With the immediate promise of Home Rule many strange apologists for the Empire have stepped into the sun. Perhaps it is well—we may find ourselves soon more directly than heretofore struggling with the Empire. So far the fight has been confused. Imperialists fighting for Home Rule obscured the fact that they were not fighting the Empire. Now Home Rule is likely to come, and it will serve at least the good purpose of clearing the air and setting the issue definitely between the nation and the Empire. We shall have our say for the nation, but as even now many things, false and hypocritical, are being urged on behalf of the Empire, it will serve us to examine the Imperial creed and show its tyranny, cruelty, hypocrisy, and expose the danger of giving it any pretext whatever for aggression. For the Empire, as we know it and deal with it, is a bad thing in itself, and we must not only get free of it and not be again trapped by it, but must rather give hope and encouragement to every nation fighting the same fight all the world over.
One candid writer, Machiavelli, has put the Imperial creed into a book, the examination of which will—for those willing to see—clear the air of illusion. Now, we are conscious that defenders of the Empire profess to be shocked by the wickedness of Machiavelli’s utterance—we shall hear Macaulay later—but this shocked attitude won’t delude us. Let those who have not read Machiavelli’s book, “The Prince,” consider carefully the extracts given below and see exactly how they fit the English occupation of Ireland, and understand thoroughly that the Empire is a thing, bad in itself, utterly wicked, to be resisted everywhere, fought without ceasing, renounced with fervour and without qualification, as we have been taught from the cradle to renounce the Devil with all his works and pomps. Consider first the invasion. Machiavelli speaks:—”The common method in such cases is this. As soon as a foreign potentate enters into a province those who are weaker or disobliged join themselves with him out of emulation and animosity to those who are above them, insomuch that in respect to those inferior lords no pains are to be omitted that may gain them; and when gained, they will readily and unanimously fall into one mass with the State that is conquered. Only the conqueror is to take special care that they grow not too strong, nor be entrusted with too much authority, and then he can easily with his own forces and their assistance keep down the greatness of his neighbours, and make himself absolute arbiter in that province.” Here is the old maxim, “Divide and conquer.” To gain an entry some pretence is advisable. Machiavelli speaks with approval of a certain potentate who always made religion a pretence. Having entered a vigorous policy must be pursued. We read—”He who usurps the government of any State is to execute and put in practice all the cruelties which he thinks material at once.” Cromwell rises before us.
“A prince,” says Machiavelli, “is not to regard the scandal of being cruel if thereby he keeps his subjects in their allegiance.” “For,” he is cautioned, “whoever conquers a free town and does not demolish it commits a great error and may expect to be ruined himself; because whenever the citizens are disposed to revolt they betake themselves, of course, to that blessed name of Liberty, and the laws of their ancestors, which no length of time nor kind usage whatever will be able to eradicate.” An alternative to utter destruction is flattery and indulgence. “Men are either to be flattered and indulged or utterly destroyed.” We think of the titles and the bribes. Again, “A town that has been anciently free cannot more easily be kept in subjection than by employing its own citizens.” We think of the place-hunter, the King’s visit, the “loyal” address. To make the conquest secure we read: “When a prince conquers a new State and annexes it as a member to his old, then it is necessary your subjects be disarmed, all but such as appeared for you in the conquest, and they are to be mollified by degrees and brought into such a condition of laziness and effeminacy that in time your whole strength may devolve upon your own natural militia.” We think of the Arms Acts and our weakened people. But while one-half is disarmed and the other half bribed, with neither need the conqueror keep faith. We read: “A prince who is wise and prudent cannot, or ought not, to keep his parole, when the keeping of it is to his prejudice and the causes for which he promised removed.” This is made very clear to prevent any mistake. “It is of great consequence to disguise your inclination and play the hypocrite well.” We think of the Broken Treaty and countless other breaches of faith. It is, of course, well to seem honourable, but Machiavelli cautions: “It is honourable to seem mild, and merciful, and courteous, and religious, and sincere, and indeed to be so, provided your mind be so rectified and prepared, that you can act quite contrary upon occasion.” Should anyone hesitate at all this let him hear: “He is not to concern himself if run under the infamy of those vices, without which his dominion was not to be preserved.” Thus far the philosophy of Machiavelli. The Imperialist out to “civilise the barbarians” is, of course, shocked by such wickedness; but we are beginning to open our eyes to the wickedness and hypocrisy of both. To us this book reads as if a shrewd observer of the English Occupation in Ireland had noted the attending features and based these principles thereon. We have reason to be grateful to Machiavelli for his exposition. His advice to the prince, in effect, lays bare the marauders of his age and helps us to expose the Empire in our own.
There is a lesson to be learnt from the fact that this book of Machiavelli’s, written four centuries ago in Italy, is so apt here to-day. We must take this exposition as the creed of Empire and have no truck with the Empire. It may be argued that the old arts will be no longer practised on us. Let the new supporters of the Empire know that by the new alliance they should practise these arts on other people, which would be infamy. We are not going to hold other people down; we are going to encourage them to stand up. If it means a further fight we have plenty of stimulus still. Our oppression has been doubly bitter for having been mean. The tyranny of a strong mind makes us rage, but the tyranny of a mean one is altogether insufferable. The cruelty of a Cromwell can be forgotten more easily than the cant of a Macaulay. When we read certain lines we go into a blaze, and that fire will burn till it has burnt every opposition out. In his essay on Milton, Macaulay having written much bombast on the English Revolution, introduces this characteristic sentiment: “One part of the Empire there was, so unhappily circumstanced, that at that time its misery was necessary to our happiness and its slavery to our freedom.” For insolence this would be hard to beat. Let it be noted well. It is the philosophy of the “Predominant Partner.” If he had thanked God for having our throats to cut, and cut them with loud gratitude like Cromwell, a later generation would be incensed. But this other attitude is the gall in the cup. Macaulay is, of course, shocked by Machiavelli’s “Prince.” In his essay on Machiavelli we read: “It is indeed scarcely possible for any person not well acquainted with the history and literature of Italy to read without horror and amazement the celebrated treatise which has brought so much obloquy on the name of Machiavelli. Such a display of wickedness, naked, yet not ashamed, such cool, judicious, scientific atrocity, seemed rather to belong to a fiend than to the most depraved of men.” But, later, in the same essay, is a valuable sidelight. He writes of Machiavelli as a man “whose only fault was that, having adopted some of the maxims then generally received, he arranged them most luminously and expressed them more forcibly than any other writer.” Here we have the truth, of course not so intended, but evident: Machiavelli’s crime is not for the sentiments he entertained but for writing them down luminously and forcibly—in other words, for giving the show away.
Think of Macaulay’s “horror and amazement,” and read this further in the same essay: “Every man who has seen the world knows that nothing is so useless as a general maxim. If it be very moral and very true it may serve for a copy to a charity boy.” So the very moral and the very true are not for the statesman but for the charity-boy. This perhaps may be defended as irony; hardly, but even so, in such irony the character appears as plainly as in volumes of solemn rant. To us it stands out clearly as the characteristic attitude of the English Government. The English people are used to it, practise it, and will put up with it; but the Irish people never were, are not now, and never will be used to it; and we won’t put up with it. We get calm as old atrocities recede into history, but to repeat the old cant, above all to try and sustain such now, sets all the old fire blazing—blazing with a fierceness that will end only with the British connection.
Not many of us in Ireland will be deceived by Macaulay, but there is danger in an occasional note of writers, such as Bernard Shaw and Stuart Mill. Our instinct often saves us by natural repugnance from the hypocrite, when we may be confused by some sentiment of a sincere man, not foreseeing its tendency. When an aggressive power looks for an opening for aggression it first looks for a pretext, and our danger lies in men’s readiness to give it the pretext. Such a sentiment as this from Mill—on “Liberty”—gives the required opening: “Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with Barbarians, provided the end be their improvement”; or this from Shaw’s preface to the Home Rule edition of “John Bull’s Other Island”: “I am prepared to Steam-roll Tibet if Tibet persist in refusing me my international rights.” Now, it is within our right to enforce a principle within our own territory, but to force it on other people, called for the occasion “barbarians,” is quite another thing. Shaw may get wrathful, and genuinely so, over the Denshawai horror, and expose it nakedly and vividly as he did in his first edition of “John Bull’s Other Island,” Preface for Politicians; but the aggressors are undisturbed as long as he gives them pretexts with his “steam-roll Tibet” phrase. And when he says further that he is prepared to co-operate with France, Italy, Russia, Germany and England in Morocco, Tripoli, Siberia and Africa to civilise these places, not only are his denunciations of Denshawai horrors of no avail—except to draw tears after the event—but he cannot co-operate in the civilising process without practising the cruelty; and perhaps in their privacy the empire-makers may smile when Shaw writes of Empire with evident earnestness as “a name that every man who has ever felt the sacredness of his own native soil to him, and thus learnt to regard that feeling in other men as something holy and inviolable, spits out of his mouth with enormous contempt.” When, further, in his “Representative Government” Mill tells the English people—a thing about which Shaw has no illusions—that they are “the power which of all in existence best understands liberty, and, whatever may have been its errors in the past, has attained to more of conscience and moral principle in its dealing with foreigners than any other great nation seems either to conceive as possible or recognise as desirable”—they not only go forward to civilise the barbarians by Denshawai horrors, but they do so unctuously in the true Macaulayan style. We feel a natural wrath at all this, not unmingled with amusement and amazement. In studying the question we read much that rouses anger and contempt, but one must laugh out heartily in coming to this gem of Mill’s, uttered with all Mill’s solemnity: “Place-hunting is a form of ambition to which the English, considered nationally, are almost strangers.” When the sincerest expression of the English mind can produce this we need to have our wits about us; and when, as just now, so much nonsense, and dangerous nonsense, is being poured abroad about the Empire, we need to pause, carefully consider all these things, and be on our guard.
In conclusion, we may add our own word to the talk of the hour—the politicians on Home Rule. It should raise a smile to hear so often the prophecy that Ireland will be loyal to the Empire when she gets Home Rule. We are surprised that any Irishman could be so foolish, though, no doubt, many Englishmen are so simple as to believe it. History and experience alike deny it. Possibly the Home Rule chiefs realise their active service is now limited to a decade or two, and assume Home Rule may be the limit for that time, and speak only for that time; but at the end of that time our generation will be vigorous and combative, and if we cannot come into our own before then, we shall be ready then. We need say for the moment no more than this—the limit of the old generation is not the limit of ours. If anyone doubt the further step to take let him consider our history, recent and remote. The old effort to subdue or exterminate us having failed, the new effort to conciliate us began. Minor concessions led to the bigger question of the land. One Land Act led to another till the people came by their own. Home Rule, first to be killed by resolute government, was next to be killed by kindness, and Local Government came. Local Government made Home Rule inevitable; and now Home Rule is at hand and we come to the last step. Anyone who reads the history of Ireland, who understands anything of progress, who can draw any lesson from experience, must realise that the advent of Home Rule marks the beginning of the end.