THE LIFE OF COBDEN.* [SECOND NOTICE.'
WE have said that Cobden is rather the great politician among economists,—the one economist in the history of the country who knew how to popularise and exhaust all the political aspects of a few economical truths,—than a great Radical states- man. And the more this Life of Cobden is studied, the more, we • The Life of Richard Cobden. By John Morley. 2 vols. London : Ghanaian and Hall.
believe, will this view of him be confirmed. The only subject going beyond the range of economical considerations on which Cobden expended much of his force was that of non-interven- tion. And yet we are profoundly convinced that no man
ever has succeeded in making of what people are pleased to call the " principle " of non-intervention an intelligible principle at all, or anything more than a general pruden- tial maxim, subject to all kinds of grave exceptions. Let us take Cobden's exposition of this so-called principle, and see how
hollow it rings. In a letter to a friend, written at the time of Kossuth's visit to this country in 1851, Cobden gives the fol- lowing account of a speech of his own on the subject of the Russian intervention in Hungary, and of the general principles on this subject which he laid before Kossuth :—
"In my remarks I alluded to the unsound state of public opinion. hero, and our own violations of the prinoiple of non-intervention in our foreign policy. I also referred to the fact that when the Russians invaded Hungary, so much were we under the influence of those un- sound opinions, that the tone of some of our leading papers was adverse to the Hungarian cause. I said, then let public opinion in England be set right by such speeches as we had just heard, and let us come into court with clean hands, by actius, upon the principle of non-intervention ourselves ; and let America join us in the same- course (though she has rather given symptoms of following our bad example), and then the word 'Stop' addressed to Russia would have the force of a thousand cannons. I had, of course, a good deal of private talk with him, all in the same strain, and distinctly told him that I had no other hope for him but in the general adoption of the principle of non-intervention as a public opinion of the civilised world. And certainly he has done his part nobly in putting forward that principle in its fairest aspect. He tells us he does not want, help, but he wishes us to secure him fair-play. We say we wish fair- play to him and all others struggling for what they hold to be their rights. Is not such a man, then, to have our sympathies ? Are we- to let him be slaughtered here by the Times, and stand silently by whilst worse than Turks are assassinating him morally ? No; yous are not the man to say so. But then you are afraid that others will push our doctrines to the point of physical force. Even if they do,. that is no reason why we should cease to give moral power its only chance, by boldly proclaiming the right and justice of the Hungarians to settle their own domestic affairs. Now, I am satisfied that if public opinion in England can be shown to be unmistakably against Russian invasion of Hungary, the Russian Government would no- more think of risking a collision with the two most powerful mari- time States, than Tuscany or Sardinia would ; for she is, if possible, more at the mercy of those Powers. Therefore, to avoid the possi- bility of war, let us give the fullest development and expression to sound public opinion."
We believe that most of our readers will be as puzzled as we- ourselves are to know what Cobden meant. First, he says we: ought to abstain from intervening ourselves in other people's- quarrels, in which case we should have clean hands when insist- ing that nobody else should intervene. Moreover, such insisting would, under such circumstances, have "the force of a thousand cannons." Of course, the reader supposes that it will have this force, because it would be supported ultimately by a thousand cannons, and that physical force is to be appealed to in the end,. in order to prevent the intervention of others, by those who have refused to intervene themselves, except to prevent it. But that is not Cobden's meaning, for he admits the danger of pushing the doctrine thus far—to the point of physical force—and intimates that he should be quite indisposed to justify anything of the kind. Well, then, what does he mean ?' If all the friends of non-intervention took his view, where would have been the risk to Russia of a " collision " with England and America, after her intervention in Hungary P If there could be a
risk, it must have been in the intention of England and America to veto her intervention, and to support that veto by physical means. But as Cobden was not prepared for any such policy,.
his ideas concerning non-intervention remained a mere "counsel of perfection," which could no more have wielded the force of a thousand cannons than they could have wielded the force of a religious obligation. In this mode of presenting non-intervention, at all events, it is a mere expediency maxim, without power to back it, and without elevation to make it popular.
But even if Cobden had been prepared,—which he was not,— to use force for preventing anything like forcible intervention in the concerns of another country, the so-called " principle " would still fail to have any bottom in it. What is to be our definition of intervention in the affairs of another State ?
Would the non-inter.ventionist be prepared to justify interven- tion, say, in Zanzibar, to stop the slave-trade; or in Bulgaria, to stop the massacres of Bulgarians by the Turks ? If he would, the bottom falls out of the principle altogether, for in each case the intervention in the affairs of another State is as clear as it can possibly be, though the cause would be so good. If
the non - interventionists would not justify such interven- tions, then we should turn round upon him and say, that no purely defensive war was ever justified to the conscience by con- siderations that might not be applied with equal force to justify "intervention" in cases such as these. The real fact of the matter is that the word " intervention " simply draws a red herring across the track of those considerations which justify or forbid recourse to war. The question of right is only concerned with the word " intervention " so far as this,—that no country c an ever rightly interfere in a quarrel by force of arms, unless it fully understands the true issue,—as fully as it would an issue raised at home,—and is perfectly confident of her power to aid materially the cause of justice. So far as wars of intervention are wars of haphazard, in which the intervening Power inter- feres ignorantly or selfishly, or both, so far they are wrong; and, of course, wars of intervention are much more likely to be ignorant and selfish than defensive wars. But that is the only
point to which the question of intervention or non-intervention is really material. The very party which used to support Cobden, supported the intervention of Russia in Bulgaria five years ago, and supported it, in our opinion, quite justly. Indeed, we have great doubts whether Cobden himself would not have been heartily favourable to that "intervention." had be lived to see it. It is certain that Mr. Bright made no protest against that Russian "intervention."
And again, how little Cobden was at heart prepared to stick by moral force as compared with physical force, in the last resort, when his sympathies were really touched, this curious passage, quoted by Mr. Morley from one of his speeches, sufficiently shows :—
"Why, when I read Motley's History of the Rise of the Dutch Republic—an admirable book, which everybody should read—when I read the history of the Netherlands, and when I see how that strug- gling community, with their whole country desolated by Spanish troops, and every town lighted up daily with the fires of persecution, when I see the accounts of what passed when the envoys came to Queen Elizabeth and asked for aid, how she is huckstering for money while they are begging for help to their religion, I declare that, with all my principles of non-intervention, I am almost ashamed of old Queen Bess. And then there were Burleigh, Walsingliam, and the rest, who were, if passible, harder and more difficult to deal with than their mistress. Why, they carried out iu its unvarnished selfishness a national British policy ; they had no other idea of a policy but a national British policy, and they carried it out with a degree of sel- fishness amounting to downright avarice."
Moreover, Cobden gave a still stronger expression to his repudiation of peace-at-any-price, in a letter to Lord John Russell :—
"My DEAR LORD JOHN RU5SELL,—S0 far am I from wishing that we should be unarmed,' and so little am I disposed to place my country at the mercy of France' (to quote the language of your note), that I would, if necessary, spend one hundred millions sterling to maintain an irresistible superiority over France at sea. I had satisfied myself that we were in this position of security, and that there was no foundation for the reports of the sudden or unusual in- crease of the French Navy, before I addressed my letter to Lord Palmerston Recollect that we had voted for our armaments for this year nearly 230,000,000, before the fortification plan was proposed. I do not see any limit to the future expenditure if, when a further increase is objected to, every existing provision is to be ignored, and we are met with the answer that, unless the additional outlay be agreed to, we shall be unarmed."
Why, holding these views, Cobden so often wrote as if he would never intervene with physical force, even to pre- vent an unjust aggression, it is hard to say. The truth
is, he confused principle with policy, on all this class of questions. We cannot help thinking that there were plenty of
cases in which even Cobden would have "intervened" to pre- vent gross injustice. Certainly, be had never really defined to his own mind any meaning of the word " intervention " except what is contained in the idea of meddling,—a very vague idea, which, no doubt, did aptly describe a good deal of the foreign policy of Lord Palmerston. Still, there are cases when we are bound to interfere ; there are cases in which a Government, acting on the principle of the Good Samaritan, can prevent a plundering Government from falling upon a peaceful nation, wounding and stripping it, and leaving it half-dead ; and in these cases, Cobden would probably have been as anxious to see England anticipating the duties of the Good Samaritan by ren- dering healing offices unnecessary, as he usually was to prevent the meddling and muddling of a vexatious diplomacy.
In taking leave of this most interesting and admirable book, we would just ask Mr. Morley if he has not represented Cobden as more secularistic in his religious attitude than he really was, when he says (Vol. II., page 478), "On religious questions, he [Cobden] was, for the most part, silent. When he was in the country, he went to church like other people." That conveys to any one who reads it, the idea of a certain apathy and want of interest on these subjects which we do not believe to have really repre- sented Cobden's state of mind. No doubt, be was a phreno- logist, and inclined probably to that Necessarian view of the mind, as more or less determined by the condition of the body, which phrenology usually favours. But in the interesting letter on the subject of his faith, to Mr. George Combe, elsewhere given by Mr. Morley, Cobden strongly asserts his Christian belief, and speaks of "our faith" with the warmth of one who sincerely held it. And that is just what the sen- tence of Mr. Morley's which we have quoted would lead a reader who had not happened to come across the letter to Mr. Combo to doubt. Cobden certainly saw the many difficulties attending the Christian faith from the point of view of one who looks upon the physical nature of man as the substratum and founda- tion of all that is moral aud spiritual in him. But as certainly be believed that, in some way or other, these difficulties could be surmounted,—even though he might not himself know how, —and rested in the faith of his mother with an honest and hearty conviction.