UHL FOREIGN-POLICY SIDE OF MR. GLADS'TONE.
rrthe delivery of the remarkable speech of yesterday j .week in the House of Commons, it has been a matter of common observation concerning Mr. Gladstone that he would have felt more at home as the principal leader of the Liberal party if there had been no such department of State as the Foreign Office at all, or at all events if it had been one of entirely subordinate importance. Till then, for many years back, Mr. Gladstone's best speeches, in touching on foreign policy have grown hesitating, embarrassed, and in some degree fidgetty, as if in the neighbourhood of a provinee of political thought the very existence of which was a grievance to him. Them was indeed a speech on the affairs of Italy three or four years ago, on a debate raised, if we remember rightly, by Lord Henry Lennox, in which Mr. Gladstone replied to Mr. Disraeli with a masterly vivacity, and fresh- ness of knowledge and conviction that seemed to turn over the Tory leader with a touch, and to win a victory without a straggle. But that speech was on Italian policy only, and not on the broader subject of general European affairs. It tended therefore even to foster the prevalent notion that, owing partly to classical associations and partly to his personal sym- pathies with a people great in the history of art and beauty, Italian politics formed rather a special exception to Mr. Glactstone's indifference to questions of foreign policy than an illustration of his power to deal with them well. Yesterday week's, however, was a speech of wider scope and stronger grasp, and showed Mr. Gladstone casting not only an interested but a sagacious glance over the whole horizon of political Europe. It illustrated, too, very strongly both the character of his capacity for judging foreign policy, and the vein of weakness that runs through lila judgment on these subjects, in a way that makes it worth the study of politicians.
Mr. Gladstone applies, then, to foreign politics the same economical sort of intellect, the same clear insight into the best mode of economizing governing power, which he applies to finance. He was restless and fretful throughout the Crimean war, and at last, on the proposition to aid the Turkish Government by a loan, deserted the party with which he had been acting, evidently because he had no real belief in the principle of balance of power' on which the war was commenced, and could not bring himself to tolerate the process of artificially, and at a great cost, extending our protection to a puppet only for the sake of preventing a strong hand from holding the strings which the puppet could not pull. There was an extravagance about the whole machinery, and an absence of good fruit and beneficial result, which chafed Mr. Gladstone unspeakably, and in the end caused his secession. It is with precisely the same feeling as
to the dictates of a true economy in the use of the machine of government, and as to the importance of substituting an intel- ligent and efficient governing machine likely to economize. national strength for an ignorant and inefficient one which wastes national strength, that Mr. Gladstone comes to the discussion of the present state of Europe, and finds a visible indication of what is right and desirable that he had never found before. The old principle of balance of power' has never had much meaning for him. The purely ethical prin- ciple of aiding the weak States which are in the right, to defend their liberty against the powerful ones which. are aggressively wrong, has never taken much hold of' Mr. Gladstone. It is the character of his mind to look
to results first, and judge rather of his principles by the- fruits they give, than of the fruits by the principles. He-
saw Turkey barbarous, unenlightened, with no principle of progress, either spiritual or material, visible in her, contending- against Russia, not much less barbarous perhaps, but progres-
sive, with a rude Christian creed, a growing commercial in- stinct, and signs of rapidlykindling instead of dwindling vitality,. and he could not feel that there was an absolute wrong in the aggression of Russia, an absolute right in the self-defence of Turkey which warranted us in aiding the latter and resisting the former. Was not the natural economy of the Universe at work to throw off a useless and decaying limb of the Westerm political organization, and to supply its place by a healthy and vigorous shoot ? That was the way he instinctively viewed it, —that is the sort of way in which he has always tried to, get even at a true theology, namely, by considering "Church principles in their resuits,"—and that is the way in which he- now looks at the European complication, not as a question of tradition, not as a question of ethics, but as a question the true clues to which can only be got by looking to the drift of events, and selecting those tendencies as the highest which seem to promise in the future the greatest economy of national strength and of permanent pacific progress.
It is because Mr. Gladstone saw in Naples, and has mane since in the rest of Italy, the miserable results of the Aus- trian tyranny,—and the new life which the Government or Italy by the Italians will give,—that he wag so eloquent and,. we might almost add, so untrue to his own policy of absolute- non-intervention, in the solemn warning he gave to Lord Stanley last week :—" If I may for one moment constitute my- self, like the honourable member for Dundalk, the organ for- the English people, I will say with confidence that they will never forget or forgive any deviation. from the straight path. on this great question.-from that path in which the influence- of England, such as i( may be, shall be uniformly and steadilyex- ercised for the promotion of the unity. and independence of Italy?' That, as Mr. Baillie Cochrane afterwards observed, is by no means- the language which an extreme non-interventionist would use. Mr. Cochrane criticized it in anger, but we recognize it with satisfaction as the language of a Minister who would pro- bably be prepared to go beyond mere empty protests to- prevent the commission of a gigantic reactionary wrong. But the reason that Mr. Gladstone speaks thus confidently and imperiously on the Italian policy of the country, is- because he has satisfied himself a hundred times over that the true economy of national life and progress in Italy demands the unity of Italy,—not from any traditional policy in favour of restoring Italy to a position of predominant influence in the Mediterranean, like Lord Palmerston, nor' from any abstract sense of right, like the English disciples.. ofMazzini. And it is in the same spirit that, apparently almost for the first time, he sees daylight in the confusion of German politics. Till all the little State armies began falling before Prussia like so many ninepins, and till Austria showed, not more through her tardiness in pre- paration and inefficiency of organization than through the hindrances put in her way by her composite structure, that she will never be able to lead Germany, never in fact to influence Germany in any other way than by embarrassing the- hegemony of Prussia, Mr. Gladstone,—in this, like many other- Englishmen,—w as wholly at a loss, and showed little sign of having a foreign policy on the German question at all. He- thought dimly, like the rest of us, that Austria had the better immediate cause, and Prussia the better claim to ultimate influence, and that was pretty nearly all he saw. But as soon as the great break-up of the pack ice began, and it seemed. clear that, thanks apparently to the mere impulse of a single- great Prussian victory, there would Boon be open sea in. German politics, and room for a reallygreat and efficient national organization, such as would husband the intellectual influence
of Germany, and rid us of the painful spectacle of a ruinous and useless competition for power between one great German State and another, Mr. Gladstone began to see his way clearly to a foreign policy, for Germany also, such as he had confidently attained for Italy. He began to see results,'—beneficial results,--results tending to a large reduction of useless restrictions and of the excessive reduplication of the costly and inconvenient privilege of governments. Then at last he spake with his tongue, and told us that "Germany has been weak because she has been subject to the constant struggles and rivalries of two powers, to neither of which has the posi- tion of Germany been beneficial ; while on account of these difficulties and struggles Germany has not been able to attain her proper position in Europe, and has been prevented from giving to Europe those solid advantages which Europe ought
to have derived from her Judging drily, as we ought, as to the probable effects of the war on the European system, I believe that if instead of Prussia and Austria contending for power in Germany, one power only shall be in a position to wield an influence there, that influence will be beneficial to Germany at large." And then, in the true spirit of an economist, he goes on to assert his belief that an economy of power beneficial to Germany at large "will be also benefi- cial even to the power which has been involved in the struggle, and which has been obliged to yield. When my honourable friend calls upon us, and calls upon the Government, to use our influence to maintain the power of Austria in the Germanic Confederation, I could understand him perfectly well if he could convince me that the old state of things had been bene- ficial to any one ;" and then Mr. Gladstone shows that it was not, that it involved a waste of power, an attempt on the part of Austria to do more than she was able to do, an attempt leading to failure and break-up. Here we have Mr. Gladstone's "principles of foreign policy considered in their results." And very good principles they are. There is no trace in them of jealousy lest a United Germany should be too huge to admit of any poise in the balance of power,' no trace of any inflexible .abstract principles of right and wrong in the matter. Mr. Gladstone looks to the crystallization of nations in such forms as while contenting the people shall avoid a foolish.euperfluity and almost garrulousness in the machinery of ,goverument, and break down arbitrary restrictions, as the highest conceivable good. And whatever promotes this he accepts,—without embarrassing himself with old traditions or absoluteethies,—as a good foreign policy.
And good foreign policy for the present at least it is. Still the whole speech shows, as we said, the too flexible, the too economical view which Mr. Gladstone takes of the principle of our foreign policy. There are cases, and not a few cases in Europe, in which the highest economy of power would not, as in the ease of Italy and Germany, visibly contribute to the consolidation of a powerful and important nation, but rather contribute, as in the case of the absorption of Nice, the con- quest of Denmark, and the threats which have more than once been levelled at Switzerland, to the aggrandizement of a nation already sufficiently great, and the disappearances of small States which, if not important, are at least happy, popularly governed, and which cause a beneficial break in the monotony of the grande cutture—the great-nation system. We doubt whether in such cases Mr. Gladstone would take a firm stand. In the case of Nice Lord Palmerston's Government, though disgusted, was passive. In that of Denmark it declined to move, and Mr. Gladstone was the life of the peace section of the Cabinet. In the ease of Holland or Switzerland we fear it might be the same. He never takes a strong stand on the simple principle of right and wrong on international questions, and yet there are cases to which simple principles of right and wrong are really applicable. They were certainly applicable in the American struggle, and he confused his view of that crisis, and indeed declared himself virtually on the wrong side, through ignoring them, and looking too much to the apparent expediency of the results involved in secession. His foreign policy is too economical. It is free from the tiresome old inelastic traditions of the last generation, and from the inap- plicable 'abstract-rights' doctrine of the Radicals of this. But it still wants a backbone of absolute principle. It wants a "categorical imperative," as the Germans call it, capable of forbidding a step even though apparently favourable to pro- gress and civilization which is a violation, like the slaveholders' compact, of the first law of moral duty, or, like any encroach- ment on Switzerland, of the innocent privacy of harmless States.