of a century.
Pitchforked into the leadership of the free world, the United States also must learn overnight the lessons learned by the Commonwealth through the centuries. It must learn that not only does it require friends for its own survival but that power and money alone can never buy more than reluctant allies or hungry camp followers, unreliable in the pinch. Above all, it must learn patience.
If there is to be a community of the free world, strong enough to confront the community of slaves, then it can be based only on the operating principles of the Commonwealth, whatever outward forms it may take. If there is to be an ultimate marriage it must be between consenting parties. The whole project, however, will fail without a new awareness in Britain and Europe of their peril and their true hope of salvation, without a better understanding in the United States of foreigners’ minds.
All this, written in a lovely old-fashioned English hotel beside a quiet London courtyard, is pretty vague. Necessarily so because all the statesmen and other thinkers I have questioned admit that no man, in this chaotic moment, can think his way through the future of the Commonwealth and the world or look much beyond next Sunday. When subjects of this sort are raised most authorities give some stereotyped reply like a public address or flounder uncomfortably into worn out cliches.
Vagueness at this point need not worry us too much. The Commonwealth was always vague and moved almost blindfolded, a step at a time. It never knew or asked the end.
In 1902 Joseph Chamberlain, discussing Britain’s problems at an imperial conference, uttered this unnecessary cry of alarm: “The weary titan staggers under the too vast orb of its fate.” This only twelve years before Britain began the first defeat of Germany.
A distinguished American student of the Commonwealth not long ago gave the proper reply to Chamberlain: “The weary titan,” wrote Albert Viton, “has staggered on somehow until now; he will stagger in the future. There will be no decline and fall of the British Empire. Like all other political structures it, too, will come to an end—but as a result of the slow evolution and fruition into a higher social organization.”