William Lyon Mackenzie King

By Robert Macgregor Dawson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TEN
THE FIRST WORLD WAR AND ITS POLITICAL CONSEQUENCES

IN THE EARLY YEARS of the First World War Mackenzie King's influence in Ottawa was naturally determined by his position in Canadian public life. No longer a member of the Government or of Parliament, and not even belonging to the party in power, he could not therefore affect the course of events directly. He was, it is true, the editor of the Canadian Liberal Monthly for a period, but his other work forced him to sever even this limited connection with his party. The only public office King held at this time was one on the national executive of the Canadian Patriotic Fund, a post which was far removed from active politics.

It was alleged in the election of 1911, and later in the election of 1917, that King was a pacifist and was even pro-German. Certainly he did not display enough enthusiasm for the war to satisfy many of his more belligerent countrymen. This was not, however, a new aspect of his character nor an odd quirk which had appeared as he became older, but an expression of liberal thought which was not uncommon at that time. King had been for years identified with several American peace movements and had taken a fairly prominent part in some of their activities.* He abhorred war; and like many other liberals he thought that the peoples of the world should be trying much more earnestly to develop better means to keep peace. Norman Angell had recently argued in The Great Illusion that no nation could ever win a war for in the long run all belligerents would become impoverished. Reformers were inclined to shift from ethics to self-interest as a ruling consideration in preserving peace, and they therefore tended to rely more than formerly on economic sanctions as the chief curbs on

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*
Cf. supra, p. 214.

-256-

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