Page images

discern it) and the integrity of our own possessions, shall always have the grand and generally adequate security against wrong and encroachment which publicity and fair discussion invariably offer to the right cause and the honest disputant. We are not, indeed, very devout believers in the inherent wisdom and virtue of democracies; we are by no means sure that they are not as easily blinded by their prejudices and infuriated by their passions as any autocrat or any oligarchy; but wherever there is open discussion, a free press, and a free assembly, the voice of sense and justice will at least make itself heard, and sooner or later will prevail; and if publicity do not secure us from irrational and undeserved enmity, it will at least give us warning of its approaching blow.

The gradual progress and the final victory of self-government and nationality will, in the last place, bring us to that blessed condition of possible international inaction which is the longedfor paradise of Mr. Bright. When the citizens of every nation have gained the freedom which they want, and are joined to the brethren whom they love, what, except internal prosperity, will they have to strive for? There will be nothing left for them to ask, or for us to do. There will be no work for our Foreign Minister to do beyond a sort of consular vigilance over the rights and safety of our fellow-countrymen abroad. There will be little for any state to dread, except piratical assaults of the strong upon the weak, for which there would be small temptation, because small prospect of success. For, nations blessed with self-government, and harmonious and homogeneous because constituted according to natural affinities of sentiment and race, would seldom be weak enough to allure the most un. scrupulous and daring spoiler, and in the hour of danger would find ample auxiliaries to prevent or punish the aggression. Of all things, the most suggestive and provocative of wars in modern times is, the knowledge that large classes of the adversary's subjects are discontented because oppressed or unenfranchised, or belonging to conquered and therefore irreconcilably hostile tribes. If the people of Austria were free and contented, and if she kept by force no alien and irritated populations within her grasp, what empire, however warlike or mighty, would deem her a safe object for aggression? Once more, we repeat it,—the sole dangers and disturbances of European tranquillity arise from the unnatural and artificial condition in which it is, and in which so many are vainly endeavouring to maintain it. A forced state of things is of necessity a precarious, a turbulent, an unpermanent state,-a state, essentially and incurably, of unstable equilibrium.

Now, the thesis which we desire to propound, and which needs little illustration and scarcely any argument to maintain it,

is, that this state of stable equilibrium in Europe, from which so many cherished blessings would ensue, is to be sought, and can assuredly be attained, by the steady, sagacious, and thorough practical application to our foreign policy of the two combined principles we have specified, as those at which the good sense and good feeling of the nation had already arrived. If we will only systematically and courageously carry out in its entirety the principle of non-intervention, the desired work will go on as fast as it ought, and in the direction it is best that it should follow. If nations are left to themselves, they will group themselves according to their natural affinities; and they will win free institutions and self-government, if they really desire these blessings, and as soon as, and in proportion as, they are fit for them. Our interposition to help them would only have the effect, either of enabling them to go too fast, or of diverting them somewhat from their natural bent, or of confusing the clearness of their native instincts. We should probably make mistakes as to their national affinities which, left to themselves, they would not make, and should thus hamper or mar their natural and proper action; and we should assuredly endeavour to mould their institutions after our own model, and thus give them a garment which was not made for them and would not fit them. Probably, too, we should enable them to gain what, not being up to, they could not preserve; and failure, reaction, and disappointment would ensue.

But the principle of non-intervention, in its completeness,and if not completed it is fallacious, mischievous, and not a principle at all, - requires and means that nations shall be left to themselves; it does not mean that England shall not interfere, but that no nation shall interfere; it does not mean only that we shall not interfere to aid liberty and nationality, it means that no one else shall interfere to thwart them. It is a twoedged sword, beneficent and just only when both edges are used.

The course of our foreign policy, therefore, is clear (that is, the aim which it should pertinaciously pursue; the means, and the modifications, and the flexibilities called for in each several emergency and complication must be left to the sagacity of each individual minister who holds the seals of office at the time): to proclaim for ourselves, and to urge and enforce upon other powers, the duty of leaving every state and nation to itself, to fight its own internal battles, to settle its own domestic controversies, to arrange its own constitutional concerns. We have to get this doctrine acknowledged as a maxim of European law; never to interfere ourselves, except to prevent or to countervail interference by others; to “pair off” with some opponents, to warn off others; as far as we can, and by the most earnest

means at our disposal, to the last extreme that we feel it prudent to venture,-always by remonstrance,-occasionally, if need be, by menace,—and, in worthy crises, even by armed force,—to secure to every people a fair and undisturbed field for their struggle against native despotism or hated and forced amalgamations. Much has already been done in this direction. Ultimate success in it we regard as certain, if only Great Britain will heartily and persistently adopt the principle as her banner, and never lose sight of it or be false to it for a moment; if only we have no more foreign secretaries capable of astounding the world by preaching and enforcing the doctrine for a couple of years as if it were his gospel, and then, on the first occasion when adherence to it became inconvenient, turning round and denouncing it in the broadest terms in such a despatch as that of October 27th, 1860.

We do not mean to say that difficulties may not arise as to the application of this principle. One of the most perplexing of these presents itself at the very moment we are writing. The Emperor of Austria is at issue with two sections of his subjects, —with nearly two millions in Venetia, and with probably ten millions or more in Hungary, Transylvania, and Croatia. The Venetians are only kept from open rebellion by an overwhelming armed force. The Hungarians have adopted a plan of systematic and universal passive resistance, waiting for an opportunity of taking more active measures to enforce their claims or to assert their independence. The Emperor is strong enough to coerce both sections singly into quiet if not into submission, and perhaps strong enough to overpower even a joint insurrection. If an outbreak should occur,-and sooner or later it is certain to occur,-are the insurgents (the justice of whose cause few, at least in England, will question) to be denied any assistance from without? Is France to be allowed to aid and encourage Hungary? Is the new kingdom of Italy to be suffered to join its forces to those of its Venetian brethren who are clamouring for its succour, and are bent upon being amalgamated with it? Or does our principle of non-intervention call upon us to forbid both interpositions ?

The case is a very complicated one, and the righteous answer is by no means obvious nor unassailable. If we could look at the question merely in its present phase, and without reference to the recent past, we should be obliged to decide against any assistance from without being rendered to either section of insurgents. No doubt the imperial attempt to extinguish the Hungarian Constitution is a gross and perfidious wrong ; but it is not for a foreign nation to constitute itself either judge or partisan. The Hungarians are many millions, and must make good their own claims. If they cannot do so, they are the weaker party, and, as we have shown before, foreign aid to enable the weaker party to prevail involves the continuance of foreign protection, and therefore implies an artificial and forced arrangement,-a state of unstable equilibrium. The Venetians at first sight have a stronger claim upon our sympathies. They are a conquered race: they have been more cruelly maltreated; they are weaker; they are fewer; they belong by affection and by race to another nation, from the embrace of which they are forcibly withheld, and which is longing with all the passionate love of kindred to annex them. Yet, looking only to the bare facts of the present, it appears to us impossible to allow, without flagrantly deserting the doctrines we have laid down, to defend the right of the Italian monarch to render armed assistance to the Venetians, though without it it is certain they will never be able to achieve their liberation. The conclusion is most unwelcome, but to all appearance unavoidable to honest reasoners.

But when we refer to the antecedents of the two cases,-and to antecedents by no means remote,—they assume a very different aspect. Why do the Hungarians now need extraneous aid to maintain their ancient privileges and their long-discarded constitution ? Because they were crushed by foreign intervention in 1849. In that year they had made good their ground; they had baffled and defeated the Austrian monarch, and the game was in their own hands. But Russia was called in to overpower them; and Russia did for Austria what Austria could not do for herself. There is therefore a wrong to be redressed ; a violation of the principle of non-intervention to be neutralised, countervailed, and undone. If Russia had not so iniquitously interposed—and been so pusillanimously and imprudently suffered to interpose-in 1849, neither French nor Italian interposition would be needed in 1861.' The Hungarians would have been their own masters, either independent of Austria or united to her on equitable terms and with impregnable securities, and the problem which perplexes us would not even exist. Austria, having profited by the violation of law twelve years ago, cannot justly claim the protection of that law to secure those ill-won profits now.

The antecedents to be pleaded in favour of Venice are unfortunately less recent and less clear; still they have great weight. She has never been Austrian by consent or by amalgamation. She was stolen rather than conquered by the arms of republican France, and was shamefully handed over to Austria by Napoleon in 1796; she was subsequently absorbed into the French Empire, and finally given back to Austria at the Congress of 1815, in

defiance of decency and justice, by the assembled sovereigns who so ruthlessly trampled upon both. It was Europe who wrongfully and cruelly consigned her to a yoke she abhorred, and against which she earnestly protested, and has never ceased to protest: it is for Europe to undo that wrong. As far as morality and equity are concerned, the case seems clear and cogent enough. But the difficulty lies in the comparative antiquity of the injustice done; for it is obvious that if we allow any antecedent foreign intervention to justify intervention on the other side now, there is an end of our principle altogether as a practical guide. In international, as in municipal law, there must be a statute of limitations,—some date beyond which titles, however scandalous or full of flaws, are not to be disturbed. It may, no doubt, be argued on behalf of Venice, that it was only the interference of Russia to save and aid Austria in 1849 that enabled that power to defeat Piedmont, and so to recover Lombardy and Venice; and that this interference has, therefore, yet to be atoned for and countervailed in Italy as well as in Hungary. And the argument is, if not perfectly irrefragable, at least so weighty that an English diplomatist, inclined to defend Victor Emanuel for what—defensible or indefensible—is certain to be done, would do well to rest his justification on this ground. It is lamentable to reflect that if England, in conjunction with France, whose coöperation might then have been attained, had only had a clear enough view of what policy and justice alike dictated to forbid the interference of Russia in the Hungarian revolution, all these perplexing problems might have been avoided, and two sanguinary wars, with their terrible fields of Sebastopol and Solferino, might have been spared to Europe, as well as ten years redeemed out of the struggling and suffering lifetime of the world.

The ill-assorted and convulsed empire of Austria is not the only obstacle to the attainment of that state of stable equilibrium which Europe craves, and which is the price and condition of her tranquillity. Turkey is a problem equally menacing and less easy of solution. From that instability of which Austria is the centre and the cause, there are two practicable issues, attainable to-morrow if it should so please Francis Joseph and his advisers. She may, by the surrender of Venetia on equitable terms, relieve herself of a dependency which has long been to her a source of material weakness, of moral obloquy, and of military danger; she may liberate 200,000 of her best troops for defensive action in other quarters; she may convert a cause of expense into a cause of revenue; she may secure at once the cordial friendship of the English nation as well as of the English government, and ultimately, when the soreness consequent upon long irritation shall have died out, the frank alliance of Italy itself. At the

« PreviousContinue »