But upon the vast, ramifying, and inchoate Commonwealth of Great Britain lies the heaviest responsibility. It is a task unequally shared between those of her citizens who are capable of discharging it. Her task within the Commonwealth is to maintain the common character and ideals and to adjust the mutual relations of one quarter of the human race. Her task without is to throw her weight into the scales of peace, and to uphold and develop the standard and validity of inter-State agreements. It is a task which requires, even at this time of crisis, when, by the common sentiment of her citizens, the real nature and purpose of the Commonwealth have become clear to us, the active thoughts of all political students. For to bring home to all within her borders who bear rule and responsibility, from the village headman in India and Nigeria, the Basutu chief and the South Sea potentate, to the public opinion of Great Britain and the self-governing Dominions, the nature of the British Commonwealth, and the character of its citizenship and ideals, and to study how those ideals may be better expressed in its working institutions and executive government—that is a task to which the present crisis beckons the minds of British citizens, a task which Britain owes not only to herself but to mankind.
Note.—A friendly critic who saw this chapter in MS. remarked: “I think the author has been very successful in ignoring some of the shady methods by which the British Empire has been extended.” The criticism is not strictly relevant to the subject of the chapter, but as it may occur to other readers it may be well to deal with it in a brief note. I would answer:
(1) The “shady methods” of which he speaks were not the result of British Imperialism, or of a desire for conquest on the part of the British State. They were the result, melancholy but inevitable, of the contact of individuals and races at different levels of development. This contact between the stronger and the weaker (which can be illustrated from what is said about the sandalwood traders in the New Hebrides on p. 215 above) was the direct result of the explorations of the sixteenth century, which threw the seas of the world open to Western pioneers and traders. The extension of the authority of Western governments (Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, French, and British), and the collisions between them, followed inevitably on the activities of their citizens, as has been pointed out on p. 216 above. All the Western governments have made mistakes in dealing with this unfamiliar situation; but the wise course for democratic public opinion, instead of railing at “Imperialism,” would seem to be to familiarise itself with its problems and control its injurious tendencies.