‘I am only too well aware of the recrudescence of the doctrine of force, and the doctrine that mankind are mostly fools who require the strong and wise ruler to break their heads if they do not conduct themselves as he thinks proper. I am aware what charm such doctrines have for those who are pleased to identify themselves with the strong and wise ruler, and their weaker neighbours with the fools. . . . And now we are told, not by Lord Salisbury I am glad to say, as a weighty argument against Lord Ripon's measure, that we hold India by conquest, and that if we do not govern in the spirit of conquerors, and by open straightforward assertions of our superiority, we are shifting the foundations upon which our Government rests. I cannot discuss these matters at the end of a paper already too long. I will only say that I consider such principles of government to be shallow, short-sighted, and dangerous, and I for one disclaim them as earnestly, though I cannot do so so eloquently, as Macaulay disclaimed them in 1833 and in 1853.’This passage is obviously aimed, amongst others, at me, for it paraphrases a passage in a letter of mine published in the Times on the 1st of March last, which was as follows:—
‘It has been observed that if the Government of India have decided on removing all anomalies from India, they ought to remove themselves and their countrymen. Whether or not that mode of expression can be fully justified, there can, I think, be no doubt that it is impossible to imagine any policy more fearfully dangerous and more certain in case of failure to lead to results to which the Mutiny would be child's play, than the policy of shifting the foundations on which the British government of India rests. It is essentially an absolute government, founded not on consent but on conquest. It does not represent the native principles of government, nor can it do so until it represents heathenism and barbarism. It represents a belligerent civilisation, and no anomaly can be so striking or so dangerous as its administration by men, who, being at the head of a government founded on conquest, implying at every point the superiority of the conquering race, of their ideas, their institutions, their opinions, and their principles, and having no justification for its existence except that superiority, shrink from the open, uncompromising, straightforward assertion of it, seek to apologise for their own position, and refuse, from whatever cause, to uphold and support it.’The similarity between what I wrote and what Sir Arthur Hobhouse denounces is so close, extending even to the turns of expression which I have italicised, that I cannot doubt that he wrote with my letter in his mind, though he may probably have had in his mind other writers as well, for anyone who reads the two passages will see that the first is by no means a correct representation of the effect of the second. I did not use the expressions about conquest as an argument against ‘Lord Ripon's measure, but as an argument against the tone in which some of its advocates wrote and spoke about it, and about the far more important question of local self-government. I did not say that we ought to govern India “in the spirit of conquerors, if that spirit is understood to be what I suppose Sir Arthur Hobhouse suggests, namely, a spirit either of hostility or of indifference to the interests of the natives of India; nor have I said that we ought ‘to govern by open, straightforward assertions of our superiority.' I said that no one ought to shrink from such assertions, meaning, of course, upon proper occasions. It is, however, useless to discuss at length the question whether Sir Arthur Hobhouse has understood me or not. I think he has not, and it is possible that if any misunderstanding exists it may be my fault. I may have yielded to the temptation of expressing my opinions in a needlessly trenchant and unpopular style. If so I regret it, but the interest and importance of the whole subject is great, and the views which I and some other persons hold upon it are little understood. What, then, are the foundations on which the Government of India rests? What are the principles on which its power ought to be exercised? First, then, what is “the doctrine of force' of which the recrudescence is so familiar to Sir Arthur Hobhouse, and of which I suppose myself to be regarded as at least one of the exponents? No political doctrine of any importance can be expressed in a word. Sir Arthur Hobhouse himself feels that an explanation is required, and he accordingly gives one. The doctrine of force, it seems, is, in other words, “the doctrine that mankind are mostly fools who require the strong and wise ruler to break their heads if they do not conduct themselves as he thinks proper.’
The language here employed is obviously and intentionally the language of caricature, collected, not very unfairly, from the writings of Mr. Carlyle. It pleased that great man to throw many of his opinions into the shape of wilfully unpopular paradoxes—a circumstance which has been the foundation of much of the popularity which he attained, but which has exposed his opinions to caricature and ridicule. However this may be, I will try to state seriously and temperately what I regard as being the sense in which the doctrine caricatured by Sir A. Hobhouse is true and important.
In all discussions on government, the existence of some kind of organised force is presupposed. Without this presupposition such discussions would be as idle as discussions about statics and dynamics if the words weight and motion were unmeaning. Every political theory whatever must, by the nature of the case, be a doctrine of i.e. of and concerning, or about—force. The whole problem of government is how and how far is the collective force of any given community to be organized? in what hands is it, when organised, to be vested? to what ends shall it be directed? by what means shall it be made to effect those ends? I suppose, therefore, that this ‘doctrine of force' has been understood to mean the same thing as the doctrine coupled with it, namely, “the doctrine that mankind are mostly fools who require the strong and wise ruler to break their heads if they do not conduct themselves as he pleases.’ This statement implies that there are persons who think that all rulers are wise, and all subjects foolish; that every form of strength implies a corresponding degree of wisdom, and that the way in which a wise or strong ruler is to make the foolish subject conform to the wise ruler's will is by “breaking his head, which, I suppose, means by the habitual use of military force or its equivalent. I never met any one who held such an opinion, or anything which distantly resembled it. Its folly and ignorance are glaring. Does any one worth speaking of-not to say any one at all—seriously deny that there have been in the world instances of brutal tyranny in which the ruler was far from being wiser than his subjects? or that the principal mark of such a brutal tyranny is that the ruler cannot and does not try to act upon his subjects’ wills otherwise than by the immediate fear of pain or death?
Whilst, however, I disclaim all responsibility for the doctrine of force as thus stated, I admit that I do hold opinions which have just enough in common with that doctrine to tempt persons who dislike them to confound them all in a common description. To speak of mankind in general as ‘fools’ is an absurdity. The word fool means a person who has much less than the average degree of wisdom: but that all men or most men should have much less than the average degree of wisdom is obviously impossible, for a degree below which they fell could not be the average. Such an expression is like saying that most men are extremely tall or very short, remarkably strong or exceedingly weak. But though men in general are certainly not fools, it is at least as certain that whether we take as the standard of comparison the whole amount of knowledge upon the subject referred to, or the amount of knowledge necessary for persons professionally conversant with and occupied upon such subjects, men in general are extremely ignorant, especially upon subjects which do not immediately and obviously affect their own personal interest. The number of voters would be few indeed, if, in order to qualify a man for being a voter, it was necessary that he should pass an examination upon political subjects which would be child's play to any one who made political life his principal occupation.
Though, therefore, I do not think that men in general are fools, I do think that they have little political knowledge, and that they therefore use blindly such political power as they possess, and are thus likely to put it to bad uses unless they submit to the guidance of those who know better than themselves.
Further, though many rulers have been unwise, and though some have been cruel tyrants and oppressors, I think that, speaking generally, and particularly in reference to modern times and to our own country, and perhaps above all other times and places to India, the class from which rulers have hitherto been usually taken, namely, the rich and educated, are far wiser than the poor who form in nearly every country the bulk of the community. I also think that though ruling by threats of military force hardly deserves to be called ruling at all, and is the method of ruling which a wise or strong ruler would resort to with the utmost reluctance, and only in cases where he has no other means of ruling, the possession and the use, in certain cases, of military force is essential to all government. The best of rulers can no more govern without the command of police, soldiers, or organised force in some other form, than the best of riders can ride without a bridle. However, such generalities as these are of no great value, and I will come at once to the definite question of the foundations on which, in my opinion, the British Government in India stands, and the spirit in which I think it ought to be governed.
I have said that it is essentially an absolute government, founded not on consent but on conquest. Sir Arthur Hobhouse does not deny the fact which I assert, but denounces the opinion, which he seems to consider equivalent to it, that we ought to govern in the spirit of conquerors. Thus he does not deny what I affirm. Indeed I do not know how any one can deny it in terms. Whatever may be thought of the fact, and whether it is or is not regarded as matter of reproach, it can hardly be denied that the establishment, and each successive extension of the Indian Empire, was effected by military force.
The battles of Plassey and Buxar, and other operations now generally forgotten, were the causes of the grant of the Diwani, which was equivalent to the conquest of Bengal, Behar, and Orissa. The wars carried on in Lord Wellesley's time, against Tippoo in 1799, and against the Mahrattas in 1802 and 1803, added to the Empire the greater part of Southern and Western India, and the North-West Provinces. The wars in Central India under Lord Hastings and Lord Dalhousie, the two Sikh Wars in 1846 and 1849, and some others which I need not mention, for good or for evil, completed the structure. That these were in fact conquests no one can possibly deny. It is equally impossible to deny that these transactions form the basis on which the British power in India was founded. For these reasons I repeat what I said before, namely that the British power in India was founded not on consent but on conquest.
To speak of any government as being founded on conquest may sound harsh, but I did not intend by the use of that expression to convey a harsh meaning, as a fuller explanation will show. Like other words, “conquest' has many different meanings. Almost every conquest recorded in history has had its own special characteristics, by which it has been so much distinguished from others that the common name is likely to be deceptive. A conquest like those of Genghis Khan, or the early Moguls, often involved massacres on the largest scale, and the reduction to slavery of those who were not massacred. Other conquests, ancient and modern, have involved the destruction of well-established political institutions, and of associations endeared to the feelings of those amongst whom they existed. Others have involved interferences with the religion or the property, especially the landed property, of the conquered people. But the conquests by which the lndian Empire was constituted were of a totally different kind. They involved no injury, except such as was inflicted in open war, to either person or property. They involved no interference with religion, no confiscation of property, and no destruction of cherished institutions or associations. In these conquests the persons conquered have as a rule been in no sense whatever the chosen representatives of any race or nation, or the heads of any institutions valued by those who lived under them. Take a few instances. The first and by far the most important of all the conquests of the East India Company was that of Bengal, Behar, and Orissa, which was accomplished in fact, though not in name, by the grant of the Diwani in 1765. Of the military operations which brought about this event, the most important were the battle of Plassey in 1757, and the battle of Buxar in 1764. The person defeated at the battle of Plassey was Surajah Dowlah, then Nabob of Bengal, and the immediate result of his defeat was the elevation of Meer Jaffier. If any sort of national or patriotic feeling had existed in Bengal in 1757, it would have been absolutely indifferent between the contending parties. At the battle of Buxar, which was perhaps even more important in its results, the person defeated was the Nabob Vizier of Oude, who was then in the act of invading Bengal for the second time within a few years. The effect of the battle undoubtedly was to make the Company the only power of much importance between the Bay of Bengal and the Himalayas, and to enable, perhaps to compel, Clive to accept in the following year the grant of the Diwani on behalf of the Company. This grant made them substantially sovereigns of what is now called Lower Bengal, but if Bengal is regarded as a nation, the battle of Buxar was a victory of Bengal over Oude. In the same way the defeats of Tippoo, and of the Mahrattas, involved no humiliation of anything like a national sentiment in any native population. It must be remembered, too, that all Indian wars have been wars between natives and natives. If the Sikhs were mortified by the result of the wars of 1846 and 1849, the Bengal Sepoys from Oude and the North-West Provinces were pleased in proportion, and the share which the Sikhs took in the suppression of the Mutiny wiped off any humiliation which the Bengal Sepoys had inflicted on them. There has never been a war in India, from the days of Clive to those of General Roberts, in which the victory has not been won to a great extent by native troops. This was the case even in the Mutiny of 1857.
If, therefore, we look at the conquests by which the Indian Empire has been constituted from the point of view of national sentiment, it may fairly be said of them that no wars recorded in history have inflicted less humiliation on anybody. If we look at them from the point of view of their consequences, it may be said that no set of wars have ever done so little harm or so much good. The actual conflict has, of course, caused losses, but the consequences of English victories in India have invariably been to produce internal peace, to substitute law and order for oppression and anarchy, and in many cases to introduce elementary principles essential to civilisation, which were previously unknown, or at best obscurely apprehended.
Having regard to these considerations, the assertion that the British Empire in India is founded not on consent but on conquest is neither insulting nor humiliating. It reminds the people of India of nothing in any way discreditable to their manly qualities, of nothing involving the destruction of valued institutions, or of the rude disturbance by force of arms of cherished associations. It states a fact of the first importance, but a fact which is in no way discreditable to any one now living, or to any one in whose reputation living persons are interested. In short, conquest in India has in no case meant anything more than the transfer by military force of political power from one hand to another, and I do not see what there is in this which can be regarded as necessarily or essentially disgraceful either to the conquered or to the conqueror. As a matter of historical fact, a vast proportion of the governments of the world have been established by such means, nor is it easy to say what there is in such a transfer which can be reasonably objected to in cases where the power transferred rests on the same foundation as that which supplants it. Popular writers may stigmatise conquest as robbery, and describe conquerors as criminals, but the analogy between political power and tangible property is fit only for rhetorical purposes. To describe Surajah Dowlah, or his successor Meer Jaffier, or Hyder Ali, or his son Tippoo, or any of the Mahratta princes, or the Mogul emperors, or their Afghan conquerors, as having had any sort of property in the power which they possessed, and of having been robbed of it when they were conquered, is the same absurdity as that of which many advocates of the East India Company were guilty when they used similar language in condemnation of the Acts of Parliament which altered the position of the East India Company, and vested by successive steps in the Crown the greater part of the political power which had been acquired by the Company. Thus much must at least be allowed with regard to the conquests on which the British Empire in India has been founded. As regards the princes actually conquered, the wars in which they were overcome were to the full as justifiable as most of the conquests on which the present distribution of political power over a great part of Europe rests. The history of Europe down to our own days is such that if titles resting upon conquest were regarded as iniquitous, universal anarchy would ensue, even if a prescription of, say a century, were to be regarded as sufficient to establish the rights of occupiers.
It may very naturally be asked why, if the fact that the British Empire is founded on conquest is so inoffensive an assertion, so much prominence should be given to it and so much importance attached to it. Conquest, it may be said, usually means a condition of things in which the interest of the conquering Government is avowedly opposed to the interests of the conquered people, in which one race intends to injure and oppress another, and in which therefore the object of the conqueror is to weaken his subjects, and not to promote their interests. If this is not what you mean when you insist so much on the fact that the Government of India is founded not on consent but on conquest, you cannot at all events complain of being misunderstood.
That great unpopularity is attached by modern habits of thought to the word “conquest' must be admitted. This seems to me to be a shallow and ignorant sentiment, to which those who disapprove of it are not bound to pay respect in choosing their words. It arises from the neglect of the obvious and well-known distinctions pointed out above between different kinds of conquest. I do not think that it is justified by experience at all, but in one important respect it is clearly ill-founded. The conqueror has obviously as strong an interest as any other ruler in the prosperity of his subjects, perhaps even a stronger interest, for if they are wretched, and if they hate him, his position may become altogether intolerable; whereas, if they are prosperous and he is popular, he soon becomes their natural and accepted ruler. The conquest of Canada in 1763 did not prevent the Canadians between 1776 and 1782 from siding with the English against the revolted colonies, though the latter were the allies of old France. The conquest of the Punjab in 1849 did not prevent the Sikh levies in 1857 from joining in the siege of Delhi. But however this may be, the fact that any government is founded on any particular basis does and must colour all its proceedings, and ought always to be a leading consideration in determining the course of its policy. Who would have advised in the days of Louis XIV. a policy not consistent with the principle that France was at that time practically an absolute monarchy What would follow if any one were to propose any measure in the United States which was not based on the fact that political power there resides in the voters and their representatives? It is at least equally characteristic of the Government of British India that it is founded on such a conquest as I have described.
But to come closer to the question, what are the practical inferences from the fact which I have stated? One great practical inference is that government in India must proceed upon principles different from and in some respects opposed to those which prevail in England, and which, since the outbreak of the French Revolution, have acquired in many parts of Europe something like the consistency and energy of a new religion. In England, and in countries which derive their political institutions from our own, the government has come directly to represent the great body of the people; all modern legislation has been directed to a great extent towards the object of making that representation more and more complete, and the action of the constituents upon the representatives more and more direct and peremptory. In India the opposite is the case. The government which now exists has not been chosen by the people. It is not, and if it is to exist at all, it cannot look upon itself as being, the representative of the general wishes and average way of thinking of the bulk of the population which it governs. It is the representative of a totally different order of ideas from those prevalent amongst the natives of India. To these ideas, which are those of educated Europeans, and particularly of educated Englishmen, it attaches supreme importance; they are the ideas on which European civilisation is founded. They include all the commonly accepted principles of European morality and politics—those for instance which condemn cruel acts like the burning of widows, or the offering of human sacrifices in the name of religion, or the infliction of disabilities, as for instance disability to marry, on account of widowhood or a change of religion, and others of the same sort. These are the facts which make the existence of the British power supremely useful to India and honourable to England. It seems to me to be dangerous in the highest degree, and to be a long step to the destruction of the Empire, to refuse to admit this, or to shrink from the necessary inferences. In point of fact, all our legislation and administration in India is coloured by these circumstances. This was what I meant by saying that our government implies at every point the superiority of the conquering race, and that those who administer it should not shrink from the open, uncompromising, straightforward assertion of that superiority. At the time of the Mutiny of 1857 no assertion was more common than that the East India Company had erred in this matter on the side of timidity, that it had shrunk from asserting the principles of government which were characteristic of Englishmen, and that the result of this had been to weaken our hold on the country and to take away the principal reason for our presence there. Whether the charge made against the Company was just I do not inquire, but I should be ashamed to doubt the soundness of the policy which the charge implies. As an instance of what I mean by open, uncompromising assertions of superiority, I may mention: the abolition of suttee; the laws which abolish the infliction of civil disabilities for changes in religion; the laws against infanticide; the suppression of many practices dangerous to health and revolting to decency, like the throwing of dead bodies into the Ganges; and, to conclude with one glaring and undeniable instance in which the whole current of Indian opinion has been overruled by the leading public men of this country, the enforcement of free trade. It seems to me monstrous to deny that these measures were right, and absurd to deny that so far as they were understood by the natives they were unpopular.
Another practical inference from the fact that the British power is founded on conquest is that it must be absolute. The British Government of India differs from the various native governments which it has successively conquered, and on the conquest of which it is founded, not in its origin, but by its objects. The Moguls were conquerors. Most of the subadars—the Nabob of Oude, the Nabob of Bengal, the Nizam—were successful rebels against the Moguls. Hyder and his son Tippoo were conquerors on their own account. So were the various Mahratta princes. Indeed the dominions of almost every existing native prince in India have been acquired by war and conquest just as much as the English dominions, and often in alliance with English Governors-General. The princes of Rajpootana, and some small rulers in the south of India, stand in a somewhat different position. Some of them are rather chiefs of clans than the descendants of conquerors. One or two (Travancore is one), but not more, are the representatives of the old Hindoo Rajahs who were not conquered by the Mohammedans. The position of the Rajpoot princes was, till the English supremacy was established, as much regulated by the military power of their clan for the time as the extent of the dominions of the princes of Mysore, or that of the different leaders who collectively represented the Mahratta power. Indeed the origin of clans, as Sir Alfred Lyall has lately explained, is to be found in conquests on a small scale. Put the English out of the question, and suppose that no other European power had taken our place, and it is easy to see what sort of country India would have been. It would have been divided into a number of kingdoms resembling in their constitution and character the native states which now exist. The rulers of these kingdoms would have shared the whole country between them in proportions varying according to their military power. At all events from the mountains to the sea no form of government other than absolute power resting on military force has ever been known. The rule of the Queen, and that of the Moguls whom she displaced, differ, not in the foundation on which they rest, nor in the extent of the power which they possess, but in the spirit in which they rule and in the principles by which they govern themselves. The great peculiarity of the British Government in India is that it is essentially both English and European. It rests on the foundation common to all Eastern governments. It is animated by a spirit and principles essentially European. My proposition is that it is absolutely essential to its existence, and to its utility both to England and to India, that the foundation on which it rests should be as distinctly acknowledged and borne in mind in practice as the principles by which it is animated; and I further say that much of the language recently used by persons high in authority, both in India and in England, either conceals this fact or shows that the writer or speaker is afraid or ashamed of it. It would be easy to prove this, but it is so notorious that I assume it.
Before I proceed to the direct proof of my own views, it is necessary to give some further explanations in reference to natural prejudices on the subject. In the first place, then, it should be observed that the strong association which exists in the minds of most English people between good government and representative government is likely to mislead them in dealing with the government of India. I cannot even glance in this place at the reasons which have created this association of ideas, or at the limitations which even in this country ought to be imposed upon it. It would be useless to attempt to disturb an opinion so deeply rooted as that which leads the great mass of English people to regard as cause and effect the development of just and beneficent legislation and the development of representative government. It is as easy to understand the opinion that absolute government means bad and brutal government, as to understand the opinion that the use of the words 'conquest’ and 'conqueror’ implies a reproach.
In this country, representative and popular government is so firmly established that it is useless to discuss its merits and defects. Its continuance or modification is in no sense an open question. I think, however, that it may be safely asserted that absolute government has its own merits and conveniences; that it is, so to speak, as legitimate a form of government as any other; and that if it exists, if it is well and successfully administered, and if it is suited to the circumstances and tastes of those amongst whom it exists, there is no reason why those who administer it should seek to substitute for it a representative system, or should feel in any respect ashamed of their position as absolute rulers, or desirous to lay it down. Much of the language used about the British Government in India implies, if it does not exactly state, a doctrine which might perhaps be called the doctrine of the Divine Right of Representative Institutions, or of the Sovereignty of the People; it seems to assume that the exercise of absolute power can never be justified except as a temporary expedient used for the purpose of superseding itself, and as a means of educating those whom it affects into a fitness for parliamentary institutions. The point at which I differ from many of those who write and speak upon the Government of India is that I do not in any degree share in this view, whether it is regarded as a doctrine or a sentiment. I do not think that the permanent existence of such a Government as ours in India must in itself be a bad thing; that we ought not to desire its permanence even if we can secure it; and that the establishment of some kind of parliamentary system instead of it is an object which ought to be distinctly contemplated, and, as soon as it is practicable, carried out.
The expression 'absolute government’ has an unwelcome, not to say terrible sound, in English ears, but does it mean anything which Indians regard with aversion or terror? To the natives of India the substantive would appear to involve the adjective. They have never had any experience of any government which is not absolute in the only sense in which the Government of India is absolute: that is to say, in the sense of being vested as far as the law is concerned in a single person, or in a small number of persons not chosen by those whom they rule, and not checked in the exercise of their powers by any elected body which is so chosen. A government absolute in this sense is not necessarily cruel, indifferent to the interests of its subjects, or arbitrary and violent in its measures. It may be just as careful of what they regard as their rights, just as well aware of the limits of its own power, and as much afraid of transgressing them, as the most popular government in the world. It may also be as much bound in its proceedings by known laws, clearly expressed and interpreted by independent judges. In other words, it by no means follows that a government is arbitrary or despotic because it is absolute. It need not be the instrument of the mere changing personal will of any particular man or set of men because it is not responsible to an assembly elected by its subjects.
The absolute character of the Government of India in the sense of the word just defined is a necessary consequence of its existence. Any one who studies its history will see that by a succession of steps, each of which was taken reluctantly, those who had to administer the government were gradually forced into the position which they now hold, both in relation to their own subjects and in regard to the native states dependent upon and adjoining to their territories. History supplies no example of so reluctant and gradual an assumption of political authority as that by which the Queen of England became not only Empress of India but the avowed and recognised superior and protector of one large group of states, and the not less effective though unavowed superior of many others.
During the early part of the growth of the Company's power, the objects of their agents were almost exclusively commercial and pecuniary. Their first scheme, both in Bengal and in Madras, was to use the political powers of the Nabobs of Bengal and of the Carnatic as cloaks under which their own financial objects might be carried out. It was their earnest wish, certainly not from any exalted motives, to have as little as possible to do with the government of the country, and to leave it as much as possible in the hands in which they found it. It was only under the pressure of circumstances, and in consequence of the absolute inefficiency of the various native institutions, that the direct government of any part of the country was forced upon them.
How far they were also reluctant to extend their dominions is a question difficult to answer shortly. I think, however, it may be said, that the Parliament and people of England, and the East India Company, as represented by the Court of Directors and the Court of Proprietors, were, generally speaking, strongly averse to any extension of their territories; that the same may be said of most of the Governors-General, though not of all, Lord Wellesley and Lord Dalhousie being the most conspicuous exceptions; but that such of the Governors-General as were not averse to conquest found reasons which many persons still believe to have been perfectly sound, for regarding the wars which they undertook as necessary to the protection and stability of the territories already acquired, and that others (Lord Minto for instance) who landed in India with the most pacific inclinations, were led by experience to similar practical conclusions. At all events, willingly or reluctantly, in the course of the present century the British dominions have been extended from Allahabad to Peshawur, and from Bombay through Sinde to Peshawur by a different road. During the same period they have taken in the greater part of Southern and Western India and the whole of the Central Provinces. The most important of these conquests have been made in the lifetime of men not yet old, and have been carried out in detail by men of whom many are still living.
To this unquestionable fact, add a few more facts which are equally unquestionable. First, the whole of the native populations thus brought under British rule have from time immemorial been not only accustomed to absolute government, but have had no experience whatever of government of any other description, and this is as true of the most warlike and turbulent as of the most pacific populations.
Secondly, the whole of the population, with exceptions in point of number too trifling to mention, are ignorant to the last degree, according to any European standard of knowledge. Most of them are under the dominion of grovelling superstitions. The majority are divided into castes, each man's caste forming his world. Most of them are also practically fatalists, impatient in many instances of the burden of existence. They are moreover divided amongst themselves in all manner of ways. Mohammedans, Hindoos, Sikhs, upcountrymen, and Bengalees are in many ways inimical to each other, and the peace is kept between them only by the efforts of their common superior.
When all these considerations are put together, it appears to me to follow that the British Government must forget not only its origin, but all that is most important and characteristic in its position, if it forgets that it is and must be an absolute government founded on conquest.
Turning from this, let us look at the inference which wise and strong rulers ought to draw from this fundamental principle. Their great general inference must surely be one as far removed as possible from vainglory or boastfulness. I think, speaking from my own experience, that a man who takes any leading part in the government of India must be made aware every day of his life of the extraordinary gravity of his position, and that the thought that the whole system stands upon the foundations which I have attempted to describe must produce in him a feeling much more akin to fear than to the boyish boastful temper which seems to be ascribed to those who think about India as I do. I do not mean to speak of any unworthy fear or of any actual definite risk. I refer to the extraordinary magnitude, the vast inherent difficulties, of the whole enterprise, and I say that any one who appreciates them must be sobered, I might almost say awed, by what he sees, and must continually be led to take the measure of the work which he has to do, and to consider how it is possible to do it. I believe that, gigantic as the task is, it is one which it is quite possible to perform, if its nature and the conditions under which it is undertaken and must be accomplished are carefully studied and observed, and if rhetorical commonplaces appropriate to and arising out of a wholly different state of society are put on one side. What then is the task which lies before the English in India, which they have been discharging for many years, and which they may hope to carry out successfully if they understand and carefully observe the conditions under which they are to act? The general problem is the welfare of the community. No one wishes to govern India merely for the sake of finding salaries for officials. The salaries paid would hardly be a sufficient price to induce men of ability to adopt such a way of life if it were not for the absorbing interest of the work itself. How then is the welfare of the community to be promoted? The answer is by the introduction of the essential parts of European civilisation into a country densely peopled, grossly ignorant, steeped in idolatrous superstition, unenergetic, fatalistic, indifferent to most of what we regard as the evils of life, and preferring the repose of submitting to them to the trouble of encountering and trying to remove them.
Now the essential parts of European civilisation are peace, order, the supremacy of law, the prevention of crime, the redress of wrong, the enforcement of contracts, the development and concentration of the military force of the state, the construction of public works, the collection and expenditure of the revenue required for these objects in such a way as to promote to the utmost the public interest, interfering as little as possible with the comfort or wealth of the inhabitants, and improvement of the people. That this is, and for many years past has in fact been, the policy of the Government of India and the task which in their own opinion they have to discharge, and that they have in fact been actively and most successfully engaged upon it for a long series of years, and especially since the Mutiny of 1857, can be denied by no one who has anything like a competent knowledge of the subject. The following short statement might be expanded into volumes. [It is the substance of two remarkable books which should be read carefully by those who care to have a really statesmanlike account of the great enterprise of the government of India: British India and its Rulers, by Mr. Justice Cunningham, of the Calcutta High Court (Allens, 1882, 2nd edition); and The Finances and Public Works of India, by Sir John Strachey and General Strachey (Kegan Paul & Co., 1882).] Since the suppression of the Mutiny, the internal peace and good order of India has never been seriously disturbed. In far the greater part of the country crime is neither more common nor more serious than in England. Justice is administered, not only as between man and man, but as between the Government and individuals, with perfect purity, except so far as it is perverted by perjury. The laws by which the administration of justice is regulated are far more distinct and compact than they are in England. They are not only accessible to every one, but are in fact generally understood better and much more widely than is the case in England.
The taxation is light; far lighter than it was under native rule, and the whole of it is expended upon matters of public necessity or utility, especially on the mitigation and prevention of famine and pestilence and the provision of the means of creating wealth.
Speaking generally, I do not think that it either is or can be disputed by any one even moderately acquainted with the facts, that for at least a quarter of a century, practically the whole of the attention of the British Government in India has been directed to objects like these. Indeed the Government has had little else to do, for since the suppression of the Mutiny there have been no wars of much importance except the Afghan war and the Umbeyla campaign. Assume the existence of any form of government you like. Suppose India to have been governed by a parliament annually elected by universal suffrage from electoral districts each containing precisely the same number of voters; suppose every member of that parliament to have been animated exclusively by a disinterested regard for the public good; suppose that the results actually obtained had been obtained by that parliament and by the ministers whom it supported; would not those results be justly cited as a splendid instance of the efficiency, purity, and success of representative institutions? I assert with confidence, and I am sure that I shall not be contradicted by any one whose contradiction is of any real significance, that the administration of public affairs in India for the last twenty-five years has been as pure, as energetic, as intelligent, and as successful as the administration of any public affairs whatever, and that the laws enacted during that period may advantageously be compared with those of any country in the world both in substance and in style.
Such is the task which the British Government in India has proposed to itself and has been at work upon with intense and sustained energy for at least a quarter of a century. I will now say something as to the conditions under which this task is carried out, in order to illustrate what I have already said as to the importance of recollecting that the British Government in India is founded on conquest and not on consent, and that it is essentially absolute.
First, the nature of the work itself should be noticed. With all its variety, it is essentially one. Every part of it is pervaded by the same or by closely allied ideas which adapt themselves equally well to many different subjects. Whether the question is the codification of the law of contracts, the establishment of a system of irrigation, or the spread of education, the same or similar principles are assumed and enforced. It would be pedantic to attempt to reduce them to a precise form, but it is easy to give an account of them definite enough to be intelligible.
Speaking generally, they are to the effect that the laws and institutions of the country are to be founded on European secular morality, on European views of political economy, and on the principle that men ought to be enabled by law, irrespectively of religion, race, caste, and similar considerations, to enjoy securely whatever property they have, to get rich if they can by legal means, and to be protected in doing as they please, so long as they do not hurt others. To carry out these principles in the enactment of laws and the establishment of institutions is the great work of the Government. To compel submission to such laws and institutions, and to protect the external security of the state, is the use of its magistrates, police, and soldiers. Upon these principles the Europeans by whom India is governed may be said to be practically unanimous, and their unanimity is all the more remarkable because it is unconscious. The differences between them are, with insignificant exceptions, differences as to the means by which results of admitted expediency and importance are to be attained; but notwithstanding the eagerness and occasional heat with which questions of detail are often discussed, such discussions are, as a rule, so completely confined to detail, that it requires long and careful observation to understand the connection between English political parties and Indian differences of opinion on public affairs. It would be, for instance, exceedingly difficult to say which of the different opinions as to land revenue and a permanent settlement, or as to the policy to be pursued towards the native states, had most affinity to the Liberal or Conservative way of looking at things.
So long, therefore, as the direction of affairs continues substantially in European hands, there is no reason to doubt that the policy just described will be steadily pursued, and if this is done it is at least equally certain, that India will in due time become a comparatively wealthy country, with an immense trade, a great mass of manufactures, and an enormous population, which will, within a comparatively short time, undergo changes of belief in all matters relating to religion, morals, and politics of the most fundamental kind, with what specific result no one who does not claim the power of prophecy can pretend to say.
I shall not here discuss the question whether this policy is in itself a good one, both because I believe that it would be generally admitted to be so, and because such a discussion would be useless. In the first place the policy has been irrevocably adopted. In the second place its adoption was, for reasons at once obvious and conclusive, a moral necessity. The only alternative would have been to keep India in its original condition, and this would have been regarded with almost equal abhorrence on moral and on economical grounds. Politically it would have been suicidal. If the English had tried to govern India by Indian ideas, they must have been involved in the disputes which tore Indian society to pieces a hundred years ago. They must have sided either with Hindoos or with Mohammedans, or have trimmed between them, and any course, especially the more timid courses, would have led straight to destruction.
If, however, European civilisation in the sense above explained is to be introduced into India, certain practical consequences follow which it is impossible to avoid. The most important of them, which, indeed, includes all the rest, is that an absolute government, composed in all its most important parts of Europeans, must be maintained. One reason for this conclusion is that the natives of India neither understand this policy nor do they like it so far as they do understand it, nor could they be trusted to carry it out if they both understood and liked it, except under constant and vigilant European superintendence. That they do not understand it is self-evident. How is it possible that they should understand ideas which could not be expressed in any language with which they are acquainted? How is it possible that, if this difficulty were removed, they should welcome ideas which assume the absolute falsehood of all their deepest convictions and the barbarism of many of their habits of life? If the Government of India were in any true sense representative of the people of India, it would represent a Hindoo majority, an extremely powerful Mohammedan minority, Sikhs, Burmese, Parsees, and many other races and bodies of people, each divided amongst themselves in ways too intricate and unfamiliar to be explained. Does any one really suppose that anything distantly resembling unity of policy could be got out of such a government as that? We have seen during the last year the agitation caused by Mr. Ilbert's Bill even under the present order of things. How would it be if the question whether Brahmans and Soodras were to be equal before the law in Bengal, and whether Mohammedan butchers were to be allowed to kill kine in the Punjab, were to be submitted to and determined by really representative assemblies? Irish discontent has gone far to paralyse even the British Parliament. An Indian parliament or collection of Indian parliaments would produce undisguised, unqualified anarchy. I have said, and have been blamed for saying, that the English in India are the representatives of a belligerent civilisation. The phrase is epigrammatic, but it is strictly true. The English in India are the representatives of peace compelled by force. The Mohammedans would like to tyrannise over Hindoos in particular, and in general to propose to every one the alternative between the Koran, the tribute, and the sword. The Hindoos would like to rule over Hindoos at least, according to the principles of the Brahmanical religion. They would like to be able to condemn to social infamy every one who, being born a Hindoo, did not observe their rites. They would like to see Suttee practised, to prevent remarriage of widows who were not burnt, to do away with the laws which prevent a change of religion from producing civil disabilities, to prevent a low-caste man from trying or even testifying against a Brahman, and Mohammedans and Hindoos and Sikhs would all alike wish to settle their old accounts and see who is master. The ‘belligerent civilisation’ of which I spoke consists in the suppression by force of all these pretensions, and in compelling by force all sorts and conditions of men in British India to live in peace with, and to tolerate each other. With a slight alteration of language the British power might be described as Milton described peace. It—
‘Striking hard with armed handThe British Government owes its very existence to the fact that the anarchy and desolation, which were the cause and also the effect of the dissolution of the Mogul Empire, afforded the opportunity and demonstrated the necessity for the establishment of a power which could bring order out of chaos. Should it abdicate its functions, it would soon turn order into chaos. No country in the world is more orderly, more quiet, or more peaceful than British India as it is, but if the vigour of the government should ever be relaxed, if it should lose its essential unity of purpose, and fall into hands either weak or unfaithful, chaos would come again like a flood. No road is so smooth, hard, uniform, and level as a frozen river, but nothing so hopelessly unmanageable as a thaw complicated with a flood.
Compels a universal peace through sea and land.’
It is not improbable that in the course of time, though I think it will be a long time, native habits of life and ways of thought will give way to, and be superseded by, those of Europe. Should that happen, the bulk of the population might come not merely to submit to European rule, but in some degree to like it, and to sympathise with its spirit. What changes in the system of government this might involve no one can say. Till, if ever, that time arrives, it will never in my opinion be safe for the British Government to forget for a moment that it is founded not on consent but on conquest; that it must, if it exists at all, be absolute, because its great and characteristic task is that of imposing on India ways of life and modes of thought which the population regards, to say the least, without sympathy, and to which it might easily be brought to feel active dislike, though they are essential to its permanent wellbeing and to the credit of its rulers. There is a practical proof of the truth of what I have said, which appears to me unanswerable. It is the fact that we maintain in India an army one-third of which consists, or ought to consist, of sixty thousand British troops, amongst whom are comprised the whole of the artillery. What are they there for? Obviously to sustain the British power. Would that power be maintained if they were permanently withdrawn? I do not believe that any one in this country upon whom the slightest responsibility for his words rests, or can ever rest, will answer this question in the affirmative. But if the maintenance of a great army, one-third of which consists of British troops, while the other two-thirds are officered by Englishmen, is the indispensable condition of British rule in India, who will say that the power is not essentially belligerent? or deny that, as long as it is to exist at all, it must be absolute, in the sense of not being controlled by a representative assembly or assemblies?
Upon all this it may probably be observed that what I have said is rather defective than false. That the British Empire in India is in fact founded on conquest; that this fact should be borne in mind by those whom it concerns; that representative government cannot be established in India at present, and that there is no prospect of its establishment for a considerable length of time; that the introduction of the essential parts of European civilisation into India is the great and characteristic task of the Government of India; that it has been zealously employed for many years in this task, and that it can be carried out only by a government composed principally of Europeans whose legislative and executive authority is not subject to the control of any representative body in India, and who are supported by an army composed to a great extent of Europeans, and officered by Europeans so far as it is composed of natives, are propositions which I do not think any person whose opinion is of much importance would wish to deny.
The criticisms which I should expect from such persons on what I have written will be such as these. We cannot, they might say, deny the truth of your statements as far as they go, but how do you deal with another side of the subject? Is it not as important a part of the duty of the Government of India to attend to the moral and intellectual and political education of the natives as to promote their material prosperity? Is any education comparable to that which is afforded by the actual management of affairs? Ought it not, therefore, to be an object with the Government of India to associate natives with Europeans in the government of the country? Moreover, is not representative government essentially the best form of government, and ought you not gradually to educate the natives up to it by inducing them as far as possible to manage their own affairs, and so teach them to recognise the truth of the principles which as you say it is the special task of the Government of India to impose upon them, and to be the willing instruments of their propagation and diffusion?
I should answer these questions, except the last, by a qualified affirmative. I have always thought that natives should be employed to whatever extent is consistent with keeping the principal direction of affairs in the hands of Europeans. [This has not been a mere speculative opinion on my part. When he was appointed Viceroy in 1876, Lord Lytton did me the honour to ask my advice on various subjects connected with India. I advised, amongst other things, a considerable increase in the admission of natives to the Civil Service. My advice was adopted and carried out, though not on so large a scale as I recommended, or (I believe) as Lord Lytton personally wished.] How far this principle would extend in practice it is impossible to say precisely, but that the limitation upon it which I have stated is essential may be clearly shown. Suppose there were a native Viceroy, a majority of natives in the Viceroy's Council, native Governors and Lieutenant-Governors, a native Commander-in-chief, and a majority of native district officers, there would soon be an end of the Indian Empire. I do not believe that Englishmen worth having would consent to hold office under such a system, nor do I think that English merchants or planters would live or invest their capital in India whilst it was in force. Nobody proposes such a state of things, but the principle which would justify and involve it is asserted everywhere. If there are to be no distinctions of race, if every assertion that such a distinction does in fact exist is to be stigmatised as a prejudice, how is the conclusion to be avoided that the principal rulers of India should be taken mainly from the natives of India, and that Englishmen should hold a share of such appointments corresponding to some calculation (if such a calculation could be made) based upon the numerical relation between the natives of India and Englishmen interested in or connected with it? If such an arrangement is admitted to be absurd and impossible, what other principle can be adopted than that there must be in the Indian Civil Service such a proportion of Europeans as may be necessary to secure European ascendency? And this is the principle for which I contend.
With regard to the question of local self-government, which is closely connected with that of the employment of natives, no one can doubt that if native committees can be got to undertake particular branches of local administration, and to manage them efficiently, it will be a great advantage to all persons concerned. Many experiments have been made in this direction, and it is certainly desirable that they should continue to be made. From what I have heard from specially well-informed persons as to the management of such affairs in the cities of Calcutta and Madras, and in some other towns which have municipal committees, I am as sceptical as to their efficiency as the Government of India itself would seem to have been when it stated in its resolution on the subject, that for a considerable time failures must be expected, and that the principal value of such measures lay in their educational effect. As to their value from that point of view, it seems to me as likely that frequent elections would educate a thoroughly corrupt. constituency into purity, as that extended opportunities for jobbery and neglect of duty would educate municipal committees into efficiency; but there is no great harm in trying, and it is unquestionably true that it is desirable, if possible, to relieve the district officers of some part of their multifarious duties, or at least to assist them in their discharge. These views greatly narrow the points at issue between myself and the present holders of power in India. The question between my friend Sir Arthur Hobhouse and myself is indeed a question rather of general theory, of tendency, and of sentiment, than a question as to particular measures. I do not approve of Mr. Ilbert's Bill, but I think its intrinsic importance has been exaggerated. I have not studied the details of the Local Government Bills, and can give no opinion upon them, but I do not believe that the local governments will allow them to be dangerous. The most definite point on which I should disagree with the views about India which seem to be becoming popular is that I do not share in the view so often stated and insinuated in all kinds of forms, that it is a moral duty on the part of the English nation to try to educate the natives of India in English ideas in such a way as to lead them to set up a democratic form of government administered by representative assemblies. That our own form of government is tending in the democratic direction, and that the House of Commons is rapidly becoming the practical sovereign, is, I fear, true. It is to me for many reasons an unwelcome truth. The only reason relevant to the present subject is that such a democracy as we are threatened with would naturally regard the existence of the Indian Empire as an evil, and seek to be rid of it by any means, and no means so plausible or so effectual could be found as to establish throughout India democratic representative assemblies, which, whatever else they did, would soon make the country ungovernable and uninhabitable by Europeans without in any way benefiting the natives. I do not say that this object is seriously and consciously entertained by the present rulers of British India, or that it is at the bottom of their various proposals; but I do say that their sympathies, and in many cases their language, lead straight in this direction. They either share, or at all events do not dissent from and protest against the view which has been consistently avowed by Mr. Bright for a long series of years, that the British power in India was acquired by crime, that its existence is in the nature of an inherited curse and disgrace, that it can never really and permanently mend, and that our only real business with India is to get rid of all responsibility for it as quickly as possible.
It is against this temper and tone of mind that I protest far more than against any particular measure which has lately been proposed as to the government of India. It appears to me that there is no transaction in the history of England of which we have more just cause to be proud, or which anyone who cares for the reputation of England ought to be more anxious to perpetuate and carry out to a good end, than the establishment of the Indian Empire. I feel convinced that it never can be brought to a good end, or, indeed, to any end except ruin and destruction equally calamitous to both England and India, if those who administer it are ashamed of its origin, or of the object which supplies the justification of its existence, or of the means which are essential to the accomplishment of that object. I cannot here justify or even explain this view as I could wish, but I will say in conclusion a few words to those who think otherwise. I do not say that they wish to destroy the Indian Empire. No person of ordinary humanity could wish to reintroduce anarchy and confusion into a country which has suffered more from those evils than almost any other part of the world. What I say is that they wish to shift the foundations of the Empire, they wish to change its essential character, to change it from an absolute government founded on military force, into a representative government founded on popular election, and I further say that this is an operation so difficult and dangerous that it is morally impossible that it should succeed. Also that it is entirely gratuitous, and that it is undertaken solely on theoretical grounds which are in themselves unsound.
First, as to the difficulty and danger of the undertaking. The first and most essential part of the proposed change is to communicate to an essentially peaceable, docile, contented, somewhat apathetic people, first, the critical, discontented, unquiet, jealous disposition which is characteristic of that part of our own population which interests itself in politics, and next a confidence in public speeches and meetings, votes and parliamentary proceedings, which is characteristic of Great Britain, and perhaps of the United States, but is utterly unknown in every other part of the world. Within what assignable time is it morally possible that either of these conditions should be fulfilled? The whole machinery of votes, public meetings, and constitutional agitation is absolutely unknown amongst the natives of India. Agitation indeed is known, and the propagation of discontent is no difficult matter. But it displays itself in a totally different way from that of public discussion. The first steps in the political education essential to a change in the foundations of the British Government cannot be taken without incurring the risk of furious civil war. A barrel of gunpowder may be harmless or may explode, but you cannot educate it into household fuel by exploding little bits of it. How can you possibly teach great masses of people that they ought to be rather dissatisfied with a foreign ruler, but not much; that they should express their discontent in words and in votes, but not in acts; that they should ask from him this and that reform (which they neither understand nor care for), but should on no account rise in insurrection against him; in short, that instead of regarding their rulers, according to the habits of their ancestors from remote antiquity, as persons who must be obeyed till they become intolerable, and who are then to be dethroned and destroyed with all their adherents, they should play the part of a constitutional opposition, though they have had none of the experience which is necessary to render such an idea intelligible? I do not believe that any one who really understood the nature of such a task would think of undertaking it.
One strong reason against undertaking it is that it is entirely gratuitous. Amongst the natives at large there is absolutely no desire whatever for any other political institutions than such as they have been accustomed to from time immemorial. Some few Anglicised Bengalee baboos have caught up and travestied the English commonplaces which have, in my opinion, most injudiciously been made a part of their education, and an absurdly exaggerated importance has been attached to their opinions by a few English sympathisers; but the great mass of the population, and in particular the best part of it, the warlike and vigorous races of Northern India, have never shown the smallest sympathy with such views. They are perfectly satisfied with the principles of the Government of India, they desire nothing better than to serve it in various civil and military capacities, or to enjoy under its protection the property which it secures to them. In short, but for the restless, dissatisfied, officious interference of English theorists, there is no reason why the present state of things in India should not continue indefinitely. If the British Government in India is ever seriously disturbed and ruined, it will be by reason of an agitation set up at the instigation of Englishmen against institutions with which the natives, if left to themselves, are perfectly satisfied, and which have conferred on them, and will, if left alone, continue to confer upon them, altogether inestimable benefits.
Why then should the British Government be disturbed? The answer is because their success would be inconsistent with the theory that all absolute government must be bad, and that all good government must be representative. The most useful, the most beneficent government that ever existed is to be sacrificed to a theory, according to which all its proceedings are condemned in direct proportion to their success. This, I am convinced, is the real origin of the greater part of the excessive dislike which many persons feel towards the system of government now established in India. As an absolute government it is a rock of offence to English Radicalism, which those who are themselves Radicals, or who depend for the continuance of their power on the votes of Radicals, are anxious to remove. This I believe to be the root of a way of speaking and writing upon Indian questions which appears not unlikely to produce fatal consequences.
The Radical theory of government is less often avowed in so many words in these days than it was in times when speculation had not, in the opinion of most persons who have given their attention to the subject, refuted all general political theories whatever, but it is tacitly assumed in all directions. It supplies all the most popular commonplaces on political subjects, and it has charms, to me wholly unaccountable, for those who, knowing the weakness of all such theories, seek to gain the votes of people with just education enough to be caught by the commonplaces of the last generation, and to be unaware of the fallacies which pervade them. It would be superfluous to attempt here to state these theories or to expose their defects. [An admirable article on the ‘Prospects of Popular Government' in the Quarterly Review for last April may be referred to in connection with this subject.] I will state in a few words what appear to me to be the doctrines which should be substituted for them. They are these: The goodness of forms of government depends essentially upon circumstances of time, place, and person. The establishment of any government at all which will keep the peace, protect person and property, enable men to think, speak, write, and live as they please, so long as they do not disturb the peace or hurt others, is in itself so unspeakable a blessing, so firm a foundation for the growth of every kind of virtue, of all forms of knowledge, of all the solid advantages which make civilised life possible, and of all the graces which adorn it, that I cannot wonder that our ancestors should have described the value of it by saying that kings reigned ‘by the grace of God.' The modern equivalent of this phrase seems to be that it is impossible to lay down any rule as to the circumstances by which such a government may be called into existence, but that when by any means it is brought into existence, it is a priceless blessing, to be carefully preserved and strengthened, and regarded with profound respect. My own opinion is, that the docile, respectful, obedient temper, which is eminently characteristic of most of the natives of India, is the result of a natural and heartfelt recognition of this truth, that it is a great virtue, worthy not of the contempt which it sometimes provokes from the unthinking, but of profound respect, and constituting in itself one of the strongest imaginable claims for the natives of India upon the good offices and good feelings of the rulers of India. As to the actual distribution of political power, it has always seemed to me that there can be no greater mistake than to give unqualified praise to that process of dispersing it through many hands and cutting it up into little bits which is involved in democratic institutions and which goes by the name of liberty. With regard to political power, as with regard to wealth, I think that the proper depositaries of it are those who by lawful means can get it and keep it, and I consider it absurd to assume that all political power not derived from popular votes is a usurpation, and that no man can respect himself politically unless and until he has a right to vote for a member of the representative body, whereas, if he has such a right, he may be taken to be governed by his own consent.
If to get votes, to have representative assemblies, to conduct their public affairs as people do in England, were an object to the natives of India, if in any distinct way they showed that they really and on their own account wished for such institutions, I for one should say by all means let them have them by degrees, and as they can use them, but if (as is notoriously and obviously the case) no such thought has entered their heads, I should certainly do nothing to put it there. Their present government suits all the parties concerned. If it does not, it is for those who feel a grievance to complain of it, but to me it appears like madness to try to tease a people who like an absolute government, who are accustomed to it, and who make no complaint of it, into a state of mind which might at any moment produce frightful catastrophes, but is utterly unlikely to produce anything else. Suppose a master and his workmen were going on perfectly well together, the master receiving from the workmen good and faithful service, paying them fair wages and doing them kind offices besides. What would be thought of his discretion, if he were to be continually calling meetings to discuss Socialism; if he were to ask them if their wages were high enough; whether they did not think they ought to have shares in the business; whether they had no fault to find with his management of it; and so on? Would it not in such a case be good advice to him to let things take their course quietly, to rest assured that his workmen would look after their own interests, and to accept the situation in which he found himself placed, without constantly fretting over the question whether his great-grandfather had fairly acquired the capital invested in the business, and without trying to change his position from the absolute power of an owner of capital, acquired by speculation and not by subscription, to the constitutional authority of the manager of a co-operative association in numberless shares of five shillings each?
I have now stated and explained at length the sense in which I used expressions which may have appeared harsh, and which have certainly been understood, by persons for whom I have a great respect, in a sense which I never attached to them. Nothing can be more contemptible than swagger, and no kind of swagger could be more contemptible than that of a man who must brag, if at all, of a prowess in which he never had, has not, and never can have any share whatever. That which Sir Arthur Hobhouse describes as the doctrine of force is, with me at least, much more the doctrine of conscious weakness. I am not conscious of having ever written, or said, or thought, that because our power is founded on conquest, and because it rests upon military force, we either ought to, or safely can, use it oppressively. I say our power is founded on conquest, not on consent; let us therefore use it only for purposes which can be justified on the strongest grounds of expediency, let us avoid far-reaching schemes, and let us leave it to our subjects to suggest political changes if they really want them.
The substance of all that I have to say is this—The English in India have been by circumstances committed to an enterprise which is in reality difficult and dangerous to the last degree, though its difficulties and dangers have thus far been concealed by the conspicuous success which has attended their efforts. That enterprise is nothing less than the management and guidance of one of the most extensive and far-reaching revolutions recorded in history. It involves the radical change of the ideas and institutions of a vast population which has already got ideas and institutions to which it is deeply attached. The only chance of conducting this revolution to a good end is by unity of action and policy, communicated from a central authority to a small number of picked local officers, the central and local authorities being supported by a military force sufficient to give them practically undisputed executive power, and the action of the whole body being regulated by known laws impartially administered. By these means the tremendous change now in progress may be carried out in a quiet, orderly, gradual way, with what specific results no one can foretell, but it may be hoped with good ones, unless the ideas on which all our European civilisation is based are essentially wrong. If, however, the authority of the Government is once materially relaxed, if the essential character of the enterprise is misunderstood and the delusion that it can be carried out by assemblies representing the opinions of the natives is admitted, nothing but failure, anarchy, and ruin can be the result.
These views may deserve eloquent repudiation, they may be essentially ‘shallow, short sighted, and dangerous,’ but I cannot see why they deserve such epithets. At all events they are not those of a swaggering bully, in which light they seem to be regarded by men worthy of the greatest respect, and whom I personally have every reason, both in the past and in the present, to like and esteem.
One word more. Sir Arthur Hobhouse prefaces the passage which I quoted at the beginning of this article by asking ‘Shall we abandon the noble principles of government which have animated our statesmen for more than half a century?’ The principles to which he refers are principles in which I cordially agree, though I do not say that I agree with the whole of the passages which he quotes. I should repudiate quite as earnestly as he, or as our great predecessor in office, Lord Macaulay, the notion that Europeans in India should practically be subject to no law at all; that India should be treated as a prey to be used for the purpose of providing salaries for English officials, or a revenue to be distributed amongst English shareholders or applied in aid of English taxation; and that the great object of our government there should be to strengthen the chains by which the country was bound for those purposes. I should call such a policy not only short-sighted and dangerous, but infamous. It is no doubt true that in this, as in all other things, the great object of this nation ought to be its own greatest good; but what, in this matter, is its greatest good? Not money extorted by violence from others, but the natural and legitimate advantages which flow from the honourable enterprise of substituting civilisation for barbarism throughout a great empire. How it would be if there were a real conflict between English and Indian interests I do not consider. I insist upon the fact that there is no such conflict, and that nothing could inflict a more deadly injury on India than anything which diminished the security of the English rule. It is because I hold these views as strongly as they can be held that I earnestly protest against truckling to popular prejudices and commonplaces, and to measures which are of no use except to annoy Europeans and hold out all sorts of delusive expectations to natives.
We hear much of taking the side of the weak against the strong, and of the importance of curbing persons tyrannically disposed. It would be well to consider who are the weak and who are the strong? Whatever may be the case as regards individual force of character, or talent, or that strength which is given by a good cause, the strong here and now are the multitude, the poor, headed as they are by those who, as individuals, are amongst the strongest of the strong, and who for various reasons choose to use their strength for the humiliation of the class to which they belong and the destruction of the institutions under which they have grown up. In the presence of English voters and their leaders the English in India are weak and helpless, the Indian Civil Service is weak and helpless, the strongest and wisest man in the country is as helpless, if they differ from him, as a little child. It is beyond all question in the power of English popular leaders to give full swing to English commonplaces in the government of India, to break down the institutions and to throw to the winds the experience of a century. I fear that if they follow this course they will discover when it is too late how shallow, short-sighted, and dangerous were the smooth phrases, the plausible virtuous indignations and the self-depreciation at the expense of others, which led them into it.
Nineteenth Century, October 1883.