Imperialism and Social Reform: English Social-Imperial Thought, 1895-1914

By Bernard Semmel | Go to book overview

IX
VISCOUNT MILNER: SOCIAL-IMPERIAL IDEALIST

The Liberals regarded the campaign of Chamberlain and the Tariff Reform League to convert the working classes to protection as an appeal to the vilest instincts by entirely self-seeking interests. The Tariff Reformers, in Radical eyes, were selfish manufacturers determined to increase their profits even if this meant bringing back the 'dear loaf' and the 'hungry 'forties.' They were bloated landowners anxious that the increasing burden of taxation for defence and social reform should be placed upon the back of the working classes in the form of excises rather than upon their own huge unearned incomes. This Liberal analysis was in many respects an accurate one. The attempt to create a Bismarckian England revealed a play of motives that was no prettier than those involved in the creation of Bismarckian Germany or, for that matter, in the framing of an American tariff. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to assume that no larger ideals lay behind the movement for Tariff Reform and preference. The social-imperialism of Alfred Milner was, in many ways, a repository of this idealism. Although in basic agreement with the programme of the Unionist Party, Milner stubbornly chose to follow an independent course and held himself genuinely 'above party.' Obviously disinterested and guided by sincere and generous sentiments, he succeeded in winning the respect even of his political opponents.

Milner was born in Giesen, Hesse-Darmstadt, of English parentage, on March 23, 1854. His first four years were spent in Germany--his father was a teacher in a German university --his next eight in Chelsea, and the three following in a Gymnasium at Tübingen to whose university the elder Milner-- a physician by profession--had returned as a Reader in English Literature. Unlike his social-imperial colleagues, therefore, Milner was not cut in any of the conventional English public school patterns. After a brilliant career at King's College,

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