THE PERILS OF ABSOLUTISM.
IT is impossible not to feel a great deal of sympathy with the German Emperor in connexion with the disclosures of the Harden-Moltke trial. The Emperor is a Sovereign whose unblemished life has won the respect of the whole world. He has been exposed not only to the tittle-tattle and backbiting to which every man of eminence is open, but also to the onslaughts of those who oppose his policy. And he has come through the ordeal scatheless. The fierce light which beats upon all thrones, and especially upon the thrones of those who have incurred the enmity of large sections of their subjects, has disclosed no moral de- linquencies in the Emperor's private life. There have been plenty of Court scandals of one kind and another during the Emperor's reign, but in none of them has he been personally implicated. The fact of the Emperor's own good life cannot but have made the revelations as to the Eulenburg " camarilla " specially galling. Not only do those revelations show, if we are to believe evidence endorsed by the decision of the Judge, that a small group of men have exercised an immense secret influence on the Kaiser and. his policy, have made and unmade Chancellors and con- trolled the action of the State in matters of vital moment, but further, that this small group rests under the gravest suspicion of moral depravity of a peculiarly hideous kind. No Monarch can like to have it shown that he has been living under the influence of a private cabal, even when composed of men with a perfectly clean moral record. When the members of that cabal lie under the stigma of cor- ruption, the aggravation of the Monarch's feeling must be intense. No doubt the Emperor has the consolation of knowing that it was his son who took the lead, in bringing the scandal to his notice. Again, he himself the moment his eyes were opened made no attempt to hush the matter up, but insisted on investigation.
Our sympathy with the Emperor in his present position is increased by another fact. The public are apt to say :—" What business has a Sovereign to allow himself to fall into such bad hands ? He ought to have been more careful in the choice of his friends. He ought to have known. He had no business to be blind and deaf." Those who argue thus are probably unaware of the extreme difficulty in which Monarchs are placed in the matter of friendship. They forget that Courts are the last places where the truth is spoken, and that in a Court, even when the truth is being spoken, the Monarch is the last man to hear it. We may add that when a Monarch does hear the truth about individuals, it is ex- ceedingly difficult for him to recognise it or act upon it. And for this plain reason. The fact most apparent to Monarchs in what concerns their dependents is the fact of jealousy. It is impossible for them to escape noticing that jealousy pervades the whole of the atmosphere in which they live, and that the moment any special Royal favour is shown to an individual that individual becomes the object of calumny and ill-feeling. Hence when a Monarch makes friends—and he must make friends unless he is to remain as inhuman and detached as Napoleon—his first thought is to protect his friends from the jealousy which he is aware must fall upon them at the same moment as the Royal favour. Monarchs are taught by precept and example to remember that if they are to obtain loyalty they must show it, and that they must beware of listening to the evil tongues which are sure to assail those they honour. It thus happens that in self-defence, as it were, men in the position of the German Emperor have almost to make a rule not to listen to what they would call gossip, and what no doubt often is gossip and backbiting, about those to whom they are bound by a special tie of friendly sentiment. They despair of hearing the truth, and they do not want to have their human relations poisoned by suspicion. This almost necessary refusal to go behind the backs of their friends reacts upon the best courtiers. Men say, and not un- naturally :—" The Emperor no doubt ought to be told of this or that man's misdeeds or falseness, or treachery, Or corruption ; but I shall not tell him, because if I do I shall be thought to be wanting to steal from him the Imperial confidence. The risk of making an accusation, and of that accusation not being believed, but rather being credited to jealousy or treachery, is too great to be run." Hence it often happens that the Monarch goes on living in a fool's paradise, and does not find out evil friends or evil counsellors till long after they have been found out by everybody else. When the crash comes the Sovereign says, but too late : "Why was I not told what it now seems everybody has known for years,—that I was being betrayed and befooled ? "
No wonder that in theory Sovereigns consider that a man who will speak the truth to them, however dis- agreeable, is the most valued of servants, though a servant whom it is almost impossible to obtain. That wise states- man, the first King of the Belgians, in the admirable letters of advice to Queen Victoria which are pub- lished in the Queen's letters harps again and again upon the importance of the Queen having some one near her who will tell her the truth, and no doubt to a certain extent the Queen had such a friend in Baron Stockmar. Yet even he did not prevent her from every now and then making grave mistakes of judgment. These errors, however, matter comparatively little in the case of Constitutional Sovereigns. Though they may have some- what more effect than the mistakes which mere private individuals make again and again in trusting the wrong people, they do not seriously affect the public welfare. It is under an absolutist regime such as that which exists in effect, though not in name, in Germany that we see the terrible evils to which a State is exposed owing to a Monarch's mistaken judgment of men and to his falling into the hands of unwise or corrupt advisers. The cynic who declared that in the end absolutism always became "an affair of pimps and parasites" no doubt overstated the matter, as cynics are apt to do. In the case of a Monarch of irreproachable character like the Emperor William the first part of the indictment is not true, but unfortunately the second is. Absolutism, that unhappy, unnatural, and unhealthy condition under which the will of an individual is made supreme in a State, offers a peculiarly favourable soil for parasitic growths. In a democratic and Constitutional Monarchy the Sovereign's mistakes as to his friends can be corrected by the popular will or by the health-giving breath of public opinion. But, it may be urged, incidents like the Harden-Moltke trial and the dismissal of Prince Eulenburg and his associates in the " camarilla " show that these evils can be corrected in an absolute as well as in a Constitutional Monarchy, and therefore our plea falls to the ground. The answer is easy. Under any but an absolutist regime the evil would have been corrected far earlier, and in any case it would have had little or no effect upon public policy. The Eulenburg " camarilla " was, as its bead is said to have boasted, a veritable King-maker. It set up and deposed Chancellor after Chancellor, and altered and con- trolled policy in a way which would have been impossible under a Constitutional regime. Again, although in the end the " camarilla " may come to ruin under a Monarchy whose powers are virtually, if not theoretically, absolute over at any rate half the field of State activity, there is no guarantee that another secret junta may not succeed that which has been deposed. What guarantee can there be that the Emperor's new private friends and advisers will not be as ill-chosen, and therefore as dangerous, as those who have been got rid of through the mysterious instrumentality of a publicist like Herr Harden ? His intervention, we are quite prepared to believe, was genuinely made in the public interest, and was prompted by no base motive. At the same time, it is pretty clear that such an operation for the removal of a cancerous political growth as we have just witnessed is almost as injurious as the disease itself. To sum up, it seems to us that if the German people are wise, they will realise that for them the lesson of the recent scandals is the need for the destruction of absolutism. The State will not be safe until they have advanced a great deal further than they have yet advanced in the direction of Constitutionalism, and of curbing the autocratic power now wielded by the Emperor,—an autocratic power which has been so often vaunted by Constitutional theorists as of advantage to the State. The single directing brain,' rapid and decisive State action," relief from the paralysis of eternal discussion,' and soeforth, are all very well in the rhetoric of a Carlyle, but in practice they are too apt to mean the secret influence of a " camarilla."
Before we leave the subject it may be worth while to note that the destruction of the " camarilla " may have a, con- siderable influence on German policy, and unfortunately, as often happens in such cases, not as sound an influence as one might have hoped from what is per se good. A rough sketch of the events which, according to well- informed observers of German affairs, led to the de- struction of the " camarilla " will show what we mean. When the German Government felt sore and angry about the Entente between France and Britain, those whom we may term the successors of the Bismarck tradition, led by that most able of bureaucrats, Herr von Holstein, suggested a line of policy bold, harsh, and unscrupulous. It being assumed that in no circumstances would France go to war, France was to be so bullied and browbeaten about Morocco and the Entente with Britain that she would be forced not only to abandon her policy in Morocco, but to make amends for daring to co-operate with Britain without Germany'd leave. The policy was tried ; but the " camarilla " was opposed to it, and in the end convinced the Emperor that the assumption that it would not lead to war was false, and therefore highly dangerous. The Emperor, it is alleged, was converted by his secret advisers, and directed a reversal of policy at the Algeciras Conference. The result was the fall of Herr von Holstein, the man behind the scenes in the Foreign Office who had inspired, and was responsible for, the policy of blood and iron. But Herr von Holstein was not the man to take a beating lying down, and he and Prince Billow, who had also no love of the " though probably it originally helped to place him in power, determined to get rid of that sinister organisation. The accident of the " camarilla's " extreme vulnerability on the moral side made' this easy. It is not necessary to assume that there was any direct invocation of Herr Harden's assistance. The biting satirist and publicist whose forte is indignation was no doubt sincere in his anxiety for the public interest, and was ready to do the work unsolicited. In truth, men who were as vulnerable as the " camarilla " could not hope to change the policy• of a State even in the right direction and to overthrow a man so powerful as Herr von Holstein. You must have a firm basis for such• work, and the " camarilla'S " foundation was a morass of infanly But; again, men like Herr von Holstein do not have a triumph of this kind—for triumph it undoubtedly is—without regaining a great deal of their power. We can hardly doubt, then, that in future Herr von Holstein will exer- cise once more a large share of the influence which he' wielded for nearly twenty years before the Algeciras Con- ference, and that we shall again see the direction of German foreign policy affected by his powerful will and great knowledge and ability. Frankly, such a reassertion of the Bismarck tradition is not one which can be regarded with any satisfaction by those who desire the peace of Europe. No doubt Prince Billow will desire to temporise as far as possible, and will hope by adroit compro- mises and ingenious expedients to mitigate the policy of " Thorough " which characterises the Prussian Strafford. We must not forget, however, that Prince Billow, though a very able man, is astute rather than strong, that Herr von Holstein is very strong and very pertinacious, and that his prestige has been enormously increased by recent events. Men will not unnaturally be afraid of quarrelling with one who has contrived so extraordinary a political resurrection as that which we are now witnessing.