1 JANUARY 1898, Page 16


IT is asserted by the Pall Mall Gazette that the Prussian Junkers, in their mad attempt to resist the inevitable evolution of modern society, are agitating for what can only be described as a resuscitation of serfdom in a modified form. They desire in an especial degree to prevent free movement of the Prussian peasantry, either in the form of migration to the cities or emigration to other lands. They see a form of urban civilisation spreading rapidly over Germany, involving change of manners, the rooting up of the old habits of passive obedience, the destruction of the idea of divine right, and the growth of what they consider pernicious heresy, social and political, among the emancipated masses. Their hatred of industrialism, of the free ways of city life, of democracy, of the modern spirit in its manifold guises, can scarcely be conceived in England, where the landed classes have contrived to accommodate themselves to many unwelcome changes, and have found their in- fluence very little diminished thereby. Accommodation, however, is not the mental temper of the Prussian squire. His formula is that of Ibsen's "Brand,"—" all or none." The French Revolution, and all it meant for Europe, was to him an impious interference with a divinely constituted order, constituted by a kind of omnipotent and omniscient Prussian drill-sergeant. We look upon Stein as a wise man, who attempted to do for Prussia in peace what the Revolution bad accomplished for France with violence. But the Junker has probably never forgiven Stein, who had to contend against the fatuous bigotry and fanatical obscurantism of the Prussian landed class ; and, conse- quently, he seems to think that the time may have arrived for undoing part of the great work of internal reform achieved by Stein, Hardenberg, and Gneisenau.

In our fairly equable political climate we are often apt to wonder at the revolutionary violence which is so marked a feature of not a few Continental States. English observers found it impossible to understand the furious side of the French Revolution, the desperate fighting in Berlin and Vienna and Dresden which marked the movement of 1848, the Paris Commune of 1871, the insane Anarchist plots of a few years ago, culminating in the murder of President Carnot. There has been very little serious and widespread violence in English internal politics since the Peasants' Revolt of the fourteenth cen- tury; for the Wars of the Roses were merely aristocratic faction fights ; the Commonwealth wars, so full of mean- ing to the rising middle class, had little interest for the peasantry ; and the serious element in the Chartist agitation rose and fell with the price of bread, and was easily ended by a policy of common-sense. Philip de Commines, coming from France, which was torn asunder by the fierce warfare of great factions, was surprised to find how little the Wars of the Roses disturbed the level surface of average English life. In Continental Europe it has been different. There society itself has been rent in fragments. We can scarcely conceive the awful condition of France in the wars of the League, or of Germany after the Thirty Years' War. Imagine ruined towns, burning cottages, devastated fields, starving peasants, trade almost at an end from Plymouth to Berwick, and we have some faint notion of what has actually been over three-fourths of Europe. What is the cause of the contrast ? The question is vital, for its answer gives us a hint as to the real cause and nature of Continental Toryism. To answer this question adequately would take volumes ; but there is one great cause which stands out beyond others. We never developed feudalism logically in England. Our social classes have blended with one another as they could not blend where feudalism was complete. In the French sense of the word England never bred a noblesse,—i.e. class definitely sundered from the people. She never held a great and powerful class of clerics, like the Prince- Bishops of Germany, holding vast estates and owning ultimate allegiance to a great foreign Power. Her serfs were liberated at an early date, and the power of her Barons was partly broken by a consolidated Monarchy, and came partly to an end by an internal war of faction. The Reformation as it was carried out was, it is true, by no means an unmixed blessing to the English peasantry, as their depressed condition under Henry VIII. and Elizabeth testifies ; but by that time the English nation was formed, and it was fortunately formed without that element of well-defined social castes with clearly divergent interests which has been such a gigantic factor in every country in Western Europe (except, curiously, Spain) since the formation of the Germanic-Roman Empire. This, in our judgment, is the preponderant factor in the manifest differentiation of English from Continental life.

Now we begin to see how an answer may be given to the question why Continental Radicalism assumes so fierce and unrelenting a form. Its character is determined by the character of Continental Toryism. England ran a risk of the growth of a similar violent Radicalism a century ago, when, in the midst of much material suffer- ing, the old hard, black, ugly Toryism of Eldon and Castlereagh threatened the peaceful evolution of English institutions. The Cato Street conspiracy was the kind of plot familiar to Paris or Venice. But the cloud passed over, and reform came with a minimum of coercive pressure. On the Continent it has not been so. We speak of Western Europe, for Russia has passed through a special evolution of her own. But in Europe all that we sum up conveniently as "the Revolution" has been, and is even at this hour, felt to be absolutely destructive of class privileges which are viewed as positive rights, never to be questioned. These rights may be said to group themselves under the heads of Royal Divine Right, of Ecclesiastical Right, and of the Right of the Feudal Landlord. Happily, they are by no means all held together by the same class every- where, or social emancipation would deluge the Continent in blood. In France reaction is in the main monarchical with a very strong tinge of clericalism. But the Pope has made it clear that he will treat with the Republic, and the " Rallied " have abandoned their quest of a- divinely anointed King. With the true French reactionist you can do nothing, because he will not admit your fundamental principle of the subordination of every class and person to the public wellbeing ; you must leave him_ to his meditations in the Faubourg St. Germain. As soon as you have effected a rapport with his mind, you. see that an English Tory is a kind of Radical in com- parison with him. The English Tory may fret and fume at Liberal innovations, but he has acquiesced in them, and at the present time he even takes pride in their fruits. The French Tory never acquiesces. Dr. Johnson said he would take up arms in defence of the rights of Convocation ; the French Tory would, with far more fanatical zeal, take up arms for the restoration of the old Monarchy. We do not understand French politics until we get that fact well into our minds.

Nor can we understand the singular condition of German politics until we realise to ourselves this stiff, unbending, angular, hard Junker class, once the backbone of Prussian life, now feeling itself elbowed aside by a . pushing commercialism, insulted by what it considers Berlin or Hamburg parvenus, its political power threatened by the new vast cities with their swarming masses, once - the serfs of Junkerdom. Recollect that it is within the lifetime of men still living that the Prussian Junker lost his feudal rights. Bismarck, who is as truly the Junker with genius as Luther was the peasant with genius, was born just after Stein had attained the zenith of his fame. In Bismarck's early days he was made a Magistrate in Berlin, and words can but faintly express the contempt which he, coming from his ancestral fields with the " Ritter" conscious- ness deep in his nature, felt for the upstart Berliners, the head of one of whom he broke for a disrespectful utter- ance about the King. That feeling extends throughout the squirearchy of rural Prussia, who cannot bring them- selves to accept the modern world, but kick at it, and sincerely think they can set back the hands on the clock. The outside world can see plainly enough that the course of German evolution is making of her a great industrial community. Germany cannot build factories, occupy Chinese ports, send her goods all over the world, and still permit Junkerdom to dictate her policy or to drag back her largest State into a feudal age from which she has painfully emerged. The contradiction is too absurd ; and yet it is that very contradiction which is the fatal element in German politics. If we want to know why the doctrine of social revolution sweeps Berlin like a torrent, we find the reason in the impossible claims of a stubborn Junkerdom. As soon as it was perceived in England that the nation's destiny was industrial and commercial the last breath of feudalism gave way to the spirit of mercantile adventure. The sons of nobles, themselves not tied up to the nobility, because here feudalism had stopped a long way short of its logical outcome, became merchants ; no social gulf prevented them from taking such a step. Consequently aristocratic interests were blended with the interests of the- rising middle classes, and as the industrial revolution mada its way, ingenious workmen were caught up into that -class, and so no sheer, absolute class antagonism was possible. But in Prussia this has not been, or, at least, it has attained only the tiniest proportions. The social classes still stand confronting one another, each with wholly clashing ideals, wholly differing ends. In a word, Continental Toryism and Continental Radicalism are both reared in the same soil of rigid class institutions, and the two alien growths compete one against the other for existence. And in no country is this competition more clearly visible than on the soil of Prussia.