Hide Articles List

7 articles on this Page




THE FOREIGN POLICY OF GREAT BRITAIN. I NO. VI. I TEE POLICY OF ISOLATION IMMORAL. I It is difficult to prove the morality or immorality of any maxim or course of conduct. It is a matter rather for perception than for reasoning. If the mere plain state. ment of a principle of action does not carry with it its own sanction or repudiation-does not instinctively awaken in the general mind a sentiment of approval or of reproba- tion-the most elaborate argument will probably fail to produce conviction. The foundations of morality, whe- ther public or private, lie very deep. Ultimately, no doubt, they are to be discovered in the tendencies of ac- tions and of systems, in their natural and certain conse- quences, in their fitness to promote the great designs of Providence-the future elevation and purification of the race-the virtue and happiness of individuals-the pro- gress, the dignity, and the content of nations. What ever would operate to render men wretched and degraded, to retard the civilisation of communities, or to mar the beckoning prospects of humanity, must, we all admit, be unrighteous and condemnable. Whatever tends, on the contrary, to spread sunshine through the world, to diffuse happiness, to alleviate misery, to carry out that great law of amendment and advancement to which even questions of happiness and misery are secondary and subservient, must be praiseworthy and right. But as our short vision, soanty knowledge and imperfe.t powers can only trace out a small portion of the consequences of any principle of action, and can assign its tendencies but doubtingly and blindly, we are happily not left to this groping intellectual process for the formation of our moral judgments. Senti- ments and emotions, inherent or instilled (which arc-so to speak—the result and resume of the investigation by higher powers and wiser intelligences of those tendencies and operations which our finite faculties are incompetent to deal with), stand in the place, and supersede the neces- sity, of laborious logical or historical researches. That which a superior intellect would see, we feel, to be right or wrong. A maxim of moral conduct, therefore, when clearly stated, will almost instantaneously approve stself to the consciences of men a good object, when clearly defined, will be at once accepted as a righteous and fitting aim :—it is only when we come to consider the mode in which that roaxin should be applied to actual life and the means by which that object is to be pursued, that reasoning, divergence, and confusion of necessity begin. Now, if we see a man retiring within his shell, dili- gently pursuing his wordly welfare, scrupulously culti- vating his personal morality, sedulously guarding his va- letudinarian virtue from all external perils, but utterly neglecting or ignoring his social duties,-do we call him a good man ? Is he not at best an unamiable and selfish Coenobite ? Do we not instinctively condemn him ? And could the most skilful special pleading reverse this deci- sion of the conscience, or persuade us even to grant a new trial"? What characters in Scripture parables excite the most universal loathing and contempt ? Are they not the cold priest and unfeeling Levite, who thought it was no business of theirs," and so passed by on the other side" ? Yet we have no reason, except their con- duct in this instance, for supposing that the priest and Levite were immoral men. IVell Does not the same feeling pursue us into national life ? Do we not revolt from the doctrine that nations have no social duties and docs it not take much subtle ratiocination to persuade us even to listen patiently ? If a politician argues that what happens around us is no concern of ours-that we should daff the world aside and let it pass"—that we shall burn our fingers if we inter- fere, and shall profit by the quarrels and the ciimes of others if we stand aloof in vigilant inaction,—he has to veil his abhorrent doctrine under the guise of prudence and humanity has to speak with bated breath and in an apologetic tone; he feels instinctively that his Jiaxiras will not bear stating broadly they cannot be "naked and not ashamed But when a statesman of a different creed rises to reply, and asks indignantly if the wrongs and sufferings of our fellow-men are indeed no concern of ours" if we are to stand tamely by and witness—and sanction by our silence and inaction-the denial of sacred rights and the perpetration of consummate wrong; f our highest wisdom should be to feather our own nest anl our noblest courage to guard our own safety; if there is no solemn oath of Christian chivalry upon our souls to suc- cour the miserable weak and to baffle the unrighttous strong; if, indeed, our wealth, our power, our high posi- tion have been given us merely to be selfishly enjoyed and not to be virtuously and gloriously used,-does not erery eye kindle, does not every heart beat, do not the cheers of answering thousands proclaim that the orator has st-uck the cord to which every heart vibrates and given utterance to the moral sentiment to which all consciences respond ? Nations, then, like the individuals of whom they are icomposed, have social duties, solemn and ineffaceable obli- gations to each other. We need waste no words in prov- ing the position. It is the special sentiment which dis- i tinguishes tile public morality of our day from that of ancient times. It is that which makes patriotism a regulated virtue—not a prolific crime; a noble motive- not merely a somewhat expanded selfishness. With the Greeks and Romans it was a narrow passion, inducing a forgetfulness not merely of private interests but of the immutable claims of humanity and justice." With:18 a purer mortality has given birth to a wider and wiser policy. We do not, and may not, regard the ten com- mandments and the golden rule as operative and binding only within the four seas of Britain. And as we may not pursue or further the national interests by active crime, so neither may we by selfish or timid acquiescence in the crimes of others. Where a people is powerful, acquies- cence is called by another name, and becomes complicity. We recognise in other communities claims upon us not less sacred and imperative than those which owe to our own citizens. As a nation we have to contribute our quota to the happiness and progress of the world we have to aid it by efforts as well as by example there are grand principles whose triumph we have to toil for noble objects whose achievement is the final cause" of our existence; beneficent and holy faiths for whose prevalence we have to strive and sacrifice and suffer-as soldiers we would hope as martyrs if need be. So far we trust all whose consent is of consequence will go along with us. What those aims, creeds, and principles are to be, and how they are to be striven for which of two mode a of attaining one purpose is to be closen; which of two banners is most needed for the crisis; which of two perils menacing humanity is the most imminent and deadly; whether the army of Order or the army of Revolution is really fighting the battle of civilisation how much op- pression should be tolerated as the natural error of harras- sed power how much excess should be forgiven as the inevitable accompaniment of struggling freedom when we should content ourselves with grave disapproval, when we should venture on earnest protest, when we should resolve on active intervention :-these are questions for political wisdom to solve, and may well excite irreconcil- able divergencies among statesmen who are agreed on the main principle of political morality-that the doctrine of isolation is selfish, inadmissible, and unsound. We cannot escape from the obligations and responsibili- ties of our position as members of the great commonwealth of nations on any plea either of incompetency or of false humility. We can discover what we ought to do, if we will really study and inquire with a single mind. We can do whatever we wish to do, if only we will bind ourselves to it with a resolute and uncompromising will. If we have made many blunders and perpetrated many wrongs in times past, it has been from want of an enlightened conscience and a high principle of action. If we have incurred many failures, and if results that we deprecated have taken place and objects that we desired have failed of their accomplishment, it has been because we were not sufficiently earnest-because our will was languid or because our selfishness was great. If we, as a nation, once clearly know and once boldly announce in what line our sympathies lie and to what goal our endeavours shall point—nhat we will systematically discountennnce and what we will cordially encourase -"luit efforts we will aid and what conduct WP resent-by what course of policy our fricuUsnip may be secured or our antagonism provok- ed,-we cannot affect to rlouut cupping one iota out of our fitting province, without intrusive in- terference with the liberty of action of independent States, without a single proceeding which even arrogance could stigmatise as unwarrantable meddling, without being called upon, except in the rarest instances, to take up arms in quarrels not rigidly our own-we should still tie able constantly to succour oppressed right and to baffle aggressive wrong, and gradually and powerfully to guide the destinies of Europe towards the consummation which we have at heart. It will suffice for other States to know clearly and to know beforehand what under any given circumstances will be the wish and conduct oft Great Britain, to modify their whole plans and purposes. It is because hitherto neither peoples nor sovereigns have been able to foretell tliis-because we ourselves have never known it-because it has depended on the imperfect and varying information of the people, on the uncertain tem- per of Parliament, on the accident of the Minister or the Party who chanced to be in office-that we have so perplexed our foes and disappointed our friends, that we are charged by despots with disaffection and by patriots with perfidy, and that we have been on many critical occa- sions so powerless, and at almost all times so unpopular. We are now in a position to take up a line of policy at once consistent, dignified, and efficacious. We have got through all the roughest and most difficult portion of our home work. Our interval evils and grievances are either amended or in a fair way to be so. The Govern- ment now must be the exponent and administrator of the principles and feelings of the informed and educa- ted classes. We are, for the first time, in a condition to have a national as well as a court policy. We have, as it were, made our fortune and now begin to use it. It is probable that our international relations will henceforth supply the most prominent and exciting questions of our age—those which will make and unmake cabinels—those which will unite and those which will shatter parties. It is, therefore, of the most vital moment that the princi- ples which are to preside over those relations should be decided, like those of our policy, without vacillation and past recall. It is doubly important, since not only we have questions of great magnitude, and involving funda- mental ideas, to deal with and to solve, but we shall have to discuss these questions with Governments which, how- ever we may condemn their tortuous means or their un- righteous ends, have at least the inestimable superiority of knowing exactly what they want, and of being deter- mined to compass it if they can.;—Economist <





[No title]