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Prince Bismarck, and described the statesman who created a United Germany as being a far less important personage than the politician who founded the Anti-Corn Law League. "What,' he asked the operatives of Birmingham, 'was the use of stirring the people to-day with German professors or economics of the moon ?' No answer being forthcoming to this inquiry, he proceeded to state that the German nation had lost all confidence whatever, if they ever had any, in these economics of the moon, which Prince Bismarck planted on them twenty-five years ago. In confirmation of his assertion that Cobden's prophecies, however they had been discredited by the course of events, must and would come out right in the end, he repeated a remark made, or said to have been made, by Lord Melbourne threescore years ago to the effect that it is madness to think you can ever repeal the Corn Laws.' I should have thought myself that, as the Com Laws were repealed a few years later, this saying was a proof of the folly of making prophecies as to the durability of any policy or institution. Everything changes; and yet Mr. Morley makes a strong demand upon the credulity of his fellow countrymen when he asks them to believe that the policy of Free Trade is the only thing immutable in a world of change. In like fashion Sir Robert Giffen informed the electorate of Hayward's Heath that 'no one can deny the past ... and that Cobden's work in the matter of commercial policy was for all time.' At Carlisle the same dogma was affirmed by Sir Robert Reid when he stated that the lessons which Cobden taught our fathers were not lessons merely of passing value ; they were founded on principles which were true for all time.' Freedom of trade was declared by the Solicitor-General of the last Liberal Government to occupy the first place in the category of things upon which the true stability of this country depended.' To speak the plain truth, the centenary celebration of Cobden's nativity was a happy thought devised by the guiding spirits of the Liberal party in order to discredit the cause of Tariff reform under the pretence of commemorating the public services of a well-nigh forgotten politician. The more indiscriminate and the more exaggerated were the eulogies showered upon Cobden and his policy, the more obvious was the inference that Mr. Chamberlain was not deserving of public support. If once it could be accepted as an article of faith that the authority of Cobden in matters of trade must be accepted as final and conclusive, it follows logically that there is no necessity even to consider the arguments which prove, or try to prove, that a system of trade which may have been beneficial to the community sixty years ago has, owing to altered conditions, become prejudicial in the present year of grace. When in the heyday of the Papacy the Sacred College closed any controversy by the formula, Roma locuta est,' there was no more to be said. In like fashion our latter-day Liberals seem to think that, as the theories of Cobden are to dictate the commercial policy of this country for all time, there is an end of all further discussion about Tariff reform.
I doubt, however, whether these tactics will meet with the success: deserved by their ingenuity. There is great truth in the old saying that a live dog is better than a dead lion. Without admitting that canine or leonine characteristics can fairly be attributed to Cobden or to Chamberlain, it is certain that the latter is very much alive, and that the former is not only dead himself, but belongs to a dead past. When the constituencies are called upon to vote, one speech of Mr. Chamberlain's will exercise a greater influence on public sentiment than a score of eulogies on Cobden's services in having brought about the repeal of the Corn Laws. There was little or nothing about Cobden to appeal to popular imagination. He was a kindly, worthy man, honourable, both in his public and private life; an energetic organiser of political agitation ; an excellent expositor of other men's ideas; an earnest worker on behalf of any cause he espoused, though his earnestness owed more than half its effect to his inability to realise that there are always two sides to every qnestion. Of genius he had not a touch. The accident of fortune associated his name with the Anti-Corn Law crusade, but in reality Adam Smith, Sir Robert Peel, John Bright, George Thompson, and Charles Villiers played equally important parts in the establishment of Free Trade as the basis of our fiscal policy. This policy, I would add, owed its success far more to the Irish famine than to the efforts of any individual, however meritorious. Even the high literary ability and the charm of style possessed by my friend John Morley proved insufficient to make the Life of Richard Cobden interesting to the general reader. To sum up, Cobden's is not a name to conjure with, and I believe before many months are over the truth of this opinion will be made manifest in a way to which even the Cobden Club will be unable to shut their eyes.
The sentence with which I commence this article reminds me of another instance in which the example of China seems to have commended itself to the approval of our Liberal mandarins. I am informed by persons well acquainted with the Celestial Kingdom that though the Chinaman under intelligent discipline will make an efficient soldier, any real reorganisation of China as a military Power is rendered impossible by the extraordinary respect and reverence entertained for education by all classes in the Empire. From the days of Confucius the literati amongst his fellow countrymen have been taught to believe that war is an occupation unworthy of a rational human being, that the study of killing is one which could not be pursued without loss of self-respect, and that proficients in the degrading art of war are not fit to associate with men who have earned distinction and fortune by passing successful examinations. This teaching has so impressed itself upon the Chinese mind that no man of any social position or standing will ever consent willingly to enter the army
as a profession. To become an officer is to lose caste, to bring disgrace upon your relatives and even your ancestors. The result is that the officers of the Celestial army are to-day, and have been for centuries, men of no character, who have enlisted in order to save themselves from destitution, and whose sole ambition is to add to their inadequate pay by corruption and peculation. It would be absurd to say that a similar danger threatens the military power of England. The fighting instincts of our race are happily too strong to allow of our ever learning, as a nation, to look with contempt on the trade of soldiering. Our robust common sense leads us to recognise the absurdity of the saying, so fashionable in the forty years of peace'era, that the pen is stronger than the sword, or to believe that courts of arbitration will ever remove the necessity for standing armies. Still, it is impossible for any impartial observer to be blind to the fact that the tendency of the English Liberals, as a party, is to decry militarism, to deprecate Imperialism, to spread abroad the conviction that the first duty of English statesmanship is to occupy itself with domestic reforms, and to remove social abuses rather than to provide for the safety of Great Britain and the British Empire. When war is described as consisting, to use Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman's phrase, in methods of barbarism,' when the mere suggestion of a resort to conscription is denounced by the organs of Liberalism as being an outrage upon the working population of the United Kingdom, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the party which associates itself with the traditions of Cobden is treading in the footsteps of Confucius. I do not dispute the genuineness of Cobden’s convictions. What I object to is the assumption that these convictions were the result of deep study or of any profound insight into human nature. The basis of his fiscal poliey was that it would be for the good of humanity if every nation devoted itself to the cultivation of those products it was best fitted to produce by its natural conditions. According to his theory England, which, in virtue of her possession of coal and iron, was then the chief, almost the sole manufacturing Power in the world, was to make herself the workshop of the globe and to retain her monopoly of production by throwing open her markets to all countries who in return would supply her with bread stuffs.
Owing to Cobden's utter inability to comprehend the force of nationality he failed to perceive that other nations were not prepared to forego the advantage of having factories and workshops of their own in consideration of gaining a higher profit on their agricultural exports. The result was that his scheme ended in signal failure. The policy of open markets propounded by the Anti-Corn Law League, instead of converting other nations to Free Trade, caused them, without exception, to adopt the system of Protection, under which they have developed manufactures of their own capable of underselling the manufactures of England in her home markets. In like
fashion Cobden was unable to comprehend that cheap food would not prove a sufficient boon to induce British workmen to forego the prospect of earning higher wages by forming trade unions, whose reason of being is to raise the profits of the workman at the cost of his employer. Throughout his public career Cobden never concealed his want of sympathy with the attempts made by working men to better their condition through co-operation. Whether his views on this point were right or wrong is not the question under consideration. My only reason for alluding to the subject is to show how little he understood the nature of the British working classes if he believed that to them cheap bread was the one thing needful. If proof were needed of the weakness of the Liberal party it would be found in the fact that they have attempted to win over the working class electorate by recalling the memory of Cobden as that of an authority which outweighs any possible argument in favour of tariff reform. If they are again to regard the cheap loaf as their in hoc signo vinces they will not be long in finding out their mistake. I should, therefore, recommend them to study the example of the Chinese in simply reciting the greatness of Confucius without giving reasons for their belief. I learn that the following eulogy of the sage is one still popular in the Celestial Empire :
Confucius ! Confucius! How great was Confucius !
I venture to suggest that if for Confucius the celebrators of the recent centenary had substituted the name of Cobden, and had recited a like stanza at their demonstrations, they would have saved themselves an unnecessary outpour of words and have done more to impress upon their audiences the claim of their hero to be regarded as a man whose wisdom was above discussion. If for the sake of euphony they should Latinise the name of Cobden and call him Cobdenius, the change would improve the euphony of the stanza, without detracting from its intrinsic value.
In connection with this subject I trust I may be permitted to say a few words as to certain strictures on the present writer which have recently been made by Lord Avebury in his treatise on Free Trade, and which have been reproduced with warm approval in the Spectator. There is nothing in those strictures of which I have any cause to complain, except that they are utterly irrelevant to the question at issue. I do not profess to be an authority on questions of political economy. All I claim is to be an authority, though on a small and humble scale, on questions of common-sense. I am not sufficiently conversant with trade matters to decide between the merits or demerits of Free Trade as a working system. All I contend is that Free Trade is not a dogma which cannot be called in question; and that the issue between restricted and unrestricted competition must as a matter of right, as well as of fact, be ultimately decided by the voice of the country, not by that of its self-constituted pedagogues. In support of this contention I have dared to point out that Cobden, whatever may be the value of his opinions enunciated threescort years ago, is not entitled to credit as a prophet. I am asked by Lord Avebury to recant my words and to acknowledge Cobden's claim to prophetic wisdom because he foresaw that Free Trade would be good for England. To put forward this statement as self-evident is to beg the question, a mode of argument unworthy even of the Cobden Club. Lord Avebury proceeds to dispute another statement of mine made also in these pages, that 'the opinion of the “civilised world,” about which we used to hear so much during the Boer war, is dead against Free Trade.' His Lordship admits that 'in practice, no doubt, most countries are Protectionist.' He retorts with a tu quoque remark that I am not justified in making this statement, because I attached no value to the opinion of the civilised world concerning the Boer war. The fallacy of this retort is too obvious to be overlooked even by Macaulay's typical schoolboy. Let me say in passing from this subject that Lord Avebury's treatise on Free Trade is free from the personal vituperations of Mr. Chamberlain which, as a rule, discredit the utterances of the Unionist Free Fooders.
I note one feature in the speech delivered last month by Lord Rosebery at the Liberal League for which I must express my sincere gratitude. I do not find a single reference to Cobden or his centenary contained therein. The omission, I think, can best be accounted for by the supposition that his Lordship is alive to the fact that nowadays the name of Cobden is not a trump card even in the Liberal pack, and that if the Liberals hope to win the day at the next general election the less they say about the Anti-Corn Law League the better for their prospects of success. The Liberal League was, if my memory serves me rightly, founded during the war by a small section of the Opposition who were unable to join the hostility of the Liberals to the Boer war, and who were anxious to dissociate themselves from the Anti-Imperialist policy espoused by their Radical colleagues. Having formed the league, and having thereby recorded their protest against being described as Pro-Boers and Little Englanders, they felt under no obligation to take any further steps to convert their fellow Liberals to sounder views of policy. They considered themselves to be the élite of Liberalism; and they were convinced the presence in their ranks of Lord Rosebery would suffice, to quote his own words, 'to rescue and differentiate sane Imperialism from shoddy Imperialism.' Having thus vindicated the orthodoxy of the League in Imperial matters, the ex-Premier proceeded to declare that 'in no case he was aware of, and on no occasion, has loyalty to the Liberal League conflicted in the slightest degree with loyalty to the leaders and the policy