The Imperial Idea and Its Enemies: A Study in British Power

The Imperial Idea and Its Enemies: A Study in British Power

The Imperial Idea and Its Enemies: A Study in British Power

The Imperial Idea and Its Enemies: A Study in British Power

Excerpt

Ideas in politics, as elsewhere, are forced to fight a grinding battle with circumstance. Sometimes, when the struggle is short, first their surface and then their core get worn to nothing. But, if their strategy is guided by a genuinely creative and receptive imagination, political ideas may emerge from their inevitable campaigns with renewed strength, able to make a challenge to a second generation in greater confidence than they faced the first. So directed, a political idea, necessarily flexible in form, may indeed come to terms with circumstance, but it never does so entirely on the enemy's conditions.

It has also to equip itself very variously. In it must glow the reflection of those hopes and plans for society, and for their own place in that society, that men indulge in only in moments of respite from their everyday affairs. The idea must be one that can catch and fire the imagination of the young. The young are not members of society: they live on its frontiers. They are still uncommitted, sceptical of all the accepted principles and quick to condemn this acceptance as a kind of cowardice. But they do not doubt as yet that better principles exist. The principle, the cause, the idea that gains them must therefore hold out both a challenge and a promise. Although it may make much of reason, it is not reason that acts as its dynamo. Finally, it must have an obvious quality -- summarising in itself something that men have hitherto felt, but have not known how to express.

An idea fulfilling these conditions will be strong enough to force circumstance itself to obey its dictation.

In the last generation of the Victorian era, many men thought they had found just such an idea. It became their faith, that it was the role of the British Empire to lead the world in the arts of civilisation, to bring light to the dark places, to teach the true political, method, to nourish and to protect the liberal tradition. It was to act . . .

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