LORD DERBY AT LIVERPOOL. -
ONE never reads a speech of Lord Derby's without regret- ting that a man so utterly possessed by that spirit of sensible caution and intellectual incredulity and timidity which is one of the main threads of true Conservatism, should not have the opportunity of leading the Conservative party in this country, but should be so nearly neutralised by his leader's love of vagaries and aptitude for bounce. There is something really touching in the contrast between Mr. Disraeli's dashing imprudence and Lord Derby's finished prudence, as illustrated by the Bath letter of last week and the Liverpool speech of this. It is the more striking, that Lord Derby, though without Mr. Disraeli's wit, has a very considerable faculty for graphic and lucid expression, a faculty which so often leads men into dangerous audacities. Sir Stafford Northcote has no temptation of this kind, and yet Sir Stafford Northcote is wild and dangerous compared with Lord Derby. If we wished to express in a single phrase Lord Derby's type of Conservatism, we should say it was that kind of Con- servatism which seems to rest on a belief in what the physicists call the conservation of force,—i.e., the complete distrust in all apparent expansions of political life and strength, an in- vincible disposition to discredit heroic views of palitics, whether in the sense of hope or fear, but even more in the sense of hope than fear. It is true that Lord Derby began his speech of Thursday at Liverpool with a frank admission of the wonder with which he had watched the expansion of Liver- pool trade, and declared his belief that after a temporary check that expansion would again proceed almost indefinitely ; but he no sooner left the region of commercial enterprise, where the ground is indeed so steady that the sceptics as to all other progress rest in the great fact of progress in pro- duction, than he began to argue on his constant assumption that there is a very great chance indeed against the appear- ance of anything new under the sun,—Lord Derby is far too cautious to lay down that there is no such chance, —and to descant on the high probability that "as things have been" things will remain. His first theme was the danger that English trade would be ruined by the high prices of labour,—would be supplanted, in fact, by the com-
petition of countries in which labour is cheaper. He depreciated the magnitude of this danger with his accustomed skill, pointing out that when the cost of labour begins to eat so seriously into profits as to render capitalists indifferent to production, labour must fall. He dis- paraged the probability of any stream of emigration conducted on a scale likely to interfere with this process, and re- minded his audience of the invariable tendency of dear labour to stimulate the invention of labour-saving machines. Subsequently, Lord Derby went on at least to hint disbelief in any real rise in the standard of labourers' wages. He said the tendency of high wages was to increase the number of early marriages that early marriages result in a fuller labour market, and that the fuller labour market lowers again the rate of wages. It has always struck us that this sort of argument (which is so popular among the economists, and which Lord Derby naturally adopts, since it just suits the turn of mind which throws cold water on ideal views of social pro- gress) proves a great deal too much. It ought to prove, for instance, that the level of the middle-class, as a whole, is always sinking ; that it more and more tends to sink back into the working-class ; for all the necessary economical con- ditions exist in its case. As a matter of fact, however, probably every middle-class man could recall more in- stances of a rise of grade and comfort among his old acquaintances than of a fall into the class beneath. Young men of the middle-class who find themselves 'sinking usually emigrate • and this is precisely what we should expect opera- tives and agricultural labourers to do, when once they have established, as they are establishing, a higher standard of comfort and self-respect than that to which they had been accustomed in the old bad times. We confess we hope that the check on the migration of capital will be much more due to the progress of invention—and to economy in the machinery of production, than to a return of wages to their old rate. Education is having already a great effect, and will have a far greater effect, in rendering the misery of the worst-paid labourers intolerable to them ; and whenever it is so, we trust I we may look to the permanent maintenance of a standard of wages even for the least skilled labour which will not be liable to reduction through the competition of excessive num- bers. Lord Derby admits that whether or not we are better than our fathers, "assuredly we are better off," why should not the worst paid labouring class be able to say the same thing a generation hence ?
But Lord Derby's most characteristic remarks were made upon the Ashantee War. There the cautious Conservatism of his mind came out in its full strength. Implicitly be rebuked Sir Stafford Northcote for his hasty censure of the' Government, for he declared that his judgment as to the origin of the quarrel was not yet made up, and he pointedly omitted any reference to the duty of summoning Parliament, on which Sir S. Northcote expressed so very positive and vehement, an •opinion. But while obviously anxious not to make.
an excuse out of the Ashantee war for a premature attack on the Government, Lord Derby could not con- trol his eagerness to make it an excuse for initiating a contraction rather than an extension of our power in Africa. Against any extension of our Protectorate he protested with I warmth. He would not hear of the doctrine that it is our duty "to put a coat of moral whitewash on every black man we come across." He doubted the wisdom of taking over , Elmina from the Dutch. He wished the Protectorate had never j been allowed to reach its present dimensions. He was earnest for drawing in. He had no great faith "in that kind of moral
influence which you acquire by burning a man's house over his head, and telling him he is to be your subject, whether he likes-
it or not." He believed that trade with Africa would grow faster, or quite as fast, if we abandoned all exercise of political powers ; and finally, that England had got "quite black men enough" to look after, and had "better not go in for I more." That is the doctrine of the conservation of energy, — or rather almost of contraction of energy, —in, J its simplest form. Lord Derby evidently thinks the Empire too big, and would like to see it narrowed. Like Augustus terrified at the extent of the Roman Empire, he
wants to see us attempting less,—never asking himself, what- it is not in his temperament to doubt, doubter as he is on
all opinions which it takes hope to hold, namely, whether, if we attempt less, we shall or shall not do better that which we attempt. But is it really the lesson of his- tory that we shall do our duty better for attempting less,
or rather, that the mood of mind which has lost confidence in the development of national energy in the future, is
also the mood of mind which is least equal to deal with the difficulties of the present ? Is it not growing nations which administer well, and dwindling ones which lose their
grasp even of what they have ? Lord Derby, had he been on the East Indian Board of Directors at the time of Clive's victories, would certainly have censured him, and might have used every argument which he now uses in relation to- West Africa, with equal force. Yet has not all the moral influence which the more powerful nations of the worldi
have wielded over the weaker been gained through conquests more or less involuntary, as this in West Africa certainly would be on our part ? You might just as truly say of India as of Africa, that that moral influence is to be distrusted which is gained "by burning a man's house over his head, and telling him he is to be your subject, whether he likes it or not." Of course no statesman of any party wishes to burn needlessly any man's house over his head. But Lord Derby himself admits that we must defeat those who have attacked us. and even if that involves burning some native cabins, it is surely purely childish to say that we cannot exercise any moral influence in future over a people who have suffered that at our hands. It seems to us contrary to all the teaching of history to assume that, in the case of the peoples who, like the Hindoos and the Africans, certainly do not waste away at the mere contact with Europeans, European government and administration are not blessings ; and if they be blessings, we cannot see why, when the necessity is almost forced upon us, by our obligations to native tribes, to extend our rule, we should shrink back. in a fright, and plead the magnitude of our existing responsibilities. Is there really such a dearth of Englishmen who can administer justice infinitely better than Negroes, that we need fear the supply falling short ? And if not, is there really such a panic amongst our statesmen as to the inadequacy of our national power to its present duties, that we need refuse new protectorates on that ground t We do not believe it. Lord Derby is of the best type of Conservative British statesmen, but by no means of British statesmen as a whole. It is precisely the instinctive belief of the British nation in a vast reserve of unused strength in our people, which makes it, on the whole, so predominantly Liberal. Deficiency in vital force is always Conservative. And it is because Lord Derby represents in politics a tendency to believe in the dwindling vital force of the nation that he is, in spite of his great lucidity, sagacity, and precision of mind, only the beat type of a true Conservative statesman, and not rather of the highest class of British statesmen.