The Cautious Revolution: Britain Today and Tomorrow

By Ernest Watkins | Go to book overview

CHAPTFR XVII
The Commonwealth

You can argue that Britain has lost three empires. The first was in continental Europe, but that went when the English kings failed to hold France, during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. George Washington, coupling his name in this connection with that of King George III, broke up the second. The third disintegrated between 1900 and 1940. What are the chances of building a fourth? This fourth would certainly have to include Western Europe. I remember an Italian politician, with a dry turn of wit, saying to me, "And why not? You English have a natural genius for the creation of empires." Or has the spell been broken, the talent lost? What has happened to the old empire, the product of Queen Victoria's day, an empire that still lives on in the imagination of so many (among whom it is difficult to say whether Americans or British predominate).

Eire was the first to go. Field Marshal Smuts, by the sheer force of his personality, held South Africa formally within the Empire until the day came, in 1948, when he lost his premiership of the Union. Burma slipped away quickly, apparently into internal chaos. India hovered on the brink, not so much of complete independence --for all the dominions have real independence--as of complete severance of the nominal tie. Pakistan, to show she was not India, celebrated her freedom by conciliatory gestures to Britain. But were they anything more than gestures?

Australia and New Zealand, among the dominions, seem to value their links with Britain as much as before. So does Canada, despite the very much greater difficulties in her way. Ceylon is still present, and there are still the colonies, in all their infinite variety of status, from those that have virtually complete self-government, like Southern Rhodesia, those that have legislative or consultative councils,

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