Open main menu

The Empire and the century/Imperial Organization

< The Empire and the century


IMPERIAL ORGANIZATION

By RICHARD JEBB


'Mr. Jebb [in his work on 'Colonial Nationalism'] traces a distinction between "federation" and an "alliance" within the Empire by defining these words in a manner which, from my standpoint, appears arbitrary. There is no real opposition in the ideas sought to be distinguished by him, though there may be a sequence. A federation is a particular form of such an alliance. Apparently what he favours should be styled a "confederation" of States within the Empire, each of them a unit, dealing with its fellow-States as units. This would not permit either a common citizenship or a federal legislature chosen directly by all the people of these states, endowed with plenary powers within certain clearly-defined limits. A true federation would. The difference between confederation and federation is real—so real that the kinds of alliance they represent may be dealt with as mutually exclusive. They are not necessarily to be so treated, or to be opposed as antagonistic, during our growth. As a league we favour federation in some form. That is the ultimate goal of our ambition, though there are patriotic alliances which may anticipate and prelude it. The strongest and most intimate "alliance" will always be that of people with people, citizen with citizen directly and on the same footing, instead of their external junction in masses as separate States, indirectly through their Governments. It is quite possible that our existing confederacy may last for some time to come, and may have to suffice pending the adoption of federal principles. There is not yet a rigid antithesis between them, and we need not create one. We must wait, and must be content to wait, without dogmatizing. A formal and complete constitution of the Empire may not come into being for a long time to come. No artificial bonds can satisfy us. We start with a magnificent patrimony, desiring to see a natural development from the present loosely-associated and imperfectly organized collection of self-governing States into a better-jointed, sufficiently flexible, and more efficient union,'—The Hon. Alfred Deakin in his Presidential Address to the Imperial Federation League at Melbourne on June 14, 1905.

Any discussion of Imperial organization must start from some fairly definite conception, not only of the present inter-State position, which is the hypothesis of the problem, but also of the ideal which it is hoped to promote, or at least not to retard, by the scheme proposed. In the passage quoted above, Mr. Deakin has given a very clear summary of the essential difference between the federalist ideal of Empire (including for my purpose only the autonomous democracies) and other conceivable forms of Imperial union. A federal union implies the junction of citizen to individual citizen directly and on the same footing—to that extent obliterating the State boundaries—whereas a 'confederacy' or 'alliance' implies only the external association of those masses of citizens which are called States, indirectly through their Governments. As for the present position, Mr. Deakin refers to 'our existing confederacy.'

This question of terms and expressions is one of the standing difficulties in discussions of Imperial evolution. Perhaps every writer who wishes to be lucid must expose himself to the charge of being 'arbitrary.' Mr. Deakin's explanation of the distinction between federation and confederation strikes me as another example of arbitrariness. It is valuable because it does clearly convey a real distinction of practical importance. But, as regards his use of the terms, what about the Dominion? So far from being a looser form of union than the American or Australian 'federations,' the Canadian 'confederacy' is a closer form than either of them. In it the 'residuum of sovereignty'—i.e., all powers not specifically assigned to the provincial Governments—resides in the central authority. But in the United States and the Commonwealth the conception of independent States is fundamental, and so the residuum of sovereignty—i.e., all powers not taken away from the former Colonies by the Commonwealth Act—remains with the State Governments. The assumption of State independence and equality finds expression, again, in the American and Australian Federal Senates, where every State, regardless of size, has the same voting power, so far modifying the citizen-to-citizen conception which governs the election of the other House on a population basis. But in the Canadian Confederation the provinces are represented in the Senate, as in the other House, on a population basis.[1] Thus, the junction of citizen to citizen directly, which Mr. Deakin says is the differentiating feature of a true federation, is more conspicuous in the existing 'Confederation' than in the existing 'Federations.'

It is a mistake to protest that such distinctions are more dialectical than practical. They are necessary to clear thinking and progressive discussion, for the extremely practical reason that the Imperial question concerns, and is followed with eager attention in, certain countries where the terms 'federation' and 'confederation,' as the case may be, have an official and therefore popularly recognised meaning. Accordingly, those terms ought to be restricted to that specific use, unless there is to be a risk of popular misunderstanding and consequent friction. Thus, 'confederacy' in Mr. Deakin's sense might be a useful aid to clear Imperial thinking in Australia. But in Canada, which officially is a 'confederation,' it could not fail to cause confusion if misapplied to the Empire. Likewise 'federation' has a definite official and popular meaning in Australia, and ought not to be employed to denote any different form of union. Therefore it seems inadvisable to apply 'confederacy' to the existing Imperial connection between the autonomous democracies, or 'federation' to any kind of Imperial organization such as seems to be within the region of practical politics, now or in the near future.

Doubtless it is easy to make out a strong case against using 'alliance' to cover the existing position, or any future position in which there would remain the features at least of a common Crown and a common foreign policy, such as is implied by the idea of an all-round offensive and defensive combination. Yet 'alliance,' or any equally neutral term, has this great advantage, that it is not more misleading to one of the democracies than to another. If it is inadequate, the mere acknowledgment of its inadequacy, being common to all the scattered sections of a certain Imperialist school, makes it a safer aid to discussion than any term which has a localized official meaning.

The essential point about the existing position is the fact of independent Executives—exercising powers, such as the absolute control of separate armaments and antagonistic fiscal systems, which make the actual relationship more like mere alliance than anything else, despite the common Crown. The independence of these Executives is a factor which I take to be permanent—at least, for our time; since I cannot detect the slightest indication, either here or beyond the seas, of any widespread disposition to surrender any part of that independence. On the contrary, there seems to be a pronounced and popular tendency in the opposite direction. The Premier of the Dominion, who commonly is reckoned an Imperialist, apparently thinks it consistent with sound Imperialism to talk about 'treaties' being negotiated between Canada and England. When Mr. Chamberlain, in the earlier speeches of his campaign, seemed to contemplate the gradual junction of citizen to citizen, by way of unrestricted commercial competition and fiscal union, the outer States of the Empire gave pretty clear indications that such was not their conception of Imperial consolidation. Likewise in this country there were signs of a revolt against the conception of any commercial arrangement which might possibly prove detrimental to the commercial or industrial interests of our insular territory, which was regarded by implication as holding a separate nation. In the press of Canada, and in that of Australia since federation, the term 'national' has acquired a local federal use, superseding the old habit of applying it to the single but scattered stock of which the headquarters was in these islands. But such signs of a centrifugal tendency coexist with the manifestation of a clear desire for continued and closer cooperation. That desire seems to pervade practically the whole of the democracy in Australia and New Zealand, almost the whole of the English-speaking population in Canada and South Africa, the best part of the French-speaking population in Canada, and finally a certain number of the best educated Dutch in South Africa. Under the circumstances, there seems to be an opening for constructive statesmanship, to make this widespread desire, which I need not say exists in England also, the basis of an improved organization for mutual advantage. What seems to be required is some machinery of partnership, to serve certain definite purposes, which already are recognised as inviting cooperation.

The guide to the nature of the organization required must be sought in a clear understanding of the specific purposes which it is intended to serve. Those purposes, therefore, have to be stated and analyzed. Accordingly, I offer the following classification of Imperial interests:

I. External interests, comprising:
      (a) Political interests;
      (b) Commercial interests.
II. Internal interests, including:
      (a) Vital interests;
      (b) Beneficial interests.

The principle of the above classification is to distinguish the various interests in accordance with the degree in which they demand, or admit of, joint action. In the first main division, that of 'external' interests, I regard 'political' interests as demanding joint action in almost every instance, because they are always matters fraught with the risk of serious foreign complications. The category would include such matters as the rights of British subjects in foreign countries, or territorial disputes. In such questions there is always the possibility of trouble. But the second section, namely, 'commercial' interests, includes matters which are not usually sources of foreign complications (though they may become so), and therefore do not demand joint action in every case. Examples are furnished by the commercial relations between Canada and the United States, including not only tariff questions, but such minor matters as railway bonding privileges and the like. Again, our own commercial arrangements with European countries can be settled by our own Government, without the assistance of colonial Governments. In such matters no common policy is possible until we have commercial union, which is not in sight at present.

By 'internal' interests I mean matters affecting the mutual relationship of the several countries within the Empire, and not involving negotiation with foreign Powers. Some of these matters, including especially Defence, Tariff, and Alien Immigration, are 'vital'—that is to say, they are so important to the safety or welfare of the individual nation[2] as such that it is difficult to obtain general assent for a comprehensive Imperial policy or the institution of any form of federal Executive. It is manifest already that Imperial defence can be organized only on the basis of allowing each nation to keep entire control of its own naval and military forces. Canada, the leader of the younger nations, seems to have made it clear that she cannot be induced by any offer of representation to surrender any portion of her control to a joint authority. That is a definite fact with which Imperial statesmanship must reckon. The question of fiscal policy is in the same position. No single nation is willing to surrender the power of taking such measures as it thinks fit for raising revenue; or for creating and maintaining the maximum amount of employment, of whatever kind it thinks best, within its own boundaries. Again, no nation with ideals of its own can surrender its right to exclude or admit certain classes of immigrants out of deference to the interests, opinions, or prejudices, of people living in other countries, thousands of miles away, under wholly different climatic or geographical conditions.

'Beneficial' interests also affect the national welfare, but not so vitally as to make undivided national control a paramount consideration. They include, for example, Ocean Cables, Ocean Transport, Postal System, Migration (white only). Naturalization Laws, Commercial Law (in certain departments), Patents, Copyright, and Judicial Appeals. In connection with all of these it seems possible to hope for the establishment, in the near future, of comprehensive Imperial institutions, controlled by a joint authority on behalf of the several countries.

The common feature in all the above classes of Imperial interests is that organization implies the cooperation of several independent Executives which actually exist. None of these Executives seems to be in need of further advice than is at its disposal already. That is where I think the plan of an advisory council, which Sir Frederick Pollock has put forward, misses the mark. Already we have the Committee of Imperial Defence, an advisory council which lately has played a prominent part in the shaping of our own national policy. The result is not encouraging. We have had the spectacle of our Prime Minister dogmatizing about our military requirements on the strength of the deliberations of that Council; while Lord Roberts, its foremost military expert, simultaneously makes pronouncements which seem to conflict with those of the Prime Minister. It appears that the Committee of Imperial Defence admits of being used as a cloak to cover the incompetence of our responsible Executive. If so, the precedent is useful as a warning. The proposed advisory Council, irresponsible and with no executive authority, might be used as a shield by any incompetent or weak Ministry in any of the autonomous States. What is required is not more advice, but simply cooperative action by those heads of States who alone have the advantage of power and the restraint of responsibility.

As matters stand, there is the nucleus of the required executive body in the Colonial Conferences, at which the acting heads meet together to discuss the possibility of joint action in definite departments of policy. The next step, therefore, is to make that Conference a permanent institution. It could be done partly by utilizing the cables, partly by the appointment of deputies to represent the colonial Premiers in London. Such deputies perhaps exist already in the High Commissioners. But it may be left open to each colonial Premier to make his own arrangement for the purpose of the Conference. Whenever critical questions were under discussion, the representative in London would have to make a free use of the cable. On normal occasions he would act more on his own discretion, always being responsible solely to his own Government for the policy to which he committed his country. The Colonial Office, of course, would not have any regular locus standi in connection with the Conference, at which the executive heads of States would be associated on equal terms. If the Colonial Secretary attended, he would do so either as the Prime Minister's deputy, or by special invitation in order that the Conference might have the benefit of his opinion. In the same way other men of authority might be invited to attend, but would not thereby become members of the Conference, which must consist, as an executive body, only of the responsible heads of Governments.

Normally, but not necessarily, the chairman of the Conference naturally would be the head of the most powerful State. Obviously, that State in practice must occupy a superior position in Conference, if only because it is in the strongest position to act independently in the last resort. But special occasions are conceivable, as will be explained later, in which it would be more convenient for the head of the State most immediately concerned in the particular question to act as representative of the whole Empire.

The function of the Conference cannot be quite the same in connection with the several different classes of Imperial interests which have been described. As regards 'political' external interests, the Conference would give the executive heads the opportunity of agreeing upon a common foreign policy, as occasion arose. Having so agreed, each Premier would be responsible to his own country, according to the recognised constitutional doctrine, for the consequences of his assent. If the common policy led eventually to war, each Premier would be in the position of having to justify that war, which he himself had helped to make, to the people of his own country. That position in itself would mark a great advance upon the existing position, in which there is no guarantee that either party in any State except our own will be prepared to defend the policy of the war and urge participation therein.

The existing danger was illustrated by the action of political parties in Canada upon the outbreak of the South African War, and throughout its duration. Both parties attempted to play to the French-Canadian electorate, which was hostile to the war. The French-Canadians had no sympathy with the eagerness of the English-Canadians to take part, which they regarded as an outburst of foreign racial sentiment. They felt that the War was none of their making, because the Dominion Government had not been consulted at every stage of the diplomatic controversy. It is true that the Dominion Parliament, a few months before the war broke out, had passed unanimous resolutions in support of the Imperial policy in South Africa. But the French-Canadians refused to attach any weight to that incident. They maintained—and I think they were right—that the resolutions had been rushed through on the spur of the moment, at the suggestion of a special envoy from Johannesburg, and that Parliament had not realized the possibility of committing the nation to war by its hasty action. Anyway, the result was that the Dominion Government, representing the most populous and wealthy of the younger nations, had to consider the French-Canadian attitude to the extent of not sending nearly so many troops in proportion to capacity as New Zealand and Australia. Surely the situation would have been less difficult if Sir Wilfrid Laurier had been consulted throughout the diplomatic campaign. Then the resolutions proposed by him in Parliament would have had the aspect of a deliberate testing of public opinion. When war ensued, he might have persuaded the French-Canadians that the country was bound in honour to do its utmost in a struggle which its Premier had helped to bring about with the deliberate approval of Parliament

On the other hand, the Dominion Parliament might have given an adverse vote upon the Premier's resolutions, thus expressing its disapproval of the Imperial policy. Then our Government, which possessed by far the greater part of the total fighting strength, would have had to consider whether or not it would stick to the policy so condemned. At worst, to have to face the dilemma would be better than for our Government to persevere with a policy under the erroneous impression that the Colonies would support it. In future, as the consequence of the cooperation of the Colonies in the South African War, it will be much more important to us than hitherto to know how far the Colonies are with us, and how far we may depend on their aid. Likewise it will be more important than hitherto for Canada to know how far Australia and New Zealand, in addition to England, would be prepared to back her in making a stand against American pretensions. Similarly, the Commonwealth will be interested to know exactly how the Dominion Government would regard a quarrel with an Asiatic Power over the 'White-Australia' policy. Therefore it seems that the system of the Conference, although open to all manner of hypothetical objections, at least would be an advance upon the present haphazard system, under which it is a mere speculation whether the States will back each other in any particular line of foreign policy.

The relations of Canada with the United States have always been a source of Imperial risk. Whenever the negotiations over Canadian-American questions have been conducted by Englishmen, the result almost invariably has been disastrous to Canada, and therefore to the cause of Imperial alliance. Mr. Chamberlain's period of office was marked by a new departure in this connection. When it appeared in 1898 that certain Canadian-American questions were ripe for settlement, he agreed to an arrangement which practically left the negotiations in the hands of Canadian statesmen. The International Commission was represented on our side by four Canadians and only one Englishman. Consequently the Americans failed to get their way by the methods of bluff and misrepresentation which had answered in dealing with inexperienced Englishmen. The Canadians were greatly elated by the confidence shown on our part in their ability to handle the matter, and for the time being there was great enthusiasm in Canada for the principle of Imperial alliance. Indeed, the eagerness of the English-speaking population to assist worthily in the South African War may be traced largely to the influence of Mr. Chamberlain's new departure. But in the end, after the war, the Americans succeeded in getting the principal question at issue—that of the Alaska boundary—arranged in London over the head of the Dominion Government, by means of obvious trickery. This conclusion of the incident cancelled all the good impression which had been created by the composition of the original Commission, and the Imperial ideal received a set-back from which it will take a long time to recover. The lesson, to my mind, is that in all future negotiations of that kind with the United States the Canadian Premier must be the representative of the Empire. He will consult the other Governments at every step of the diplomatic negotiations. If they fail to back him, he must do his own climbing down, or persevere single-handed on his own responsibility. In other words, the headquarters of the Conference must be transferred to Ottawa for the purposes of those particular questions.

As regards 'internal' questions, the function of the Conference would be different in relation to the two categories into which such questions have been divided. In 'vital' questions the Conference would enable the executive heads, not to devise a common policy for the Empire, but each to frame his own national policy with a view to cooperation. In the matter of defence, there is need of consultation to obtain uniformity in types of ships or guns. Again, the professional experts from each country would have to be brought together to discuss combined action on land and sea with reference to probable contingencies or for peace manoeuvres. Of course, for such purposes the executive heads would find it necessary to place their respective naval or military forces under one command for the time being. It would be the interest of each individual State not to appear to fall behind the others in the extent of its defensive preparations, because to do so would be to prejudice its chances of obtaining a sympathetic hearing, or cordial support, for its own special item of the joint foreign policy when brought up for discussion in Conference.

Again, the Conference would throw much needed light upon the question of Imperial reciprocity. Each Premier would have the opportunity of finding out exactly how far the others were prepared to meet him in the matter of mutual concessions. He could then, as a party leader, adopt whatever line he thought fit in formulating his own national fiscal policy for the approval of his own country. Only it would be his duty to acquaint the country with any formal proposals made to him in Conference, whether he liked them or not. In Conference each Premier would be a national representative, not a party representative, but out of Conference he would be a party leader to the same extent as under the present system.

Alien immigration, or at any rate coloured immigration, is an 'internal' question so for as it affects the coloured populations of the dependencies. The Conference would endeavour to discover a common principle of exclusion or restriction, so as to minimize the sentimental disadvantage and practical inconvenience arising from the application of different principles by different countries of the Empire.

The dependencies themselves constitute an 'internal' Imperial interest which seems to belong to a class apart From the point of view of Canada or Australia, the interest, perhaps, is mainly 'external,' because those countries have no direct connection with the dependencies, which, however, may become a cause of war with foreign Powers. To England, on the other hand, being the suzerain of the dependencies, and solely responsible for their administration, the interest is mainly 'internal.' This divergency between the points of view of England and the Colonies respectively seems to be a danger to the prospects of close alliance. It is essential to durable Imperial solidarity that the Colonies should acquire an interest in the dependencies of a kind similar to our own—that is to say, the sense of a national duty in the task of administration.

If all the States are to be equally ready to defend the dependencies, our monopoly of administration must be given up. How to set about making the required change, which can only be gradual, is a question which the Conference would enable our Premier to discuss with the others. Perhaps the transference of the West Indies to Canada, for purposes of administration, would be a first step; though it could be accomplished only by successive stages, beginning with the appointment of Canadian officials as vacancies occurred. Apart from other considerations, it is obvious that an alliance with a bond of sentiment, namely, the sentiment of a particular national duty in common, would be more secure than an alliance held together by material interests only. The sentiment of 'the White Man's Burden' is one which might appeal to French-Canadians and South African Dutch, if their respective countries had some sort of responsible part in Imperial administration, whereas the present sentiment of common blood is one which appeals to our own race only, and tends to become weakened by lapse of time, in proportion as the native-born replace the immigrants.

In 'beneficial' questions the Conference will determine the kind of common organization required to meet the particular need, and will arrange for its creation. The question of Imperial telegraphs already has proved capable of successful solution by the familiar principle of the joint-stock company. In the Pacific Cable, which is owned and operated by the Governments of Australia, England, Canada, and New Zealand, the States are associated simply as shareholders, and have control in proportion to their respective financial interest in the undertaking. The intermigration of white populations might be controlled to mutual advantage by the institution of a joint board. Other questions might be solved by the appointment of a committee to devise and recommend concurrent legislation. In all cases the Conference would be the source of initiative, and the executive authority—the latter by the individual action of its members when necessary.

There seems to be no reason why the system of the permanent Conference should not be initiated at any time, whenever the British Prime Minister sees fit to attempt the experiment. It can be discontinued at any time if it does not seem to promise success, and renewed under more favourable conditions. Doubtless there will be some reluctance at the outset on the part of colonial Premiers to take the responsibility of committing themselves to a line of foreign policy. That, perhaps, is inevitable, as a consequence of the long-established colonial system. Hitherto colonial Governments have claimed our support as a matter of course whenever their own special interests have been threatened by foreign aggression, while sometimes asserting their right of giving or withholding reciprocal support just as they think fit on each occasion. Such one-sided reciprocity obviously is no sure basis of alliance, or of any kind of political combination between autonomous States. The natural outcome of the old colonial system is seen in the present distribution of the defence forces of the Empire So long as England insists upon dictating the Imperial foreign policy in every case, so long must she expect to be saddled with a corresponding share of the defence burden. Conversely, if the younger nations wish to obtain support for their own requirements in foreign policy, they must first recognise the case for equality of sacrifice, as between the autonomous States of the Empire. Since the several States are too unequal at present, apart from other obstacles, for federation to be an acceptable solution, there seems to be no alternative except a system of alliance, such as could be put into practice by the machinery of a permanent Imperial Conference.

Nor need the experiment of the Conference be delayed until the preliminary consolidation of autonomous States has been completed, which implies the federation of the South African States, and the entry of Newfoundland into the Dominion. Were the Conference started now, only Canada and New Zealand would be represented in London. The Commonwealth, not yet having appointed its High Commissioner, could not take part, except in so far as the acting heads could find time to use the cable. The South African Colonies and Newfoundland could not take any direct part at all, because there is no place in a Conference of nations for the artificial subdivisions of a national unit. If the acting heads of those provincial Colonies were recognised as the peers of the Premiers of Canada and New Zealand, then the acting heads of the several Australian States might, and certainly would, claim the same recognition. It is only their petty affectation of undiminished State sovereignty that has delayed the much-needed appointment of a federal High Commissioner. Under the circumstances, the obvious policy for a British Prime Minister who wished to make a beginning of Imperial organization would be to start the system of the Conference in conjunction with the acting heads of Canada and New Zealand only, which countries alone have provided themselves so far with the necessary equipment. It is safe to prophesy that an Australian High Commissioner would be forthcoming speedily in that event—or perhaps a Minister for External Affairs, the latter department being assigned specifically to the federal authority by the terms of the Commonwealth Act. Likewise the actual initiation of the Imperial Conference would stimulate the South African Colonies and Newfoundland to acquire the necessary status through provincial federation. There is no place for them otherwise in the organization of the Empire, so long as Imperial federation is not acceptable all round.

If the principle of the Conference offers the only alternative to a policy of mere negation, perpetuating the risks of the present position, then it seems futile to reject the Conference on the plea that, by recognising State independence, it prejudices the chances of a genuine Imperial federation. Mr. Deakin was right when he said that there was no real opposition in the ideas of alliance and federation, though there may be a sequence. I have pointed out that one essential feature of 'federation,' in the proper meaning of that term, is the association of States on the basis of equality, regardless of size. An alliance which recognised equality, if only in the sense of an equal national status, might be regarded as a step towards federation. The other essential feature of federation, namely, the association of citizens as units, distinguished from the association of States as units, always on the basis of equality, may take a long time to appear in practice, as Mr. Deakin admits. It never can appear as the outcome of a negative policy. Nor is it likely to appear if the principle of alliance is found to satisfy all practical requirements. The conditions of the British Empire are quite different from those which have produced the classical examples of federation. For immediate purposes it is enough if we realize in what respects the present Imperial system fails to meet practical requirements, and to what extent any specific proposal, if carried out, would modify the prospect of fixture developments. Judged by such tests, the Imperial Conference seems to offer a sound principle of organization for the time being. It seems calculated to subserve the two great Imperial ideals—namely, the peaceful and sympathetic development of kindred democracies and the future of British administration in the tropics.


  1. The quota is determined by giving Quebec a fixed number of representatives, and other provinces proportionate representations.
  2. I use the term 'nation' in its accepted Canadian sense advisedly.