TOPICS OF THE DAY.
THE RADICALS AND WAR.
WE have always declared ourselves to be Radicals in the main features of our political creed, though we have too strong a feeling for the people to desire either the disestablishment of the Church, or any of those infringements on the rights of individual property which are sometimes advocated by the left wing of the Radical Party. But we have seen with some anxiety latterly, and see with some anxiety still, that where the issues of peace and war are concerned, there is a tendency among Radicals to break-away from all control which is but too likely to open a chasm between the British nation and that portion of the British nation which seems to us on all internal questions to be most truly national—the Radical Party. We have, for instance, often gone with Mr. John Morley, and especially in the line he has taken on the subject of Reform ; but when Mr. John Morley the other day took into his own hands the decision of the question whether it was, or was not, desirable to evacuate the Soudan in the face of an aggressive and victorious fanatical movement, we must say that we thought Mr. John Morley was doing what in him lay to bring the discredit of yielding to an unworthy fear of war on the Radical name. And now, again, we are obliged to say the same thing, when we see him urging at Newcastle that the question at issue with Russia might be submitted to arbitration, though the very essence of the question is, not whether this piece of territory or that should belong to Russia or to Afghanistan, but whether Russia is to keep her formal contracts with us, or is at liberty to break them so soon as her Generals on the Central Asian frontier see an opportunity of profiting by breaking them. Even Dr. Dale, whose words on such subjects as these we never read without the deepest respect,—nay, with the substance of whose remarks on this particular issue we should entirely agree if we believed, as he appears to do, that the issue is an issue solely as to the boundary, and not an issue involving the whole question how far England and Russia can trust each other to observe the agreements which they make ;—even Dr. Dale talks of our referring to arbitration a dispute in which arbitration would settle absolutely nothing, because it would not determine the real point in doubt,—namely, whether, after the arbitrator's decision had been given, we could trust the Russian Generals on the frontier to respect it. We hold that there are occasions on which a nation that has made trial of the honesty and good-faith of its own Government is as much bound to trust that Government—if it would be strong for external purposes —as an army is bound to trust the word of command given by its officers. Of course, we do not ask the peace-at-any-price people to trust the Government. They ought not to trust the Government, because it is quite certain that the Government does not accept their principle, and will not act upon it. Again, we do not expect what we may call the war-atany-price people to trust the Government, for the Government has shown itself wholly opposed to their views, and is pledged, as everybody knows, to make all the sacrifices that can be made, consistently with international good-faith and the security of international pledges, to avoid needless, and if needless, then wicked wars. But we do say that those who have confidence in the hearty love of the present Government, and especially of its chief, for peace, and who have watched the reluctance—the almost imprudent anguish of reluctance—with which Mr. Gladstone has been forced into war, should not be so ready to assume that any device by which they suppose that peace could still be maintained, has not been duly considered by him, and only rejected because he was deeply convinced that, instead of securing peace, it would render war inevitable. Just consider the nonsense talked about Penj-deh, and the Afghan advance thither. Suppose that all which is asserted on the subject is true, and what excuse does it give for the Russian refusal to go on with the Commission ? It was not the British who seized Penj-deh. It is not in their relation to the British that the Russians are prejudiced by the seizing of Penj-deh. If the Joint Commission had decided that Penj-deh was to be Russian, how could the Afghan seizure of Penj-deh alter the situation We should be obliged to say to the Afghans,' Until you give up Penj-deb, and unless you give it up, you cannot count upon the British alliance. We hold you to be in the wrong, and we cannot support yon.' Does any one suppose for a moment that Russia ewes in the least for the hostility of Afghanistan ? It is with us that the frontier treaty has to be concluded ; and so far as we do not sanction what the Afghans have done, it has absolutely no importance for the Russian Empire. What is important is that Russia shows so significant a desire to hold back from doing that which she had agreed with Great Britain to do, and to find excuses for evading her obligations, in acts which, if they be breaches of the understanding, Great Britain did not instigate and could not have prevented. Every one who knows anything of the matter knows how eager our Government has been throughout to come to a frank understanding with Russia on this frontier question, and how indifferent small question* of boundary are to us, as compared with the really great question whether the arrangements made between Great Britain and Russia are to be honourably and faithfully observed. Mr. Gladstone, of all living statesmen, is probably the one statesman in whom Russia has oftenest found a disinterested friend. He left one Government rather than refuse Russia terms of peace which he thought fair. He broke-up another for attempting what he thought neither fair to Russia nor to the unhappy subjects of Russia's immediate foe. His policy has often been attacked for the favour he has shown to Russia, never for his hostility. It is to Mr. Gladstone's policy that it is due that we have not even now a garrison in Afghanistan ; and to suppose for a moment that Mr. Gladstone would engage in a deadly war solely for the sake of securing to Afghanistan a bit of worthless territory, is simply childish. If Mr. Gladstone's Government has prepared for war, and shown the world that it will not shrink from war, it is for a very different reason,— namely, that it has had the best grounds for fearing that if it were net known to be ready for war, and prepared to go to war at once rather than run the risk of having a war sprung upon us at any moment, on the flimsiest pretext, no safe and intelligible terms of peace could be secured. We believe that Mr. Gladstone's preparations for war were the only sound precautions for peace, and that they may bring us peace we still hope. But have not all true Liberals every reason for trusting him in this ? And if they will not trust him, will there ever be a Prime Minister whom they would trust to avoid war if he could The real danger of the attitude of the Radical Party is this, —it assumes that everything which is known to the Government can properly be made known to the whole people, and that if the people do not see the necessity for preparing for war, the preparation made for war must be a mistake, and a mistake which they ought to denounce. Now, we say that if this is to be so, the greatness of the country must come to an end. It is simply impossible that on questions such as the Government has had recently to decide, every reason which sways it could be published to all the world. Governments must cease to be Governments, must cease to hold the strings of the national policy in their hands, if they are to confide everything that they know to their followers. To a very great extent, there must be confidence, or nothing can be done. It would be as wise for an army to demand the right to vote on the strategy of its General, as for the Liberal Party to demand the right to know why the Government thinks it necessary to prepare for war, as it has recently done. If we are to have the power of influencing foreign States at all, we must trust our Governments beyond the point at which they can give us adequate reasons for the trust we place in them. Now, we assert that there never was a Government which had better proved its right to such trust than Mr. Gladstone's. If it has fallen-short at all, the whole world agrees that it has fallen-short on the pacific, rather than on the aggressive, side. In relation to Russia, that tendency has been marked with double emphasis. And if, notwithstanding, we are always to declare that unless we see our Government willing to submit the issue to arbitration we shall not support it, we can only say that it will be impossible for all time for a Liberal Government to wield the power of the empire. Is that really what the Radicals wish ? Do they wish to paralyse the arm of the people, even for such purposes as they would approve ? If they do, they are going the right way to work. There never will be a Government likely to deserve more hearty trust from the Liberals of all shades than this ; and if they cannot trust this Government to manage such a question as that between us and Russia without showing their hand to all the world, they will never trust any Government to do so. In that case we must remark that the Tories will certainly gain a very great advantage over us ; for a great many of the waverers, and some even who but for this weakness of the Liberals would never be waverers, will give in their adhesion to the Tories, if only Tory Governments can make themselves respected in Europe.