by Carl Savich
The salient feature of the Congress of Berlin was the inequitable relationship between the Great powers and the Balkan nations and peoples. The Balkan states/nations and peoples were merely pawns or chattels for the imperialist powers to do with as they wished. They were merely chess pieces in a larger imperialist chess game.
The Balkans are not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier.
---Otto von Bismarck, 1876 Lord Salisbury and myself have brought you back peace, but a peace I hope with honour.
---Benjamin Disraeli, July 16, 1878 Europe today is a powder keg and the leaders are like men smoking in an arsenal...A single spark will set off an explosion that will consume us all...I cannot tell you when that explosion will occur, but I can tell you where...Some damned foolish thing in the Balkans will set it off.
---Otto von Bismarck
- The 1875 Serbian Insurgency in Bosnia-Hercegovina
- The 1878 Congress of Berlin
- British Imperialism and the Eastern Question
- The Pan-Slav Movement
- The Evolution and Development of British Imperialism
- The Crimean War, 1853-1856
- Imperialism and Laissez-Faire Capitalism
- Conclusion: British Imperialism during the Victorian Era
- Historiographic Analysis: British Imperialism during the "New Imperialism", 1870-1914
- Analyses of the New Imperialism
- Bosnia-Hercegovina and the Congress of Berlin
- The Second British Empire
- British Imperialism, 1851-1911
- Problems of Identity and Culture in British Imperialism
- Conclusion: Some Damned Foolish thing in the Balkans
The Congress of Berlin was convened on June 13, 1878 to resolve the crises caused by the Serbian Orthodox insurgency in Hercegovina. The Congress was meant to resolve the Eastern Question. The Congress, however, was merely an instance of realpolitik, of power politics. The Balkan peoples were merely pawns. The Great Powers merely divided and reapportioned the spoils of war. The Treaty of Berlin that emerged on July 13, 1878 was an exercise in Great Power imperialism and colonialism. The decisions were arbitrary and based on the self-interest of the Great Powers. The interests and rights of the Balkan peoples and states were sacrificed.
But what was the Great Eastern Crisis about? The Great Eastern Crisis was precipitated by the insurrection of the Serbian Orthodox kmets in Hercegovina who faced famine conditions and starvation due to exorbitant taxation and economic exploitation. The revolt in Hercegovina spread to the Serbian population of Bosnia. The Serbian insurgency in Hercegovina led to the Bulgarian uprising against the Ottoman Turks in April, 1876 resulting in the massacres of approximately 12,000-15,000 Orthodox Bulgarian civilians by Muslim basi-bazouks, irregular troops. Serbia, Montenegro, and Russia would be involved in the conflict, declaring war on the Ottoman Empire. Bosnia-Hercegovina, however, did not achieve autonomy or independence. Instead, Ottoman Turkish occupation was replaced by Austro-Hungarian occupation. The lot of the Serbian Orthodox population of Hercegovina did not significantly change. Thus, the sources and root causes of the 1875 Serbian insurgency in Hercegovina remained. The sources of the revolt were a lack of human and civil rights and economic exploitation. Bosnia-Hercegovina was entrenched in the imperialism/colonialism of the Great Powers, British, French, Austro-Hungarian, Russian, Turkish, German. Imperialist/colonial rivalries and competition between these powers prevented an equitable solution to the Eastern Question. The Congress of Berlin emerged within the context of imperialism, within the context of realpolitik and power politics.
What is imperialism? Imperialism is the extension of sovereignty or control by one people or state over another. The objective is the exploitation of the controlled people or state. Imperialism has four major components: 1) economic; 2) military/strategic; 3) political/nationalistic; and, 4) humanitarian. The foreign policy objectives of the Great Powers were guided by imperialism and colonialism. Imperialism presupposes inequality and domination and exploitation. Imperialist/colonial powers are not bound to follow the laws, international laws and conventions. Imperialist powers make the laws. Might makes right. Subordination and a hierarchical structure of control and dependence are presupposed in imperialism. All nations are created equal but some are more equal than others. Analyses and policies reflect this biased and unequal structure. How one examines these issues is dependent on the perspective of the observer. The epistemological issue is always present in historical analysis. Who is telling the story is always paramount in history. What is said is dependent on who is saying it. This has always been true.
The salient feature of the Congress of Berlin was the inequitable relationship between the Great powers and the Balkan nations and peoples. The Balkan states/nations and peoples were merely pawns or chattels for the imperialist powers to do with as they wished. They were merely chess pieces in a larger imperialist chess game. The imperialist exploitation and domination of the Balkan peoples resulted in the First World War, the Great War, that led to the collapse of the Habsburg, Hohenzollern, Romanov, and Ottoman dynasties/empires. Imperialism, the control, domination, and exploitation of one state or people over another led to wars and the collapse of the dominant imperialist states. But is there such a thing as the equality of large and small states in international law and relations? Is this merely a chimera and illusion? Have there ever been guidelines for international morality and justice that apply equally to all nations and peoples? The principles of power politics, of realpolitik, of a hierarchy of domination and subordination, have been the basis for the settlement of international relations at all times. This statement was true at the 1878 Congress of Berlin, just as it was true at the 1995 Dayton Peace conference and the 1999 agreement ending the Kosovo conflict during the New World Order era. Has anything really changed in diplomatic and international relations since the 1878 Congress of Berlin?
The Serbian insurrection or insurgency in Bosnia-Hercegovina that ignited the Bosnian civil war and rebellion began on July 1, 1875 following the massacres of Serbian Orthodox civilians committed by Muslim forces in the Hercegovina town of Nevesinje. British archaeologist Arthur Evans was on a visit to Bosnia-Hercegovina when the civil war erupted. He published his eyewitness accounts of the Serbian insurgency after traveling to the conflict zones in Nevesinje, Mostar, and Sarajevo in Through Bosnia and Herzegovina on Foot during the Insurrection, August and September, 1875 (1877). Evans offered contemporary, personal, first-hand reports and analyses of the Bosnian insurgency. He described the start of the civil war under the heading "Massacre of Sick Rayahs by Native Mahometans begins the War": "[O]n the 1st of July the civil war in the Herzegovina was begun, not by the Christians, but by Mussulman fanatics, who butchered all the Christians they could find in Nevesinje---a few sick rayahs, who, unable to support the hardships of mountain-life, had returned to their homes." The Serbian insurgents in the mountains then launched a counterattack on the Muslim forces that began the civil war. The government then sent two battalions of Turkish troops to "aid the Mahometan assassins". According to Evans, the Muslim massacres were organized by a local Muslim, a Beg, a landowner and "tithe-farmer", tax-collector, who assembled a force of local Muslims, broke into the government weapons storage depot/armory and seized weapons, "breech-loaders".
The conflict was precipitated by an inequitable tax assessment. In January, 1875, the assessors rated the harvest at an inflated value that greatly exceeded its real value. The Serbian kmets refused to pay this tax. The Serbian Knezes or village elders brought their complaints before the Kaimakam. What happened was they were threatened with imprisonment. The Zaptiehs, the local police, were called into the area. The kmets fled to the mountains, taking their livestock with them. Many fled to Montenegro. The Vali then established the Commission to look into the grievances. The Vali gave the Serbian refugees a safe conduct pass to return to their houses in Nevesinje. But Turkish troops fired on the refugee convoys and several Serbian civilians were murdered by Turkish forces. The murder of the elderly Serbian civilians in Nevesinje by Muslim forces led to the retaliation by Serbian insurgents in the mountains. This started the civil war.
Evans analyzed the civil war as an agrarian revolt against exorbitant taxation and economic exploitation rather than a political revolution to overthrow the Ottoman Empire. Evans wrote that the civil war was essentially "an agrarian war":
The insurrection in the Herzegovina has been directed more against the Mahometan landowners and the tax-farmers than against the immediate representatives of the Sultan. It is mainly an agrarian war.
Evans attacked the "Anglo-Turkish Account of the Origin of the Insurrection in the Herzegovina" as what we would term propaganda or spin-doctored news reporting. Evans recounted the official British-Turkish account which he obtained after a visit "by our Consul, Mr. Holmes":
From Mr. Holmes we learnt the official Turkish account of the Herzegovinian Insurrection---or rather the official account as served up to suit English palates; for, as was discovered by the consular body on afterwards comparing notes, the wily Governor-General gave a different version of the story to each of the European Consuls!
"According to our version," recounted Evans," the whole affair was concocted by about forty agitators". The official British-Turkish account stated that the civil war was started by foreign instigators, by Serbs outside of Herzegovina who had come to Herzegovina to start a war against the Ottoman Empire. These foreign Serbs came from Montenegro and Dalmatia, according to the British-Turkish official account. "Professional agitators", Pandours, who were akin to the Austrian Grenzers, those engaged in border/frontier defense, were the instigators of the revolt in the Turkish account. The Pandours did not have to pay taxes in exchange for their duties of defending the border zone. So according to the Turkish account, there was no ground or justification for the insurgency. The civil war was started by foreign Serbs, by professional agitators, forty in number, whose appeal was directed to the Pandours, who were not even farmers. The British-Turkish explanation denied the agrarian nature of the revolt, denied that exorbitant taxation was the cause. Instead, the civil war was a political rebellion instigated by Serbs outside Herzegovina. Evans disproved this by noting that the insurgency was spontaneous, catching the Omladina (the Serbian Revolutionary Society) by surprise. Evans quoted from a study by M. Yriarte, who visited Bosnia-Hercegovina to ascertain the causes and the progress of the civil war, that estimated the total number of insurgents in Bosnia-Hercegovina at 15,000 men, "of which 2,000 were auxiliaries of kindred race from beyond the frontier." Of this number, 1,000 were Montenegrins, the rest were "Sclaves of Dalmatia, Croatia, Slavonia, and the Free Principality of Serbia." There were a small number of Italians, Poles, Russians, and French volunteers among the Bosnian insurgents. There was, however, a political component to the insurgency. Slavic committees and societies, literary and political, had prepared the populations for a possible outbreak. Defense organizations had been set up, consisting of groups made up of 20-30 members, Evans termed "Cotas", Chetes. They were led by a "Nacenik". A stronghold of the insurgents was the village of Crni Potoci in the Grahovo Valley. This area was just outside the house where Gavrilo Princip was born and lived. Princip's grandfather, Jovan, his father Petar, and his uncle, Ilija, were all insurgents and part of the insurgency, led by Ilija Bilbija. Hercegovina was the location of the kapetanija, the military frontier zone, where Christians were organized in the matrolazi.
The civil war was precipitated by the grievances of the Serbian Orthodox kmets of Hercegovina. The Dervish Pasha sent a Commission made up of the Mutasarif of Mostar and a Christian of Sarajevo, Constant Effendi, to report on the alleged grievances that had caused the rebellion. The conclusion of the Commission was that there were no just or valid grievances. Thus there was no just cause for the insurrection. The Turkish explanation was that the insurgents/rebels intimidated the local population into joining the rebellion by burning their houses and "maize-plot", thus forcing them reluctantly to join. The Dervish Pasha accused the Serbian Orthodox insurgents/rebels of committing atrocities against Muslims, which Evans described as follows:
[T]hey would often shut up whole families of Moslems in their houses, to which they then set fire. That, (to take a single instance,) at Ljubinje they spitted two children and roasted them alive before their parents' eyes.
Evans cited the Consular Commission of the great Powers, published in the Times of December 15, 1875 as a report of a Foreign Consul, which showed "very few features in common with this official Turkish explanation." Evans stated that "the real Facts", the "authentic history", based on "authentic information" proved "the falsity of these Turkish statements." Evans disproved the British-Turkish claim that the Pandours, the Christians hired by the Turks to protect the border zone, were responsible for causing the civil war by noting that the insurgency had erupted in the town of Nevesinje, which was not on the frontier but was "in the heart of the country, only a few miles from Mostar itself."
The Serbian kmets sent an Appeal listing their demands. The first demand was that Christian Orthodox women and girls "should no longer be molested by the Turks." Second, Orthodox Churches should no longer be desecrated and there should be a free exercise of religion. Third, they should have equality of rights before the law equal to the Turks/Muslims. Fourth, that there should be protection from the abuses of the Zaptiehs. Fifth, the tithe-farmers, tax-collectors, should only take what they are legally entitled to take and they should do this at the appropriate time. Sixth, every house should only pay a ducat per year. Seventh, there should be no forced labor, corvee, but all labor should be paid for.
The major cause of the civil war in Bosnia-Hercegovina was due to inequitable taxation. This was how Evans defined the cause: "As in Bosnia, the main cause of the insurrection was the oppression of the tithe-farmers." He noted that in Bosnia there are rich and fertile strips of arable land in the Possavina Valley, "of marvelous fertility." Hercegovina was mostly "a limestone desert" by contrast, according to Evans. The chief agricultural products of Hercegociva were tobacco and grapes, not maize. The government was able to "exhort a double impost on each" because of the "peculiar character of these crops." First, there is a tax which is charged for the "tobacco as it stands on the ground, and for the grapes when carried off as must." The "tithe-farmer" exacts an eighth. Second, an excise tax, or giumruk, is assessed by Giumrukers. These Giumrukers can go from house to house and plantation to plantation accompanied by Zaptiehs, the Muslim gendarmes, to inspect and assess crops. They abused their authority and damaged and consumed the crops. The Serbian serf was under the authority of the Kaimakams and Mutasarifs, representatives of the "Osmanli ruler" who applied the laws differently to Muslims and Orthodox Christians. In many cases, Muslims could break the law with impunity especially if the victim was an Orthodox Christian. He noted that the Serbian Orthodox population "is at the mercy of a haughty aristocratic caste, who eye their Christian serfs with the contempt of a feudal lord for a villain, and the abhorrence of a fanatical Moslem for a Giaour." Evans noted that in many districts, the Serbian kmets had to pay a fourth of their crops to the agas who own the land. In Mostar and the Popovo Valley, as much as half of the crops had to be paid. The aga had to be given an animal every year as well as butter and cheese. The kmets had to carry loads of wood for the aga and to provide other unpaid labor to the aga, corvee. In Hercegovina, the Metayer system was in force where the kmet had to provide all the implements used in agriculture. Evans described the status of the Serbian kmet in Hercegovina as follows:
[T]he Christian `kmet,' or tiller of the soil, is worse off than many a serf in our darkest ages, and lies as completely at the mercy of the Mahometan owner of the soil as if he were a slave.....He is thus allowed to treat his `kmet' as a mere chattel: `he uses a stick and strikes the "kmet" without pity, in a manner that no one else would use a beast.'
Evans thus concluded that the origin of the revolt was not due to Pan-Slavism or because of a grand idee about a "Cosmopolitan Revolution", but because of economic exploitation and the lack of civil and human rights. Evans asked, "what at last induced them to take up arms...it was simply and solely the tyranny of the agents of the Turkish government and the Mahometan landlords." The insurrection was essentially agrarian in nature and not political. According to Evans, "it was largely an affair of tenant-right."
Why was the insurgency in Bosnia-Hercegovina a threat to the Great Powers? Why did it have international significance? The insurrection in Hercegovina was part of the Eastern Question, the slow collapse and political decay of the Ottoman Empire, "the sick man of Europe". The Balkans became of strategic significance to the Great Powers, who were imperialist/expansionist/colonial powers: Britain, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Germany, Turkey, France. The decline of the Ottoman Empire and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 made the Balkans of vital strategic interest to Great Britain and Russia and the other European powers. In 1875, British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli was able to acquire the controlling shares in the Suez Canal with the help of the Rothschild banking house under Baron Lionel de Rothschild, the leader of British Jewry. The Balkans possessed untapped natural resources. They were also seen as a potential market for British exports/goods. The Balkans, the Straits, and Turkey became important in British goals to safeguard sea lanes and ports to British possessions in India and Asia. Serbia and Montenegro emerged as autonomous states and the other Balkans states were surging as new powers in the region. There was a power vacuum in the Balkans which Great Britain, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Italy, and France sought to fill. The interests of these nations were antagonistic and were ineluctably bound to conflict and clash. Austria-Hungary bordered on the Balkan states and saw expansion into the Balkans as a natural progression. Unsuccessful in maintaining possession of Italian possessions and losing a major war to Otto von Bismarck's Prussia in 1866, the Habsburgs sought to incorporate the Balkan territories as part of the Empire. In 1856, Field Marshal Joseph Wenzel Radetsky offered a Memorandum to Emperor Franz Josef arguing that Bosnia and Hercegovina should be annexed as they abutted Dalmatia, a province under Austrian control. According to the British Annual register, Emperor Franz Josef thought that it was necessary "to accede to an occupation of Bosnia and Hercegovina, or even to press further south." This was based upon "first of all to his alliance with Germany, which while it lasts makes Austria unassailable; and secondly, to his reputation as a Habsburg who lost great provinces. He wants to die without having injured the grand estate of the House. There can be no objection in the West to his arrangement."
British and Austro-Hungarian commercial exploitation of the Balkans ensued after the weakening of the Ottoman Empire. Baron Moritz Hirsch in 1870 sought to build a railway line that would run from Istanbul to Philippopolis through Macedonia and Serbia and link up to Austria and Hungary. This venture was supported by Vienna-based banks. This was part of the Drang nach Osten, the march to the East, policies of Germany and Austria-Hungary. British exports to the Balkans increased greatly. So both Britain and Austria-Hungary wanted to exploit the resources of the Balkans. Bosnia-Hercegovina was rich in gold silver, lead, coal, and iron and iron ore mines, and had fir, beech, and oak trees in abundance. Sir Arthur Evans, on November 25, 1878, in the Manchester Guardian, wrote: "Surely foreign capital will come to your aid in developing the marvelous resources of the country as soon as they are generally known. English capital has only been deterred hitherto from working, for instance, the rich quicksilver mines of Kresevo by Turkish maladministration."
The gradual implosion and collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans created a power vacuum that the other imperialist powers sought to fill. Russia and Austria-Hungary were the major Great Powers that sought to fill the power vacuum in the Balkans. The expansion of Russian influence and control in the Balkans threatened to upset the imperialist balance of power maintained by Britain. The imperialism powers led by Britain had divided the globe into spheres of influence. By seeking to expand into the Balkans, Russian expansion became a vital security threat to the British Empire. Moreover, Germany had united in 1870 under the leadership of Otto von Bismarck. Germany became an industrial and military threat to British dominance, even challenging British naval supremacy. Germany and Austria-Hungary focused their foreign policies on southeastern Europe and Asia Minor, Drang nach Osten. The Balkans thus became a focal point of Great power/imperialist/colonial rivalries and competition.
The 1877-78 Russo-Turkish War resulted in the Russian military advance to the suburbs of Constantinople (Istanbul). To avoid the occupation of the city by Russian forces, the Ottoman Empire sued for peace. The treaty negotiations at San Stefano followed. The Treaty of San Stefano was concluded on March 3, 1878 in San Stefano (Yeilkoy) west of Istanbul. Under the treaty, the Ottoman Empire recognized the independence of Serbia and Montenegro and Romania and enlarged the territories of both Serbia and Montenegro. Bulgaria was recognized as an autonomous principality and Bulgarian territory was enlarged. Russia was ceded Armenian regions and Dobruja. A very large indemnity was also obtained from the Turks. The Ottoman Turks had to make reforms in Bosnia-Hercegovina. The treaty modified the terms of the Treaty of Paris of 1856 so an international conference was called between the great powers.
Disraeli reacted to the Treaty of San Stefano and the creation of a "Greater Bulgaria" by sending the British Fleet to the Sea of Marmora. Bulgarian gains meant that Russia would have a greater strategic presence in the Black Sea and would challenge British naval supremacy in the Mediterranean. Disraeli thus engaged in saber rattling and prepared for war with Russia in a replay of the Crimean War. At this point, Julius Andrassy, the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister, proposed that a European Congress be convened to comprehensively settle the Eastern Question. Under the terms of the 1856 Congress of Paris, any changes in the borders of Ottoman Turkey had to be effected with the common consent of the signers of the Paris Treaty.
The Congress of Berlin was convened on June 13, 1878 and lasted for one month, ending on July 13. Otto von Bismarck was the Chairman/President of the Congress and acted as "the honest broker" between the Great Powers, here, chiefly a conflict between Britain and Russia. The Congress met at Bismarck's official residence, the Radziwill Palace, located in the center of Berlin. The meeting room was on the first floor with a horseshoe table. The seven delegations met here. Joseph Maria von Radowitz was the Secretary of the Congress. The Congress was perceived as the "glittering reprise" of the Congress of Vienna in 1815 that established the 19^th century Concert of Europe or European balance of power following the Napoleonic Wars. Bismarck was seen as playing a similar role to that played by Clemens Metternich. The Congress followed the Congress of Paris in 1856 that ended the Crimean War and the failed Constantinople Conference in 1875-76 assembled to address the Great Eastern Crisis that emerged with the Serbian insurgency in Hercegovina and Bosnia.
The Congress of Berlin was in fact dominated by Benjamin Disraeli and Otto von Bismarck, Britain and Germany. The British delegation was headed by Disraeli, Lord Beaconsfield, and Lord Robert Cecil, Lord Salisbury. The Illustrated London News saw it as a conflict between "Bizzy and Dizzy", Bismarck and Disraeli. Bismarck was able to agree with Bismarck because both held similar political views about realpolitik/power politics and imperialism. Both had a self-interested, short term, narrow view of diplomacy. Both were cynical and opportunistic and saw power as the only criterion of diplomacy/politics. Bismarck maintained that "politics was the art of the possible." But both detested democracy and popular will and saw power as the factor that mattered. Bismarck stated: "The great questions of the day will not be decided by speeches and the resolutions of majorities...but by iron and blood." War and power were the only criteria that mattered. Bismarck and Disraeli were agreed on this. Bismarck said of Disraeli: "Der alte Jude, das ist der Mann" (The old Jew, that is the man). Prince Chlovis Hohenlohe, a member of Bismarck's staff, did not share this respect for Disraeli: "I really dislike him. A foul Jewface."
The Austro-Hungarian delegation was headed by the Habsburg Foreign Minister Julius Andrassy who was allied with Bismarck. The Russian delegation consisted of Russian Chancellor Prince Alexander Gorchakov and Count Peter Shouwaloff. The Turkish delegation was headed by Karatodori Pasha, a Greek Phanariot. His deputy was Mehemed Ali Pasha, a German whose real name was Karl Detroit. Ali Pasha was born in Brandenburg, Prussia, had deserted to Ottoman Turkey, converted to Islam, changed his name, and had risen in the Turkish military hierarchy. Ali Pasha had distinguished himself in the Serbian-Turkish War of 1876. The French delegation was headed by the French Foreign Minister William H. Waddington. The Greek delegation was led by Theodoros Delyiannis. A Romanian delegation was also allowed to make a presentation on July 1.
Serbia was explicitly excluded from the Congress of Berlin. Bismarck denied Jovan Ristic, the Foreign Minister of Serbia, access to the Congress. The only reason the Congress existed at all was because of the Serbian insurrection in Hercegovina and Bosnia in 1875 and the subsequent Serbian-Turkish War of 1876. The Serbian demands and interests were the raison d' etre of the Congress. But, ironically, Serbia and Serbian leaders were excluded from the Congress. Instead, Persia was allowed to send representatives to make a presentation at the Congress. Even the Peace Society was allowed to present a petition if it wanted to. The Montenegrin and Albanian representatives were similarly denied access to the Congress. This is not surprising because the peace conference had nothing to do with Serbia and the other Balkan peoples and states. The conference had nothing to do with Bosnia-Hercegovina and the Eastern Question. The Congress was concerned with realpolitik/power politics of the Great Powers, of the conflicting and competing imperialisms, of British imperialism versus German imperialism versus Russian imperialism versus Austro-Hungarian imperialism. The Great Powers were merely allocating the spoils of war amongst themselves. It had everything to do with imperialism and nothing to do with achieving peace or an equitable solution to the Eastern Question that would be fair to all the Balkan peoples and states, Serbia, Montenegro, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania, Greece, Bosnia-Hercegovina.
The Congress of Berlin in its 25 articles delineated the new borders in the Balkans and established spheres of influence for the competing imperialist powers, Britain, Russia, and Austria-Hungary. Serbia, Montenegro, and Romania were granted independence. The Greater Bulgaria of San Stefano was reduced to a principality of Bulgaria and a province of Eastern Rumelia. Macedonia and Thrace were returned to Turkey. Serbia gained territory by acquiring the Nis and Pirot regions. Montenegro obtained Antivari or Bar, an outlet to the Adriatic Sea, and territory south. In a secret convention of June 4, Disraeli obtained from Turkey an agreement which allowed the occupation and administration of Cyprus by British forces, a strategic island in the Mediterranean, which benefited Britain, an imperialist/colonial naval power.
The Serbian Orthodox populations of Hercegovina and Bosnia had precipitated the Great Eastern Crisis by the insurgency of 1875. They were the reason why the Congress existed at all. But they were totally ignored and dismissed at the Congress. They had no representatives. They did not matter. They were excluded. Vaso Vidovic and Colonel Mileta Despotovic, leaders of the Serbian insurgents/rebels in Bosnia-Hercegovina, came to Berlin for the Congress. Vidovic submitted a memorandum to the Congress "asking for the reunion of Bosnia with the Principality of Serbia or the introduction of an autonomous status under the sovereignty of the Porte." In a protocol of the petitions submitted to the Congress, the Vidovic memorandum was recorded under Number 12: "Mr. Widowitch and several other inhabitants of Bosnia" had submitted a memorandum. But no one at the Congress cared about Bosnian demands or desires. The memorandum was not even read at the Congress. Andrassy maintained that "decisions should in the first instance be based on geographical and strategical considerations, and only on ethnographical grounds if no other basis for decision could be found."
In addition to Bosnia-Hercegovina, the Austro-Hungarian Empire occupied the Sandzak of Novi Pazar, a strategic strip of territory established by the Ottoman Empire to divide Serbia from Montenegro and to create a route or corridor from Constantinople (Istanbul) to Bosnia-Hercegovina. Under Austro-Hungarian occupation, the Sandzak of Novi Pazar would serve the same strategic purpose: The Sandzak split up Serbia and Montenegro and created a passage from Bosnia to Asia Minor. Austria-Hungary obtained the Sandzak at the Congress of Berlin for a reason. The Sandzak was of paramount strategic significance. As long as an imperialist/colonial power occupied the Sandzak, access from Bosnia and the Adriatic Sea to Asia Minor and Constantinople/Istanbul was assured. Moreover, Serbia would be bottled up and deprived of access to the Adriatic through Montenegro. The population of the Sandzak was made up of Slavs who had converted to Islam and Serbian Orthodox Christians. The Ottoman Empire wanted Muslims in this strategic region to assure a population that was dependent on the Ottoman Turks and not hostile. Having non-Muslims in this area would be a threat because of the potential hostility of the population.
Both Britain and Germany jointly proposed that Austria-Hungary should occupy Bosnia-Hercegovina. Bismarck informed the Austrian government that Germany would militarily support Austria-Hungary: "We should arm ourselves before the Congress in order to be able to help you with arms in case of any resistance by Russia. Germany will help Austria-Hungary not only morally, but also with effective forces." A confrontation between Germany and Austria-Hungary with Russia over Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1878 foreshadowed the 1908 and 1914 crises that lead to World War I.
During the 19th century, British foreign policy sought to contain Russia and to secure strategic links to British imperial/colonial possessions in Asia and the Near East. The result was that Britain became an ally and partner of Ottoman Turkey. British policy sought to maintain the status quo in the Balkan Peninsula. This policy was in the best interests of British imperialism, which was the overriding concern in foreign relations. India was a major British colony. To safeguard the routes and sea lanes to India necessitated an alliance with Turkey. Furthermore, British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, who became Lord Beaconsfield, purchased from the Khedive of Egypt a majority of the shares of the Suez Canal Company, which meant that Britain was able to control the strategic choke point of the then newly constructed Suez Canal at Suez (As Suways), which opened a direct sea lane from the Mediterranean Sea through the Suez Canal to the Gulf of Suez to the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden to the Arabian Sea in the Indian Ocean. Moreover, the Royal Titles Bill made Queen Victoria the Empress of India at that time. The pre-eminence of India in British imperialism had repercussions for Serbia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, and Eastern Europe. Britain thus was committed to maintaining the status quo in the Balkans because of the increasing strategic importance of the Mediterranean.
The policy that guided British imperialism in Bosnia was legitimism, a conservative policy based in Conservatism, or Toryism. Legitimism dictated that Britain support the Ottoman Empire and oppose the insurgency in Bosnia-Hercegovina. The Liberals under William Gladstone opposed the anti-Slavic, anti-Orthodox, anti-Russian, anti-Serbian policy of Disraeli and the Tories. Disraeli maintained a pro-Ottoman Empire, pro-Turkish, pro-Muslim foreign policy. Such a policy would safeguard the status quo. Disraeli wrote in October 1, 1875:
Fancy autonomy for Bosnia, with a mixed population: autonomy for Ireland would be less absurd, for there are more Turks in proportion to Christians in Bosnia than Ulster v. the three other provinces.
Disraeli based his policy on an erroneous factual assumption. The population of Bosnia-Hercegovina was a majority Christian population, Orthodox and Roman Catholic, which in the official 1879 census were over 61% of the population. The Muslim population of Bosnia was 38.7%, most of whom were indigenous Slavs who had converted to Islam since the Ottoman occupation. Arthur Evans cited the official census reports for 1874 which showed a total population of the Vilajet of Bosnia, which included Hercegovina, of 1,216, 846, of whom 576,756 were "Christians of the Greek Church", Serbian Orthodox, 442,050 were Bosnian "Mussulmans", Muslims, and 185,503 were Roman Catholics, Croatians, 9,537 Gypsies, and 3,000 Jews. Thus, Disreali's foreign policy in Bosnia was founded in a glaring and obvious fallacy.
Disraeli opposed autonomy and land reform in Bosnia-Hercegovina because the precedent it would set would undermine British imperial control of Ireland and British colonial possessions globally. If Bosnia were to receive autonomy, why should Ireland be denied the same? Robert Seton-Watson explained Disraeli's motivations as follows:
Disraeli and Lord Derby opposed anything like full autonomy for Bosnia-Hercegovina and even the more modest reforms urged by Count Andrassy upon the Turks---and this not upon the merits of the case, but simply because they saw an analogy between the details of land reform in Bosnia and the demands put forward in Ireland and were afraid to create a precedent.
Disraeli opposed the enlargement of the territories of Serbia and Montenegro. Disraeli perceived the Balkans crises as a zero-sum equation pitting the interests of Britain and Russia. Any gain by Serbia and Montenegro was perceived by Disraeli as a gain for Russia, as a gain for Pan-Slavism, as a gain for Orthodoxy. Therefore, Disraeli opposed any changes in the status quo in the Balkans. Disraeli's policy was simple and straightforward. If Montenegro gained access to the Adriatic by acquiring territory, Disraeli saw this gain as one allowing Russia to establish a warm-water port in the Adriatic, thus threatening British naval dominance of the Mediterranean. Disraeli explained this policy as follows:
As for Montenegro, it has got about that Russia is intriguing for a port under the pretence of increasing the territory of Montenegro. No such thing: we renounce the idea. Montenegro need have no port, only a little garden to grow cabbages and potatoes.
Disraeli perceived the conflicts in the Balkans not as those of peoples seeking independence/autonomy from the Ottoman Empire, not as peoples seeking human and civil rights, not as peoples seeking to overthrow economic exploitation, but as the agitation of "secret societies". This policy is based in total and abject ignorance. The insurgency by the Serbian Orthodox population in Bosnia-Hercegovina that ignited the Balkan crises in 1875 was based not on the agitation of secret societies, but as a desperate measure on the part of the Serbian population to avoid starvation. The Serbian insurgency in Bosnia that started the crises was motivated by self-preservation, by a desire to prevent famine and hunger. The root cause of the Serbian insurgency in Hercegovina was Turkish economic exploitation through over-taxation. Disraeli myopically saw the work of secret societies in every development in the Balkan crises.
Prince Milan Obrenovic IV of Serbia and Prince Nicholas of Montenegro were under extreme domestic pressure to aid the Serbian Orthodox insurgents in Bosnia-Hercegovina. Serbia was an "autonomous principality" of the Ottoman Empire in 1875 as was Montenegro. Serbia and Montenegro ha achieved autonomy following the Russo-Turkish War of 1828-29. Milan Obrenovic became prince in 1868 and the king of Serbia in 1882, abdicating in 1889. Obrenovic opposed a war with the Ottoman Empire because Serbia lacked the military resources for such a conflict. But he faced domestic pressure to intervene. Following his return to Belgrade from Vienna in 1875, he was met by a large group of volunteers chanting: "Long live the Serbian King! To battle! At the Turks! Give us war!" The Omladina (Union of Serbian Youth) advocated self-determination and supported uprisings in the Balkans. Svetozar Markovic, who founded socialism in Serbia, advocated the creation of the zadruga or extended household as a system for society. Jovan Ristic argued that Serbia should be the Piedmont/Prussia for the other Balkan Slavs. Vladimir Jovanovic represented the liberals who argued that an Enlightenment approach should be followed. When Serbia declared war on the Ottoman Empire on June 30, 1876, Disraeli dismissed this as a measure of the secret societies:
Serbia declared war upon Turkey. That is to say, the secret societies of Europe declared war upon Turkey.
This view encapsulates succinctly the imperialist mindset of seeing people and nations as pawns in a larger game of imperial power plays. Disraeli perceived everything in the context of British imperialism. Whatever helped to increase British power, Disraeli supported. Whatever decreased British power, Disraeli opposed. On many occasions, his conclusions rested on inaccurate and patently false assumptions. Moreover, supporting the moribund Ottoman Empire, the "sick man of Europe", merely to bolster the British strategic position in the short term would have deleterious long term consequences. But this is the essence of the policy of realpolitik and power politics in general. A realpolitik/power politics paradigm is a short-term fix, a short-term compromise to maintain the status quo. Principles and long-range solutions are rejected. Realpolitik/power politics are inherently myopic and short-term accommodations. The goal is never to solve or resolve a political crisis. The goal is never a solution. The objective is to impose a short-term fix or ad hoc compromise. Invariably, realpolitik/power politics lead to further and subsequent wars. Realpolitik merely sows the seeds for future wars. The Congress of Berlin in 1878 set in motion the events that would emerge in the Great War in 1914, World War I, which in turn would lead to World War II.
Pan-Slavism emerged as an intellectual movement in the 17th century that called for the political and cultural unity of all Slavs. Pan-Slavism, influenced by nationalism and romanticism, reached its zenith during the 19^th century, at the time of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78. The Hetaira was an early secret society composed of Orthodox members from Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, and Romania, and supported by Russia which aimed at Slavic and Orthodox unity. The First Pan-Slav Congress was held in Prague presided over by Frantiek Palacky. Palacky, however, focused his efforts on Slavs in the Austro-Hungarian Empire and was anti-Russian. In Russia, Rotislav Andreyevich Fadeyev and Nikolai Yakovlevich Danilevsky were the major proponents of Pan-Slavism. Fadeyev argued that Russia should fight to obtain the independence of the Slavs from the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires. In Russia, the Obshchestva Soedinjenih Slovjan (Society of United Slavs), Kirilo-Metodiyevsko Bratstvo (Brotherhood of Cyril and Methodius), the Russian Populists, and the Slavophiles all supported Pan-Slavism. The Pan-Slav and Slavophile Movement was at its climax in Russia at the time of the 1875 Serbian insurgency in Bosnia-Hercegovina, the 1876 Serbian and Montenegrin war against Ottoman Turkey, and following the "Bulgarian atrocities", when approximately 15,000 Bulgarian Orthodox civilians were massacred by Muslim Turkish forces. Slavophilism and Pan-slavism dominated Russian literature, music, politics, and cultural life. Pytr Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed Marche Slave (Slavonic March), Op. 31, based on Serbian folk melodies, in 1876 for a Slavonic benefit concert during the war between Serbia and Turkey to aid Russian volunteers fighting in Serbia. Russian benevolent societies and the Russian Red Cross sent 360,000 roubles to the hundreds of thousands of Serbian Orthodox refugees from Bosnia-Hercegovina. Nikolai Pavlovich Ignatiev, who became the Russian consul in Istanbul in 1864, was the dominant Pan-Slavist figure in the Russian government. Ignatiev stated that "sooner or later ...Russia must fight Austria-Hungary for the first place in the Balkans and for the leadership of Slavdom: only for the attainment of this task should Russia make sacrifices for the Slavs under Austrian and Turkish rule and be solicitous for their freedom and growth in strength." Ignatiev was primarily motivated by a desire to advance Russian national interests. Humanitarian interests were secondary.
Before Serbia and Montenegro declared war on the Ottoman Empire in 1876, Russian General Mikhail Gregorovich Chernayev arrived in May along with 500 Russian volunteers. The total Serbian force consisted of 125,000 troops along with 700 Russian officers under the leadership of Chernayev. These troops lacked discipline, training, and morale. Moreover, the Tanzimat reforms had enabled the Turks to modernize their army with German-made Krupp field guns and Martini-Henry and Snider rifles. Serbian armaments were no match for these weapons. The Serb forces used the Peabody and Martin rifles which were unreliable. Russia did not provide weapons for the Serbian forces because there was ambiguity within the Russian leadership. Czar Alexander II (1855-1881) and his foreign minister Prince Alexander Mikhailovich Gorchakov perceived Pan-Slavism as a grass-roots/populist movement that they could not control. Pan-Slavism offered a parallel foreign policy that conflicted with the policy of the Russian government. But like Obrenovic and Nicholas, Alexander and Gorchakov succumbed reluctantly to intense domestic pressure to act. The Montenegrin forces were able to move into Hercegovina and engage the Turkish forces, but the Serb forces were unable to cross into Bosnia. The Serbian attack with 68,000 troops on the Turkish garrison at Nis failed. After the Battle of Aleksinac on September 1, the Ottoman forces under Omer Pasha emerged victorious and had an open path to Belgrade. Russia then presented an ultimatum threatening intervention which resulted in an armistice signed on October 31. On March 1, 1877, Serbia and Turkey signed an armistice restoring the status quo. Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire on April 24, 1877, followed in December by Serbia and Montenegro.
Nationalism and romanticism in the 19^th century were dominant intellectual trends. German philosopher J.G. Herder defined the essence of national identity to be a shared language and culture. In other words, ethnic identity, i.e., "blood", was the defining element. This is the essence of 19^th century nationalism. The antithesis to this model defined national identity as merely belonging to a particular political entity or state, regardless of religion, ethnic background, or culture. Adam Czartoryski, a former foreign minister to Russian Czar Alexander I, argued that independent Slavic states should be created in the Balkans under Russian protection. Serbia "should be the legitimate banner of all South Slavs, the center around which all others should gather." He had contact with Ilija Gerasanin, an influential Serbian statesman, who he advised to rely on Britain to achieve national unity and independence. Russia and Austria were to be avoided "because the patron might become easily the master." Czartoryski was apprehensive of Russian dominance and imperialist expansion in the Balkans under the cover of Pan-Slavism. He advised Gerasanin to establish secret societies in the South Slav provinces under the control of poverenici ("men of trust") who would organize when the Ottoman Empire collapsed. In 1844, Gerasanin published Nacertanije which outlined his position on foreign policy. He envisioned unity only of Serbs, a Pan-Serbian nationalism, that would unite all the Serbian Orthodox populations of the Balkans into a single state. His focus was on Bosnia-Hercegovina which he sought to incorporate into a Pan-Serbian state, a Greater Serbian state. Moreover, Gerasanin maintained that an alliance was possible with Russia against the Ottoman Empire and Austria. Croatian Roman Catholic Bishop Josip Strossmayer was a proponent of South Slav unity and argued for the creation of a Yugoslav state.
In January, 1877, Russia reached an agreement with Austria-Hungary, the Budapest Convention, that stipulated that Austria-Hungary would remain neutral in a war between Russian and Ottoman Turkey but in exchange would receive the right to occupy Bosnia-Hercegovina. Russia signed a military convention with Romania to obtain access to Romanian territory to launch an invasion of Turkey. On April 24, 1877, Russia declared war on Turkey. Russian General Eduard Totleben planned the siege of Plevna (Pleven) in northern Bulgaria which was besieged by Russian, Romanian, Serbian, and Montenegrin troops for four months. The Russian capture of Plevna broke the back of the Turkish army and allowed the Russian forces along with Bulgarian volunteers to advance to the suburbs of Constantinople (Istanbul). Fearing the impending fall of the city to Russian troops, the Ottoman Empire sued for peace. The Treaty of San Stefano resulted. Due to British pressure and a British threat of war against Russia, the Congress of Berlin was convened on June 13, 1878.
British power and dominance in the mid-19th century was based upon several factors, one of the key factors being economic power. As David Thomson noted in England in the Nineteenth Century, "the immense resources of economic power which Britain discovered during the period naturally exalted her position and importance in international affairs." Britain was at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution which meant that as a nation Britain had the material resources to become a great power. In 1769, Richard Arkwright constructed a spinning machine, the water frame, which resulted in large cotton mills and the emergence of the factory system, an important first step in the Industrial Revolution. Cotton textile mills were a major industry in this early period. Massive cotton textile mills were established requiring a large work-force. The work-force came from the agrarian sector, former farmers who flocked to the cities to work at the mills. The invention of the steam engine in 1769 by James Watt was a further boost. Because Britain had large resources of coal and iron, these technological advances could be quickly exploited and utilized. Roads and canals were built. Britain pioneered the railroad system and the steamship. The geographical terrain of Britain was an advantage because Britain was a compact island nation allowing the interconnection of the entire country. Industrialization transformed traditional society from one based upon agriculture to one based upon large urban centers and the factories of these massive cities. London became a massive metropolis, the largest city in the world. Other British cities as well swelled in population as agricultural laborers became factory workers. In 1851, London had a population of 2.3 million, which in 1880 rose to 3.8 million. Greater London, the London metropolitan area, had a population of 4.7 million. By 1901, metro London had a population of 6.6 million. Industrialization, the emergence of a factory system with an urban workforce relying on technological advancements, transformed Britain into a "modern state", before any of the other global powers.
Industrialization led to progress and prosperity. The Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851 symbolized this era of progress and technological achievement. By 1850, Britain was producing about 40% of all the manufactured goods, 50% of all the cotton, 60% of all the coal. By 1870, 50% of all the coal and 50% of all merchant ships were produced in Britain. Britain not only was out-producing most of the nations of the world, but had a head-start in the this process. The Industrial Revolution began in about 1750 in Britain, but only in 1830 in France, 1850 in the German states, and after the civil war (circa 1865) in the United States. It would only be after 1870, in fact, following German unification and the Reconstruction period in the U.S., that Britain would be seriously challenged on the economic and industrial output front. Then British weaknesses would surface and Germany and the U.S. would gradually overtake Britain. Nevertheless, for most of the 19th century, up until the later part of the century, Britain would remain the unchallenged leader in economic progress and industrial output.
The Victorian Age is characterized as the age of progress and prosperity. Britain achieved spectacular advances in all phases of economic development. As an island nation, shipbuilding was always a key industry. But during the Victorian period, the British navy and merchant ships became unchallenged. Britain ruled the waves, controlled the seas. For global empire and geopolitical power, this ingredient was all-important. Control of the seas allowed Britain to expand her powers globally. To be sure, naval power has been an essential element of all empires from Roman to Phoenician to Spanish and French. To become a global empire, a power had to traverse the seas. During the Victorian era, however, Britain was able to take advantage of this supreme and unchallenged sea power to gain global dominance, "the sun never sets on the British Empire". Britain had a relatively small population and geographical base with a limited resource base. Technological advancement and control of the seas, however, allowed Britain to overcome these severe handicaps and to project her power globally without challenge for most of the Victorian age.
A Pax Britannica (British peace) emerged during the 19^th century wherein Britain dominated the political scene for most of the century throughout the world. As Lord Henry Palmerston noted, however, much of this power was based upon image or prestige: "What a power of prestige Britain possesses abroad." Britain lacked the manpower and territory to overpower major adversaries. Instead, Britain relied on a "balance of power" strategy which through alliances and political arrangements prevented any one power from challenging Britain. British policy in Europe was based upon the strategy of preventing one power from dominating the continent. Russian expansion into the Balkans and the Mediterranean was a key concern of British foreign policy. This necessitated an alliance with the Ottoman Turkish Empire and Austria. The Balkans became an important focus of British foreign policy. Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Bosnia-Hercegovina now became the focal points of British policy. To prevent Russia from threatening the British trade routes in the Near East and the British sea lanes to India and Asia, in 1854 Britain entered a war against Russia, the Crimean War, allied with Turkey and France and Sardinia. The Crimean War exposed the weaknesses of British power, showing that, indeed, in many ways it was more mythic than real.
The Crimean War originated in a dispute between Russia and France over control of the Holy places in Jerusalem, then the capital of Palestine. The conflict began as a religious dispute between Roman Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy. France was perceived as the protector of Roman Catholicism while Russia was perceived as the protector of Greek Orthodoxy. In 1852, France obtained from Turkish Sultan Abd al-Majid privileges for the Roman Catholic Churches in Palestine. In 1853, Turkey turned down a similar request by Russia to obtain privileges for the Orthodox Churches. In May, 1853, Czar Nicholas demanded that the Turks should grant him authority over the Jerusalem monks and the 10 million Greek Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire. In July, Russian troops then occupied Moldavia and Wallachia, the "Danubian provinces", in the Balkans. In October, the Ottoman Turks declared war on Russia. Britain and France declared war on Russia in March, 1854, while the Kingdom of Sardinia declared war on January, 1855. Thus, Britain, France, Ottoman Turkey, and Sardinia were at war with Russia. Austria-Hungary was neutral but threatened to declare war on Russia and assist the Ottoman Turks which forced the Russian forces to withdraw from Moldavia and Wallachia. On August, 1854, Austrian troops occupied Wallachia and Moldavia. In September, 1854, British and French troops landed in Crimea with the objective to capture the strategic port of Sevastopol. Russian commander Eduard Ivanovich Totleben created a system of fortifications that allowed the city to withstand a year-long siege that decimated the British forces. The British commander Lord Fitzroy Raglan died of disease in 1855 before the end of the war. The British were able to occupy Balaklava and Inkerman in 1854 and then Malakhov and Redan. The Russian forces were able to occupy Kars. By September, 1855, Sevastopol was occupied by British forces. The fall of Sevastopol resulted in peace negotiations and the Treaty of Paris in 1856. The Crimean War destroyed relations between Russia and Austria and would set in motion the rivalry in the Balkans that would lead to World War I.
First of all, the Crimean war showed that Britain lacked an experienced, battle-tested land army. The British army was undisciplined, not highly trained, and lacking a military tradition of competence, such as existed in Prussia and France. Moreover, the soldiers were recruits and the military commanders were mostly aristocrats who bought their positions with money rather than achieving them through merit or achievement. In addition, Britain could not mobilize a mass army and lacked the overwhelming military expertise to wage war on all terrains. In short, the war revealed the British army to be ill-prepared for a major war. During the war, over 26,000 British troops were estimated to have been killed. The result was inconclusive, and as David Thomson noted, the only major result of the war was to forestall the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire for several decades more. The Crimean War revealed Britain to be an economic and social power, but a rather weak military power. During this period, the entire British army consisted of 140,000 soldiers, a fourth to a third of which were stationed in India. Thus, after the Crimean debacle, Britain avoided major military engagements with the major powers, relying instead on the strategies of balance of power and spheres of influence to exert her global geopolitical power and influence. Maintaining a balance of power in Europe became all-encompassing. The major threat was from Russian expansion into the Balkans and the Straits. Thus, the Balkans assumed greater importance in British foreign policy. The period that resulted was termed the era of "splendid isolation" wherein Britain avoided major conflicts.
A real source of British power was free trade and laissez-faire capitalism. Britain was pre-eminent in "invisible exports", services, insurance, shipping, banking, financing, and capital. British financial and economic investment in the US became crucial for US development. A free trade zone with France was also established. The Navigation Acts of 1848-49 abolished monopolies which resulted in increased economic expansion. Growth in real worth rose by 35%. Due to advances in agricultural technology, fertilizers, crop yields expanded exponentially, resulting in a "consumer society". City lighting systems were built, as were sewage systems, paved roads, and gas lighting. Railroads and steamships emerged on a vast scale. In 1850, 67 million passenger miles were traversed by trains; by, 1870, the figure rose to 500 million miles. In 1850, 54% of the population lived in cities; by 1870, 70% lived in cities. >From a social standpoint, or what in political science is termed modernization or development, Britain was way ahead of the pack, the other nations of the world. Britain was the first to modernize, to achieve an industrial, urbanized society that we have come to know today as the first world capitalist democracies. This power was real and not mythic. Of course, these developments had a negative side, the creation of slums, of mass poverty, the boom and bust cycle, urban alienation, a class of poor and impoverished. Charles Dickens presented a negative side to this age of progress and prosperity in Bleak House (1853) and A Christmas Carol (1843) wherein Dickens addressed the issues of urban alienation and the poverty and lack of individualism that resulted from Industrialization. In A Christmas Carol, Dickens attacked a society that had rejected individualism and the worth of the individual, a society concerned for the "general good" while sacrificing those unfit to compete, a world of survival of the fittest where the weak had no place. Ebenezer Scrooge is a caricature of the British financier of this age, unconcerned for human consequences, but guided by immutable economic laws as espoused by David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus, and Adam Smith. In Bleak House, Dickens showed how inequality and corruption were prevalent in this era of progress. Progress created its own unique problems, such as widespread poverty, alienation, and displacement. Dickens himself had to work as a child laborer after his father was thrown into a debtor's prison and so experienced first hand the dehumanization of the work/poor houses and of poverty. Free trade, a laissez-faire economy produced winners and losers in a survival of the fittest. Britain experienced first this byproduct of modernization and Dickens enshrined it for posterity in the classic A Christmas Carol, a masterful encapsulation of this dichotomy between progress/modernization and the human costs it necessarily entails.
A real source of British power has always been overseas colonial possessions. The major development during the Victorian era was the notion of a commonwealth or dominion status for the colonies. From a free trade point of view, this was a crucial development. As we have seen, Britain lacked the overwhelming military power to impose her will globally. Through economic power, through free trade and commerce, Britain could achieve this global dominance by other means, without a military presence. The evolution of the "white dominions" or "crown colonies" meant that Britain now had stable trading partners across the globe who spoke English and had the same core values as the mother country. But most importantly, the commonwealth arrangement meant that Britain did not have to militarily control these regions. Britain only needed to exercise a strategic naval presence. The balance of power theory and the spheres of influence doctrine would do the rest. For most of the Victorian period, this formula worked. It would collapse in the 20th century, however. The establishment of the crown colonies of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the special relationship with the US, where British investment was all-important, was a real source of power for Britain, a naval power unchallenged throughout the period. This aspect of British power cannot be underestimated. This led in large part to what Palmerston called Britain's "power of prestige abroad" It created a community of like-minded, English speaking nations and regions with the same core values. Indeed, much of these lands were settled by Britons. Australia, much of Canada, parts of South Africa, New Zealand, North America, were new frontiers for British settlers, who transformed their new environments based on the British model. From an economic and strategic point of view, it meant that Britain would always have trade partners and strategic allies in any political conflict. This meant that Britain could always count on these former colonies for commerce or military advantage. During World Wars I and II and the Cold War Britain was buttressed by these commonwealth nations and colonies. In the Victorian age, it meant that Britain could project her power globally and be truly a global power. In India, by contrast, British power was more mythic than real because in India Britain was in many ways a traditional colonial occupier of a foreign peoples and foreign land which lacked core values and a common identity. But nevertheless Britain was able to project her power in India. The benefits were mostly commercial. Thus, the crown colonies were a source of British power during the Victorian era because they allowed Britain to maintain markets and to project the principles of free trade and capitalism around the globe.
From a political standpoint, an important source of British power is the British political system and the principle of Liberalism. Liberalism, which cut across national lines, advocated a free market, laissez-faire economy, freedom for the individual, democratic institutions, and a gradual reform of social and political institutions. Liberalism, which grew out of the Whig movement, provided political stability in Britain and the ideal climate for capitalist growth and expansion. Gradual and evolutionary reform measures allowed the British polity to evolve and grow while preventing cataclysms which would endanger the progress already achieved. To be sure, England had by the beginning of the 19th century already achieved political institutions which were envied, copied, and regarded as the epitome of political development. From the Magna Carta (1215) to the Glorious Revolution, England had achieved what few nations had achieved, a political system that was stable and moderate. So, in conjunction with economic modernization, Britain also had achieved political modernization, that is, institutions of political governance which were second to none and which were regarded by political theorists as the most advanced. This political modernity was a real source of British power. Britain remained politically stable and allowed a democratic system of governance to gradually evolve and progress and prosper. This political core of modernity was essential in keeping British society stable during the massive transformations of the age of Industrialization and Imperialism. Few nations have been able to achieve the relative political stability that Victorian Britain was able to achieve. Liberalism and British political institutions were a source of real power.
What about the much vaunted British Imperialism of the Victorian Age? As Ronald Robinson and John Gallagher noted in Africa and the Victorians (1961), British colonialism in Africa was of a negative nature and was superficial, "an empty and theoretical expansion".
Robinson and Gallagher noted the following sources of British power during the Victorian age: 1) British sea power; 2) economic power; and, 3) lack of foreign competitors.
The so-called scramble for Africa resulted because Britain sought to defend her free trade interests in Africa from foreign competition, from France and the emerging Germany, rather than a desire to open up new markets or to occupy the continent on the model of North Africa. The scramble for Africa was indeed a "creeping colonialism", a "fit of absent-mindedness." Free trade and the need to defend it drove British Imperialism. The missionary, civilizing, and expansionist goals were mostly ex post facto rationalizations. Rudyard Kipling harangued Americans and Britons to "take up the White Man's burden" in 1899, to civilize and bring progress to a backward and inferior people but it was free trade and laissez-faire commerce which drove the imperialist agenda. Racism and chauvinism provided the rationale and ideology. Like the Opium Wars in China, trade and markets were the goals. The scramble for Africa resulted when Britain occupied Egypt, disturbing the fragile balance with France. France perceived this British move as a threat and so France began to establish spheres of influence in Africa to counter the British presence. This resulted in a rivalry that was fueled by trade and commerce which initially involved only Britain and France. Later Germany and the other European powers became involved in the scramble, such as Belgium, and Portugal. The scramble for Africa was a negative reaction to competition from France and the other powers and did not represent a new, positive quest for territorial conquest and acquisition. British power in Africa was more mythic than real.
In conclusion, we have seen that British power in the 19th century was based on economic power primarily, with the emergence of the industrial Revolution in Britain. The factory system and technological developments such as the invention of the steam engine and the development of railroads and steamships allowed Britain to "modernize" first, before any other nation. This modernization resulted in a massive urbanization and the development of the modern city and urban infrastructure of modern nation-states. This resulted in a large workforce which could exploit the natural resources of the territory and could produce man-made goods. Progress and prosperity as we understand those terms today was the end result. Modernization brought wealth to many and prosperity to many more and generally a betterment in the human condition and an increase in the standard of living. But poverty, displacement, slums, pollution, alienation also resulted. Britain became the dominant industrial nation in the world. Through laissez-faire capitalism and free trade commerce, Britain became the most powerful nation in the world. The Crimean War, however, exposed the severe limitations to this power. Britain lacked the military strength to impose her will and lacked the population and resource and land base to overwhelm competing powers. As other nations modernized, like the US, France, and Germany, British power declined. Throughout the Victorian period, Britain relied on a system of congresses, the 1856 Congress of Paris following the Crimean War, the 1878 Congress of Berlin following the Serbian-Turkish War of 1876 and the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, and alliances, and the balance of power and sphere of influence doctrines to maintain her power, "a power of prestige abroad". Through massive naval superiority, Britain was able to dominate the commerce of the globe. British dominions and crown colonies were a further source of British strength and power overseas. Moreover, Liberalism and the political traditions of Britain were a source of tremendous power because they provided political stability, essential to all business and financial enterprises. By taking advantage of these strengths, Britain was able to create a global empire unrivalled in modern times. Some of this power was mythic, the power of prestige, but much of it was also real.
Victorian Britain at mid-19th century was at its peak of power. The Crystal Palace of 1851 was the symbol of this apex of British power and the triumph of Victorian ideals. The Crystal Palace is significant because it epitomized the Victorian Age, the age of progress, the triumph of free trade capitalism, of laissez-faire economics, a triumph of all the values of the Victorian Age. The Crystal Palace reflected an essentially materialistic, capitalistic, and survival of the fittest economic mentality. The benefits of free trade were emphasized; the human costs of free trade and of progress were ignored. Progress created wealth but it also created poverty and slums. Progress created congested, polluted urban centers like London and Glasgow. Shortages in housing resulted, unemployment resulted. Along with prosperity came impoverishment and misery. The environment was devastated, there were no safety standards and many suffered from work-related diseases such as black lung. Urbanization led to overcrowding and the emergence of poverty-stricken slums. Food became cheaper but was increasingly adulterated. Moreover, urbanization resulted in what Emile Durkheim termed anomie, a lack of purpose, identity, or ethical values, a rootlessness, a lack of connection. City dwellers were overcome with an anxiety of alienation, of atomism. Progress brought a profound ontological change. Before Industrialization, before the emergence of large, urban centers, society was well-established and rigidly fixed and determined. One knew one's place in society and one's goal in life. Almost everyone lived a life in the village and its surroundings, rarely going outside this region in an entire lifetime. Industrialization brought mass transportation and urbanization and mass communication and massive displacement. One no longer knew one's place. A person became rootless and alienated from his comfort zone. Exploitation was thereby made easier and economic exploitation did result. Thus, while the Victorian age was an age of progress, it produced inequality and imbalances in society, the poor and the working classes.
By mid-19th century, Britain was on the whole experiencing prosperity and peace at home and abroad. The Irish Famine of 1845-49, however, devastated Ireland. The Crimean War was a disastrous war for Britain. The Congress of Paris in 1856 and the Congress of Berlin in 1878 were perceived as diplomatic triumphs for Britain. This was the period, however, when national programs and national ideas emerged, when national figures like Palmerston, Disraeli and Gladstone emerged. This period saw the emergence of nationalism, liberalism, and socialism. The values of liberalism were triumphant in this era. Liberalism was based on the notion of gradual and evolutionary reform and change and in a free trade, laissez faire approach to economics and a commitment to democracy and the freedoms of the individual. A liberal society emerged, relying on the "politics of consensus". During much of the 1850s, agriculture was in a boom time. The British reform movements proved to be resilient as well.
Britain was regarded as the most bourgeois of all countries, where the working class strove to become middle class and importantly, where class movement was possible, where one could better oneself; social mobility was possible. This period also saw the emergence of the trade movement, with the creation of the Consumer's Cooperative Movement in 1844. By the 1840s trade unions were on the move. Later, the New Model Trade Unions would emerge.
The mill owner Robert Owen experimented with Utopian Socialism, and is regarded as the father of English Socialism. Owen sought to replace competition with cooperation. At New Lanark, Owen sought to establish the policy/doctrine that by treating a worker well, the employer would ultimately benefit as well. Owen's Utopian measures for the most part failed. He even established a experimental factory in the US, in Indiana, called new Harmony, which also failed.
The new trade union movement was led primarily by artisans, skilled workers, the "aristocracy of labor". The average working man and woman benefited from the reform measures only in a limited degree. But because class mobility was less rigid in Britain than in other countries, the relationship was less explosive, more stable than elsewhere. The working class of Britain, like elsewhere however, was on the bottom of the social scale. The repeal of the Corn Laws in 1848 eased the plight of the workers somewhat but fundamentally his position remained the same.
In foreign policy, at mid-century Britain was at the height of her power. Of all British trade, 60% was non-European, mainly with British colonies. The British navy was supreme; there were no challengers to British naval supremacy. This meant that Britain controlled the trade routes for most of the world and could easily land troops at strategic points around the globe. The Straits, the Black Sea, and the Mediterranean became key strategic areas. The Balkans became more important in British foreign policy. Britain had a small army, not over 140,000. From 1840-42, Britain fought a series of wars against China destroying the Chinese navy and creating five treaty ports, Hong Kong and Shanghai being the most important. Free trade and the securing of markets drove this fit of British imperialism. The Opium War began when the Chinese seized and destroyed 20,000 containers of opium that British traders had brought in. British forces had exacerbated tensions by the refusal to turn over a British sailor who had killed a Chinese citizen. William Gladstone characterized the Opium War as follows: "A war more unjust in its origin, a war more calculated to cover this country with permanent disgrace, I do not know." The goal of the Opium War was to open Chinese ports to British trade. Britain followed a balance of power policy with respect to continental Europe. Britain was at the peak of its power by mid-century with no competitors to speak of.
On the home front, stability was never in question for the following reasons: 1) tradition of liberalism; 2) British political institutions; 3) class mobility; 4) a commitment to evolutionary and gradual reform. British institutions created a stable polity. As long as the polity remained committed to gradual reform, and "fabianism", it would never get to the point of revolution. Was this the "Age of Equipoise", of balance and stability, of equilibrium? To be sure, there was no absolute equality and a class structure remained in place and the British working class had to battle for reform legislation. But Britain never approached the point of disequilibrium where a revolution was possible. Why? Because Britain had so many safety nets. Those disenchanted could first of all, leave Britain, for America, Canada, Australia, as millions did. This was an important safety valve. Moreover, British political institutions were amenable to change and reform, at a gradual pace, at an evolutionary pace, which precluded the need or justification for violence. The tradition of Liberalism, with its goals of democratization and the freedom of the individual, greatly eased any tensions because Liberalism favored a gradual, evolutionary process of change and social adjustment. Economic prosperity tended to assuage many of the social ills of industrialization. Nevertheless, the negative effects of industrialization and urbanization were real. But Socialism and any revolutionary movement failed in Britain for the abovementioned reasons. The British tradition of moderation and gradual, evolutionary change played no small part. British political institutions were also important in establishing and maintaining a equipoise in British society.
At mid-19th century, Britain was at the peak of her power. An imperfect equipoise did result, a balance did emerge, although imperfect. Such an equipoise would probably not be possible in any other country because most countries lacked the political institutions of Great Britain, which fostered stability, and because Britain had many safety valves, such as settlement abroad. By mid-century, the British achievement was spectacular, and while imperfect, no other country could achieve such a balance at that time.
Take up the White Man's burden--
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go, bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait, in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild--
Your new-caught, sullen peoples
Half-devil and half-child.
---Rudyard Kipling, "The White Man's Burden" (1899)
We don't want to fight, but, by jingo, if we do, we've got the ships, we've got the men, we've got the money, too.
---anti-Russian British music-hall song, 1878 They shall not have Constantinople!
---British music-hall song
A key feature of British history has been imperialism, foreign expansion, colonization, settlement, and control of lands and territories outside of Great Britain itself. Like many of the Western European powers, Britain became an imperial power, indeed, one of the most important imperial powers of the modern period. Historians have analyzed British imperialism using varying paradigms and epistemological approaches and methodologies and perspectives. The period of the "new imperialism" of the late 19th century has been explained and analyzed using varying perspectives and examining differing aspects of the phenomenon.
The new imperialism has been explained as a defensive reaction to protect British national security and free trade and nothing more. The new imperialism has been seen as an apotheosis of British history and which would culminate in the creation of a Greater Britain, a single nation made up of all the English nations. The Age of Imperialism has been seen as a period of racist nationalism, of the emergence of an imperialistic ideology based in Social Darwinism. Imperialism was seen as the "white man's burden", the mission of America and Europe to "civilize" and "modernize" the globe. Finally, imperialism was seen as merely an auxiliary of British foreign policy, not an apotheosis, but merely a continuation of foreign policy by other means, a method by which an advanced nation interacted with backward or undeveloped nations. British imperialism during the period of the "new imperialism" was made up of all these varied aspects. British imperialism was motivated by free trade but also by ideology and broader political, social, and military concerns. Needless to say, at times, it was motivated by moral concerns, such as the time of the Great Eastern Crisis of the Eastern Question, when the Serbian Orthodox population of Hercegovina revolted against abuses by Ottoman landowners and the massacres of unarmed Serbian civilians, when reports of "Bulgarian atrocities", the massacres of up to 15,000 Bulgarian Orthodox civilians by Ottoman Muslim basi-bazouks, created an anti-Turkish backlash and a change in foreign policy. Imperialism is a complex phenomenon which cannot be explained by a catchphrase. We can analyze various aspects of imperialism to gain a greater understanding of the whole, but the subject is inexhaustible. Nevertheless, the picture that emerges from examining differing aspects does lead to a greater understanding of the subject.
In 1883, at the height of the "new imperialism", Sir John Robert Seeley (1834-1895) published a highly influential and popular analysis of British imperialism entitled The Expansion of Britain, consisting of lectures which were given at Cambridge during the 1881-1882 school year and delivered to undergrads. The book sold 80,000 copies in its first two years and remained in print until 1956. The book was popular with the "new imperialists" of the period, such as Joseph Chamberlain and Cecil Rhodes. The Expansion of Britain was published at the height of the "new imperialism", at the time of the "scramble for Africa", and seeks to re-evaluate British imperial history. Seeley sought to define the goals of history and the purpose of the historian. Seeley sought to find "some meaning" in history, a "conclusion to which it leads." Seeley shared the Victorian idea of progress, "the idea of development...movement is progressive, that is toward something better."
For Seeley, history not only has a meaning and a purpose or end to which it evolves, but moreover, "history has to do with the State." An individual is only important in history to the extent that he is connected to the events of the State. Seeley's analysis relies on German political theory of the early 19th century to examine British imperial history. One can detect the influence of G.W.F. Hegel's The Philosophy of Right (1821) which postulates the theory that the State represents the highest development of a people and it is through the State that a people can achieve its positive development. Loosely translated, Hegel's role of the state is explained as follows: "The march of God in the world, that is what the State is." Only on page 19 does Seeley acknowledge that he is using a Hegelian paradigm or system of analysis. Moreover, in addition to writing Ecco Homo, Seeley also wrote a biography of Karl Stein, one of the most important political figures in the emerging Prussian state of the early 19th century. Stein was a reformer who transformed the Prussian state, making the state the primary vehicle for advancing the interests of a people.
Seeley maintains that Britain acquired her empire in "a fit of absence of mind": "We seem, as it were, to have conquered and peopled half the world in a fit of absence of mind." He distinguishes the British Empire from the Roman and Turkish by stating that the British is "on the main not founded on conquest." Seeley sees the British Empire as a creation of Greater Britain, that Britain is different from all previous empires in that Britain has settled its colonies or possessions with "Englishmen", while earlier empires only conquered, for the most part, native subjects. Seeley bases this view on the idea that the British Empire, with some exceptions, such as India, is a "Nation" and not a "state" ruling colonies. Seeley's notion has affinities to the German volkisch concept, the idea that the British colonies are peopled by "Englishmen", of like blood, of like values, of like religion, etc. Of course, this view minimizes the differences of "Englishmen", the Anglo-Saxon vs. Gaelic, the Protestant vs. Roman Catholic, etc. Seeley, however, argues for the creation of a Greater Britain which would seek to maintain a unity with the "white dominions", the crown colonies, a unity seen as "one nation", as "one state", and not as previous historians of British imperialism have seen it, as one state, Great Britain, ruling colonies and possessions. The English Empire is not made up of "alien nationalities" for the most part, according to Seeley, but is "in the main...English throughout." From here, Seeley argues that Britain should take advantage of this strength of homogeneity by creating a Greater Britain, a Britain which would incorporate all the so-called colonies into one nation, one state. Britain has the three attributes needed to hold a community together, common nationality, common religion, and common interest. Therefore, a Greater Britain should be the goal of British foreign policy and a way to look at British imperialism is as the creation of a Greater Britain, and not, as previous imperialist historiography as perceived the issue, as one of a single imperial state ruling colonies. Seeley thus attacks the traditional empirical paradigm in British historiography. He also attacks the historical methodologies of Thomas Macaulay and Thomas Carlyle and the "bombastic theory of empire", the uncritical, jingoistic theory of empire popular at the time. To be sure, the Greater Britain concept did not originate with Seeley, but he most forcefully and cogently enunciated the view at that time. But Seeley offered a novel approach to imperialism.
Traditional British and continental ideas of imperialism followed a clear path from Greek through Roman and then through medieval times. The traditional view of imperialism is expressed by the French economist A.R.J. Turgot, who stated that "colonies are like fruits which only cling till they ripen." The analogy is of a grown up son who leaves the parental household. This was how imperialism was explained from the Greek city-states to the 19th century. The Greeks believed that communities became unmanageable when they became too large, thus, the city-state was the ideal pattern. Seeley, however, argues that the "modern idea" is that "people of one nation, speaking one language, ought in general to have one government." He states that "where Englishmen are there is England..." Seeley looked at the United States and at Russia and concluded that large states were not only possible, but that indeed, they were the trend of the future, they represented political modernity. In opposition to Turgot's analogy of the ripe fruit falling from the tree, Seeley offers his own analogy, of an acorn that grows into a massive oak with innumerable branches and leaves. The philosophy Seeley uses to buttress this view is derived from Hegel's Philosophy of Right and other German political thinking, although this influence is nowhere acknowledged in the text, with the exception of a passing reference on page 119:
Hegel described the history of the world as a gradual development of human free will. According to him there are some states in which only one man is free, others in which a few free, others in which many.... [N]o one would hesitate to put this very large state, the United States,...as being beyond question the state in which free will is most active and alive in every individual.
Seeley saw the U.S. and Russia as models for Greater Britain and proof that large states were possible and that the Greek city-state notion was not accurate in the modern age. Seeley thought the state could keep this large nation together, "state" being defined in the German philosophical tradition, such as by Hegel. This is what Seeley has in mind. He echoes Hegel when he states that "it is with the rise and development of states that history deals...the State is capable of indefinite growth and expansion." The emergence of electricity and steam power were also seen making large states possible. With modern technology, large states were possible. But for Seeley, a Greater Britain was possible only if Britons reconceptualized the issue of imperialism, only if they saw imperialism from a different perspective. Britons must see Russia and the U.S. as "vast states of the new type", federal states, which were all tied together by a strong State. Seeley states that the "old utopia" of a Greater Britain is not only possible, but that it is almost necessary to realize. Britons should see the British Empire as "a vast English nation", and not as an "Empire", according to Seeley. India he regards as the exception. India does not meet his criteria of common nationality, religion, and common interest. India, then, he regards as a traditional colony.
In his second series of lectures, Seeley analyzes India. "Our acquisition of India was made blindly," Seeley stated. "Our object was trade." Seeley sees India as a traditional colony which had value for Britain mainly as a commercial venture. Seeley recounts how the East India Company eventually grew to prominence in India and how it came to virtually rule all of India with the aid of an indigenous army. Seeley thus excludes India from a Greater Britain. He rejects the "bombastic and pessimistic schools" regarding the British Empire. He rejects the uncritical jingoism of the bombastic school which seeks to maintain the Empire at any cost "as a point of honour or sentiment." He also rejects the pessimistic school which seeks to totally dismantle the empire because it is "founded on aggression and rapacity...a kind of excrescence upon England." He sees India as a land of many nations, many religions, many cultures. Once a collective national identity emerges in India, the British would not be popular there. Seeley correctly warns that the emergence of a united nationalist consciousness would spell disaster for Britain in India. That would be the time to leave India. Moreover, Britons should watch for that time and when it arrives, to start leaving India. This is in opposition to the bombastic school, which maintained that Britain should rule India at all costs and that India was essential to Britain as an imperial power. Seeley thus looked at India with a dispassionate and critical gaze. Britain was able to "conquer" India by taking advantage of national disunity, the corrosion of Mogul authority, and by using native troops in warfare. Seeley rejects the "heroic" view of British imperialism, that is, that it was through racial superiority that Britain was able to subdue India. India, in short, was not to be part of Greater Britain, because, unlike, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa, India was not a "white dominion", was not merely a part of the "English nation" but was a traditional imperial colony of Britain.
Seeley is important as a historian of the "new imperialism" and of British imperialism in general because he offers not only a different perspective or viewpoint of British imperialism, but also a differing epistemological paradigm. Seeley offers a new way of looking at history, a new way of examining history, which at the time, was unique. To be sure his analysis was based on German political philosophy, but his application to the British Empire, to the "new imperialism", was important. Seeley saw history, like Hegel, as teleologically based, that is, as leading to something; history was a evolutionary process leading to progress, to greater freedom. Victorianism and Hegelianism converge in Seeley to produce a new vision, a new outlook for Britain.
Seeley saw history as an evolutionary process from which an observer could learn. Seeley stated that "history ought surely in some degree, if it is worth anything, to anticipate the lessons of time." He rejected history as a series of purposeless and meaningless episodes leading to nothing. He advocated a critical and objective view of history based on the social sciences. He rejected history as merely a novelization of the past. "Break the drowsy spell of narrative; ask yourself questions; set yourself problems...you will become an investigator" he stated in his chapter "History and Politics". He judged historic events on whether they are "pregnant with consequences", that is, whether they lead to growth and evolution of the State. Seeley saw British imperialism as a realization of a Greater Britain. British history was leading to the creation of a Greater Britain.
In conclusion, Seeley saw the British Empire as "not in the ordinary sense an Empire at all...we see a natural growth, a mere normal extension of the English race into other lands." In contradistinction to other empires, Britain gained possession of these lands without conquest, but for the most part, merely settled land thinly peopled. Seeley concluded that "it creates not properly an Empire but only a very large state." This very large state is Greater Britain, one people, one nation, ruled by one government, one state. Seeley saw two issues in British history: 1) the emergence of a Greater Britain; and 2) the role of India in British foreign policy. This is so because Seeley sees the British imperial role in history s the key event in British history, unlike most British historians, who regard Britain's domestic, internal development as the major aspect of British history. Prior to Seeley, most British historians saw the "colonies" and the colonial issues as of secondary importance to Britain. Seeley, on the other hand, elevates the imperial or colonial question to major prominence.
Seeley's analysis of British imperialism is objective and critical. He offers a realistic and sober view of British imperialism. He analyzed what was important and what was not in British foreign policy. The "white dominions" were important and needed to be united in an imperial federation, a Greater Britain. India, however, was a traditional colony useful to Britain commercially but not necessary politically. If national unity and national consciousness develops in India, Britain should leave, because then there will be no basis for British rule there. Seeley can be criticized for such a narrow delineation. He leaves out other British colonies such as those in Asia, Hong Kong, Singapore, British policy in China. He leaves out of the discussion black colonial possessions such as Jamaica, the Bahamas, Montserrat. Seeley's notion of a "common nationality" or "common nation" may be criticized. Britain itself could be deconstructed into Anglo-Saxon and Gaelic subdivisions. Britain was made up of English, Welsh, Scottish, and Irish "nations", not a single "nation" as Seeley maintains While to be sure, Seeley intends a more ideological construction of "nation", such as what we have in mind when we say someone is an "American", i.e., a more politically-based notion of Nation, nevertheless, Seeley's categorization is overly simplistic and superficial. Seeley's idea that Britons settled mostly uninhabited land can be challenged. Canada was settled by the French and had a native Indian population before the English colonized it. Yet Seeley sees Canada as an "English nation" and a part of Greater Britain. The aborigines and native peoples of Australia, New Zealand are discounted. The complexity of South Africa is simplified. South Africa is much too heterogeneous and complex to place as an "English nation". Seeley says virtually nothing about Africa, and nothing about Asia, if India is excluded. His lectures were delivered in 1881-82, at the beginning of the new imperialism and the scramble for Africa so African colonization was yet to be a major issue in British foreign policy, although British activity in Africa began much earlier than the 1880s.The key imperial issue of Seeley's time was India, especially after India was directly incorporated into the British Empire in the 1850s. Seeley devoted half his lectures to the issue of India, excluding an analysis of other areas. Seeley's primary focus is on the "white dominions" which he sees as being crucial in the creation of a Greater Britain, which is not only possible, but necessary.
In the historiography of British imperialism, Seeley offers a radical departure in the historical analysis by offering a differing epistemological approach to history and founding his theories on a different political theory based upon German philosophy, although for the most part unacknowledged in the text. We also have to be mindful that Seeley wrote in a time of the rise of nationalism, when Germany and Italy were unified and when national consciousness was the key political trend. The 19th century saw a transformation of the traditional nation-state and Germany redefined the notion of a "nation" and a "state". Seeley saw British imperialism as, for the most part, non-ideologically driven, that it happened by accident as Britain sought to protect her interests against France and other rival nations. British imperialism was not imperialism in the traditional sense, argued Seeley, but was achieved in " fit of absence of mind." This view is arguable and represents an ex post facto characterization and rationalization. Clearly, there was some ideology in British expansion and while the motivations differed in different regions, Britain was motivated by what motivated imperial powers of all ages, power and expansion. To say that Britain had no plan of empire as Seeley does is disingenuous. No Great Power can be said to have an imperial a priori plan of Empire. Empires result from wars and conquests and are the products of policy rather than as goals or objectives. It would be more accurate to say the British empire evolved through a series of twists and turns into its present state through deliberate and conscious policies and programs rather than to say that the British Empire resulted from "a fit of absence of mind."
In 1961, an important new analysis of the "new imperialism" was presented by Ronald Robinson and John Gallagher with Alice Denny in Africa and the Victorians: The Climax of Imperialism in the Dark Continent. Robinson and Gallagher argued that British imperialism could be seen as an effort by Britain to extend and develop free trade globally, that is, that this is what drove British imperialism. Their view became known as the "continuity theory' which posited that the scramble for Africa was merely a continuation of earlier British policy to extend free trade and could be seen as a "final chapter" that began with "informal controls" and ended with "formal annexations". Robinson and Gallagher, in opposition to the prevailing view, argue that the scramble for Africa is an accidental result or by-product of traditional British policy as enunciated by Pitt and Palmerston, that is, that the scramble is merely a continuation of British imperial policy and not a sudden or new shift in policy.
Robinson and Gallagher see the scramble for Africa as nothing more than British jockeying to establish a better security in the East and Mediterranean. For them, no new, sustained or compelling impulses or reasons existed for a new imperialism in Africa. Neither British political or commercial motives were at stake. There was little commerce in Africa. The late-Victorians were reluctant to take any political role in Africa. In short, the British sought to acquire Africa for the purpose of "national safety" and not out of a grandiose scheme to advance colonialism or imperialism in Africa.
To Gallagher and Robinson, India and the Far East were essential for British strength and protecting "safe communications" between Britain and India was crucial. The "decisive motive' for the Victorian scramble for Africa was to protect and safeguard the British "stakes" in India and the East. Events which endangered security and influence were causes for alarm. The crisis of the Khedivian regime in Egypt was seen as the key driving factor for the scramble for Robinson and Gallagher. Egypt was important because of the Suez Canal and its strategic location on the Mediterranean and Middle East. The British were drawn into Africa by "involuntary responses" to events there. Imperial expansion in South Africa, however, they see as being "altogether different". In South Africa, British policies were "specifically imperial".
Robinson and Gallagher see the "Age of Imperialism", the "new imperialism", as a negative reaction to Britain's weakening power and geopolitical influence. The so-called scramble for Africa they see as essentially defensive and strategic in nature, mostly superficial, reactive, and negative. The scramble for Africa was not motivated by any "revolutionary urge to empire" but merely sought to safeguard the gains of the previous generations and as a reaction to the changing political balance in Europe, with the rise of Germany, and the French-Russian alliance. The scramble resulted from a growing decline in liberalism and a rise of nationalism and racist dogma, and the relative decline of Britain as compared to the U.S., Germany, and France.
Contrary to Seeley and Robinson and Gallagher, John M. MacKenzie, in Propaganda and Empire: The manipulation of Public Opinion, 1880-1960 (1984), shows how British imperialism was ideologically through, through propaganda. MacKenzie examines how domestic developments created a new "language of patriotism, uniting Social Darwinism, monarchism, and militarism. The development of patriotism became key element of the ideological "apparatus of the imperialist state". He looks at how the working classes were co-opted into the ideology of empire. V.I. Lenin's view in Imperialism; The Highest Stage of Capitalism is quoted, that the working class consciousness is divided into "patriotic imperialism" and "social chauvinism". Imperial nationalism thus led to the "bourgeoisification of the proletariat" resulting in their neutralization. Social Darwinism, moreover, rationalized war as endemic to all countries and a necessary by-product of competition and struggle for ascendancy. Thus a militaristic tradition emerged glorifying military leaders and military campaigns. The monarchy also came to be glorified and associated with empire. In propaganda and Empire, he examines how the cinema, theatre, education, juvenile literature, and youth movements reflected and in turn contributed to maintaining imperialist propaganda. For Mackenzie, a "popular cultural dimension", an "image making process" was at work "manufacturing cultural images and racial stereotypes" which were just as important as the military, political, and economic control in creating a shared world view and ensuring that rulers and ruled knew their place. That is, ideology was important in British imperialism as well. Jingoistic music halls led to jingoistic movies, jingoistic comic books, documentaries, and annuals. Social Darwinism and the Victorian views on progress and evolution were saturating all forms of media and became ingrained elements of British ideology. This patriotic nationalism was best exemplified by Rudyard Kipling in "The White Man's Burden" about the American conquest of the Philippines in which he urged that the white races "take up the white man's burden", to educate and to civilize the "half child, half wild races". Clearly, racism and scientific racism as evident in Social Darwinism was an important ideological underpinning to British imperialism for it created a hierarchical system which allowed imperialism to exist and to thrive. This racist doctrine found expression in all media and was propagated in various forms. Notions of backwardness, of progress, of superior and inferior races and peoples, of levels of development and levels of modernization---all these were ideological underpinnings of British imperialism, and as MacKenzie shows, they were propagated in the music halls, in the cinema, in the theatre, in comic books, in children's books, and in other aspects of cultural indoctrination. British imperialism was based on an ideology, it was ideologically-driven. To be sure, ideology was one aspect of imperialism. But to ignore ideology, as Seeley and Robinson and Gallagher for the most part do, is to present an incomplete or unfinished picture of imperialism. The new imperialism was not driven totally by ideology, but it was also not totally without an ideology. Ideology played a role in the new imperialism. To ignore that role is to have an incomplete picture and thus understanding of British imperialism.
In "Post-Anti-Colonial Histories: Representing the Other in Imperial Britain", Journal of British Studies (1994), Elazar Barkan analyzes the epistemological issues inherent in histories of imperialism. Imperialism has been studied from a polarized perspective, either from the DWEMs (dead white European males) or the alien Others. Analyses of imperialism thus are biased, unidimensional, and reflect a dichotomy of "us" versus "them" or the "other". Barkan examines anti-colonial histories and concludes that "adopting an a priori anticolonialist, anti-Western perspective is no longer sufficient...a new differentiation of forms of victimization must take place to explain the nature of colonialism and its legacy." Barkan points out that victimization of the Other, the colonial subjects, was never total, that there was "partial victimization" because many local leaders in the colonies benefited from imperialism. The racist paradigm is no longer helpful in analyzing imperialism because racism is now universally rejected. Moreover, the unidimensional approach of seeing imperialism as a stereotypically white supremacist practice is inaccurate because it does not reflect imperialism as a diverse phenomenon. Many imperialists had empathy and close affinity with the non-European colonial population. This aspect is ignored in one dimensional, stereotypical analyses based in an anti-colonial approach. Barkan criticizes the "post-anti-colonial critique" as being too tied into a theoretical duality itself. Barkan reveals the epistemological issues in analyzing imperialism, how analyses tend to be polarized and based upon dichotomies of us versus them and us versus the other, center versus the periphery. These epistemological concerns must be taken into account in an analysis of British imperialism. Imperialism is a complex, diverse phenomenon which cannot be accurately examined by a stereotypical and oversimplified view of the subject.
British diplomacy during the New Imperialism is crucial in understanding the evolution of the Eastern Question. In Disraeli, Gladstone, and the Eastern Question: A Study in Diplomacy and Party Politics (1935), R.W. Seton-Watson analyzed the diplomacy of imperialism, an aspect usually ignored in the historiography of imperialism. Using unpublished Russian correspondence from the leading Russian diplomats of the period and the Disraeli and Salisbury Papers, he examines the "Eastern Question", Britain's involvement in the Balkans and Eastern Europe to show the interaction of home and foreign policy, how British party government was impacted by events in Eastern Europe and the role of diplomacy in the empire.
The crisis in the Eastern Question was caused by the Serbian insurgency in Hercegovina in 1875. Seton-Watson begins with a detailed examination of the Bosnian Insurrection or Revolution of 1875, a revolt launched by Serbian farmers/peasants/kmets in Hercegovina against Muslim feudal rule. The revolt quickly involved Serbia, Montenegro, and then Russia. He then discussed the role of the "Bulgarian atrocities" in arousing public opinion against the Turks and the role of William Gladstone, who wrote a pamphlet "The Bulgarian Horrors and the Question of the East" to emphasize his interventionist stance against the Ottoman Empire. Influenced by the Serbian insurgency in Hercegovina in July, 1875, the Bulgarians launched an insurrection in Stara Zagora led by Khristo Botev against the Ottoman Empire in September, 1875. Botev was the leader of the Bulgarian revolutionary committee. Following the April Uprising in 1876, 12,000-15,000 Bulgarian Orthodox Christians were massacred, men, women, and children, by Muslim irregulars in the Turkish forces, basi-bazouks who engaged in "an orgy of destruction, pillage, rape and enslavement." American journalist Januarius A. MacGahan and Eugene Schuyler, a member of the American legation in Istanbul, toured the region in Bulgaria and reported on the atrocities. MacGahan wrote eyewitness news reports for the Liberal newspaper Daily News which created strong anti-Turkish public sentiment in Britain. Gladstone attacked Benjamin Disraeli's pro-Ottoman Empire policy, "referring to Disraeli, he told a friend that the Jews had always been against Christians." The Ottoman Turks were referred to as the "great anti-human species of humanity" who had violated "the purity of matron, of maiden and of child." Gladstone stated: "There is not a criminal in a European gaol, there is not a cannibal in the South Sea islands whose indignation would not arise and overboil at that which had been done." Disraeli continued, however, to pursue a pro-Turkish, pro-Muslim foreign policy as a bulwark against Russian influence and expansion. Disraeli perceived the crisis in strictly imperialist terms. As Robert Blake noted, "Disraeli preferred the Turks to their Christian subjects." Disraeli himself expressed this in a letter to his sister:
I find the habits of this calm and luxurious people entirely agree with my own preconceived opinions of propriety and enjoyment and I detest the Greeks more than ever.
It should be noted that during the Albanian Revolt of 1830-31, Disraeli volunteered to join the Turkish Grand Vizier's army to suppress the Albanian insurgents. Disraeli actually went to the Balkans, to Yanina and met with the Grand Vizier, Redschid Ali. Disraeli then glowed with appreciation because of "the delight of being made so much of by a man who was daily decapitating half the province." Nothing shows Disraeli's total lack of concern for human rights and total amorality and cynicism than this quote. Disraeli opposed self-determination, whether it was Albanians, the Serbian Orthodox of Bosnia-Hercegovina, or Bulgarians, who sought it. He despised democracy and human rights. All that mattered was self-interest and power.
By contrast, Gladstone called on the Russians to drive out the Turks from Bulgaria. The Conference of Constantinople was analyzed as was the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78. He ended with an examination of the Treaty of Berlin of 1878 which ended the Russo-Turkish War and set in motion the forces that would lead to World War I in 1914. Seton-Watson presents a detailed and intricate picture of the diplomatic maneuvering that was an essential aspect of imperialism and the role of British party politics in the empire. He emphasizes those other aspects of empire, alliances, containment policies, spheres of influence policies. For clearly, as part and parcel of imperialism, an imperial power must manage rivalries. Control is sometimes achieved by outright occupation, by economic control, as was the case with India, or by outright military action, such as the Crimean and Boer Wars. But imperialistic control also could result from a policy of containment, as Britain practiced against the Russian Empire. Control could be a policy of spheres of influence, where Britain would divide a geographic region with a rival, long a part of British imperialism. Finally, there was the balance of power politics which Britain engaged in. This allowed Britain to form political and military alliances to offset the emergence of a rival power. Britain's alliance and assistance to Turkey was essential to preserve the Ottoman Empire and to keep Russia contained and bottled up. During the Crimean War, Britain formed an alliance with rival France and Turkey against Russia. As Seton-Watson has shown, diplomacy is an essential aspect of imperialism.
In The Second British Empire: Trade, Philanthropy, and Good Government, 1820-1890, John P. Halstead complains that "our understanding of modern imperialism has suffered from tunnel vision", that is, that imperialism has been "made to seem more important to the Western world that it actually was." He argues that imperialism is not comparable to the Industrial Revolution or Renaissance and is merely an auxiliary to the major goals of the imperialist powers. He seeks to analyze imperialism in a broader context and as a function of foreign policy. He supports the "continuity theory" of Gallagher and Robinson in Africa and the Victorians. The importance of local conditions to imperial expansion is emphasized. He dispenses with the dichotomy of "informal" versus "formal" empire as used by Gallagher and Robinson and introduces the notion of "paramountcy", wherein imperialism is defined in terms of effective control. Halstead sees British imperialism of the nineteenth century as the by-product, or auxiliary, of British policy to advance their global interests. Britain's interests, according to Halstead, were concrete and "fairly rational". He argues that national security was not a major issue in British foreign policy in the "seven decades after 1820". So what motivated British imperialism? Trade, philanthropy, and good government were the major goals of British foreign policy of the nineteenth century according to Halstead. Throughout the century, the British government was concerned with fostering and protecting free trade. In addition, the abolition of slavery was a key foreign policy goal of British foreign policy. Evangelicals and humanitarian groups sought to "civilize" and assist the colonials. Finally, the British government sought to establish and maintain good government in the colonial sphere, that good government would lead to stability, freedom, and growth. He then offers several case studies, in Burma, Malaysia, South Africa, and West Africa, to demonstrate these aspects of British foreign policy. Thus, for Halstead, British imperialism is not seen as an end in itself or as an objective or goal of foreign policy, but merely as a means or method of foreign policy. We could phrase it: Imperialism: Foreign policy by other means. Unlike France, which considered imperialism as the only mark of its great power status, Britain did not need imperialism. Britain had a large navy and the "white dominions", it had industry and trade: These were the bases of British power, not imperialism. Imperialism was just Britain's way or "method" of interacting with "undeveloped" peoples and states. Imperialism was the method of a "technologically, organizationally, and humanistically advanced society---a rationalized society" of dealing with peoples who were not so. Thus, imperialism is not the highest stage of capitalism or the apotheosis of British foreign policy as John Hobson in 1902 and V.I. Lenin in 1916 argued. For Halstead, British imperialism was benevolent and fostered good government, philanthropy, and free trade. Imperialism was just foreign policy by other means.
The beneficial and benevolent and positive aspects of British imperialism, of Pax Britannica, should not be ignored. Britain was at the forefront of abolishing slavery, but only when slavery no longer was economically sound. To be sure, many Britons were motivated by "philanthropy" and the civilizing missions were sincere attempts to better the lot of "undeveloped" peoples. But philanthropy was just an auxiliary of the Pax Britannica. By way of contrast, one aspect of American global dominance is that "undeveloped" peoples receive our "philanthropy" in the form of MacDonald's Big Macs, Coca Cola, and pizza. As for good government, Britain sought to establish models of its own government, which was not suitable for all countries. For instance, Britain fostered a democratic form of government, based on the British model in India, but India remains one of the most backward and poorest of nations, and is highly unstable. To be sure, some aspects of a "rationalized society" were helpful, but many were not. Good government was more difficult to export than textile products, because good government is too complex to reduce to a simple formula or jingoistic slogans. Finally, it is arguable whether trade was the only major motivation of British imperialism. Britain did establish strategic ports around the globe, Gibraltar (1704), Cyprus (1878) after the Congress of Berlin, Hong Kong (1842), and Egypt in the 1880s to safeguard the Suez Canal as well as the Cape Colony, but were these strategically important ports established only to foster and protect free trade? As Seton-Watson and MacKenzie in Propaganda and Empire have shown, British imperialism was ideologically driven and British diplomacy was not always motivated by economic interests, or free trade. Gladstone was able to take a stand against "Bulgarian atrocities", the massacre of up to 15,000 Bulgarian civilians by Turkish forces in 1876, even though doing so would be against British economic interests as Turkey was a British ally at that time. Trade was not always the motivating factor behind British imperialism. Halstead oversimplifies the problem by ignoring the role irrationality and ideology play in imperialism. Such an oversimplification gives us an incomplete picture of imperialism. Halstead also gives a simplistic picture of "philanthropy" when he discusses "aborigines protection". British imperial policy towards "aborigines" is much more complicated than Halstead assumes. Along with the "civilizing" and religious missions were the racist and exploitative aspects of imperialism which Halstead completely ignores. His overemphasis of British policy to abolish slavery is similarly one-sided. Britain sought to abolish slavery not from considerations of morality, but because slavery did not pay, slavery was not commercially beneficial after the decline of mercantilism and the rise of laissez-faire, free trade capitalism. In other words, British motives were entirely self-serving in abolishing slavery. As the major proponent of free trade, Britain now saw the benefits of abolishing slavery, which was counterproductive in the age of the Industrial Revolution. But Halstead mischaracterizes British policy as a moral crusade. Economic exploitation remained, but now it was dressed in the trappings of free trade.
Imperialism is a complex phenomenon that cannot be explained or reduced to simple analyses and studies. As we have seen, many of the historians of the "new imperialism" have examined certain aspects of imperialism but never presented the whole picture. This is so because imperialism is too vast a subject to explore in a single study. History is limited in that it can only examine certain aspects of the picture at a time, rarely, if ever, the entire picture. This is why history is never complete and no study can ever truly be definitive or exhaustive. We have seen varied and opposing views. Seeley argued that British "imperialism" was the apotheosis of all British history, the culmination of Britain's destiny, while Halstead argued that British imperialism was nothing but an appendage of British foreign policy. Gallagher and Robinson argued that the scramble for Africa was motivated by concerns over security and nothing else while MacKenzie pointed out that Britain had created an elaborate image making apparatus, a widespread propaganda, that extolled militarism, monarchism, and Social Darwinism. Seton-Watson showed how diplomacy and party politics played a role in British imperialism and how British policy was guided by considerations that did not always involve economic or trade considerations. Finally, Barkan examined the epistemological issues and concerns in examining imperialism. It matters what glasses you wear when you examine imperialism. Those glasses are constantly changing, which allows for a multiplicity of viewpoints.
To understand or to attempt to understand imperialism requires an examination of the many aspects of the phenomenon. Concentrating on a single aspect leads to an incomplete understanding. British imperialism during the period of the "new imperialism" was motivated by several factors: national security, protecting free trade, protecting commercial routes, competition for markets and spheres of influence, settlement, colonization, diplomacy, and ideology. Imperialism is not one thing and cannot be reduced to a catch-phrase, but is a complex historical phenomenon which we can examine only piecemeal, but eventually from which a fuller picture emerges.
Whatever happens, we have got the Maxim Gun and they have not.
What was Britain's strategic position in world affairs in the period from 1851 to 1911? The period from 1851 to 1911 saw a gradual decline in the strategic position of Britain in global affairs. Germany and the United States emerged as major economic, financial, and military rivals. At the time of the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851, British power was at its zenith in almost all phases and aspects of national strength. In terms of industrialization, in terms of trade, in terms of productivity, in terms of naval strength, in terms of political stability, in terms of strategic global position. In 1865,the Confederate secessionist campaign was defeated and the United States was united in a strong federal republic based on capitalism, industrialism, and free trade. In 1871, Otto von Bismarck united Germany into a powerful state committed to industrial development and the realization of global political aspirations. The Turkish Ottoman Empire, the "sick man of Europe", was in collapse, creating instability in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. This political vacuum in the Balkans was being filled by Russia, which saw the Balkans as a Russian sphere. Italy also achieved national unity. All these countries embarked on a rapid program of industrialization and sought a greater role in foreign affairs. Great Britain now faced serious rivals. The United States and Germany would surpass Britain as an industrial power. But Britain met these challenges in many and varied ways. And while British strategic power declined in some areas it increased in others. While the overall pattern for the period was a gradual decline in strategic power, Britain waged two successful wars, the Crimean and Boer wars, and with the "new imperialism" was able to expand into Africa. In the "scramble for Africa", Britain was at the forefront. Although British strategic power was in relative decline, Britain still remained a dominant power, if not the dominant power of the age.
The first major test to the dominant strategic position of Britain was posed by the Russian Empire. British diplomats saw the expansion of Russia in the Balkans and alliances with and support for Serbia, Montenegro, and Bulgaria, as a threat to their colonial empire in Asia. Moreover, if Russia obtained a warm-water port in Montenegro in the Adriatic Sea or was able to gain dominance in the Dardanelles, the Mediterranean would become threatened. At that time, the Mediterranean was dominated by British naval power. British continental policy with regard to continental Europe since the Treaty of Vienna in 1815 established the Concert of Europe had been one of preventing a single power from gaining dominance on the continent. This was achieved through a balance of power and a policy of containment. The Crimean War began after Russia sought to expand her influence in the Balkans. Britain sought to maintain the status quo by propping up the much-weakened Ottoman Turkish Empire. Allied with Turkey and France, Britain declared war on Russia. The Crimean War resulted in only retarding Russian expansion. After the Bosnian Insurrection of 1875 launched by the Orthodox Serbian population of Hercegovina, Russia directly intervened on the side of the Serbs and during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 defeated Turkey and destroyed Turkish military power in Eastern Europe. Britain could do little to prevent this. But at the Berlin peace conference, the 1878 Congress of Berlin, dominated by Disraeli and Bismarck, which Britain was instrumental in convening, Britain was able to thwart Russian policies in the Balkans. A much smaller Bulgaria was created. Russia wanted a large Bulgaria, "Greater Bulgaria". The Orthodox Serbian populations of Bosnia-Hercegovina sought independence from foreign rule/occupation. The minimal goal was autonomy. But Britain opposed even autonomy for the Serbian population of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Instead, the Ottoman Empire was replaced by the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The lot of the average Serb did not significantly improve. One occupation was merely replaced by another. The Ottoman master was replaced by the Austrian master. But the Serbs of Bosnia-Hercegovina did not achieve self-rule and independence or even autonomy. An Austrian Governor was placed in charge over them. Bosnia was placed under the "administration" of Austria. More importantly, Britain was able to obtain Cyprus, a strategic island in the Mediterranean. Cyprus was important because in 1875 Britain had acquired the Suez Canal in Egypt. Now Britain was unassailable in the Mediterranean. From the Suez Canal Britain now had strategic ports along the Mediterranean route, stretching from Cyprus to Malta to Gibraltar. The Suez Canal, finished in 1869, now reduced the travel distance to Britain's most lucrative colony India and the other Asian possessions. Britain thus was in a better position after 1875 with regard to securing the trade routes to India and Asia and the opening of the Suez Canal. Obtaining Cyprus in 1878 meant that Britain's strategic position in the Mediterranean was greatly enhanced.
But the greatest challenge to Britain's strategic position came from Europe. As David Thomson noted in England in the Nineteenth Century, "the centre of gravity of power in Europe shifted eastwards, away from Britain." By 1871, the political balance in Europe had changed; there was a shift of equilibrium. The unification of Germany and Italy posed new challenges for Britain. Britain had a population of 21 million at the time, while Germany had a population of 41 million. Germany embarked on a massive industrialization campaign that soon caught up with then surpassed Britain. Germany also launched a naval program that challenged British naval superiority. By 1911, as noted by Thomson, the ratio of industrial potential between Germany, Britain and France was as follows: Germany 3, Britain 2, France 1. Moreover, a negative consequence of industrialization now became felt in Britain. By 1875, about 50% of the wheat consumed in Britain was imported. The rate of expansion of industrial output also declined. In the early part of the 19th century, the rate of expansion of industrial growth was 3 % per year; from 1875-1900, it fell to 2 %; it fell to 1 % in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Thomson described this decline as follows: "The picture of Britain's position internationally in the late 1870s is, therefore one of diminished prestige, loss of initiative in foreign diplomacy, and increasing economic dependence on foreign supplies of food... She remained an immense exporter of money, men, and goods." Thomson's assessment is accurate though I think the statement that Britain suffered in prestige and lacked diplomatic initiative could be challenged. William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli were effective and skilled diplomats as were Joseph Chamberlain and Arthur Balfour. British prestige and diplomacy remained at a high level throughout this period as is shown by Britain's role at the Congress of Paris in 1856, the Constantinople Conference, the Congress/Conference of Berlin in 1878, the scramble for Africa, and the Boer War.
By 1870, Britain had 700,000,000 pounds invested abroad; in 1872 alone, 98,000,000 were invested abroad. By contrast, in 1850, the total overseas investment was 200,000,000 pounds. The major rival to Britain was France. But as Thomson noted, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 had devastated the French economy. But, nevertheless, the high-water mark had come in 1877 as L.H. Jenks has noted: "The export of a capital surplus was over. Her further investments were to come for a generation from the accruing profits of those which had already been made." By the late 1870s, even in the export of capital, Britain had reached a point from which only decline resulted.
Another troubling trend was the excess of imports over exports resulting in an "unfavorable balance of trade". With a sharp drop in prices after 1873, an adverse balance of trade resulted. With export quantities fixed as well as import quantities, the fall in prices led to a decrease in the amount of surplus capital available for foreign investment, i.e., "invisible exports". Thus, Britain could invest less and less in foreign markets. In other words, the British economy was no longer expanding, but was declining. This development clearly showed a weakening of Britain's strategic position in the globe as Britain was a major financier with large investments in the United States and Argentina. As Thomson noted, the 1870s mark a "real turning point in her fortunes". The change in the international balance of power and Britain' economic decline meant that Britain was now in a defensive posture.
A major development of the late 19th century was the "scramble for Africa" when Britain and the other European powers sought to gain imperial possessions in Africa. But as Ronald Robinson and John Gallagher explained in Africa and the Victorians, the scramble for Africa did not represent a new drive or impetus for empire. The British scramble for Africa was merely a consequence of the British occupation of Egypt and the possession of the Suez Canal. Africa offered little in the way of trade and Britain already controlled the strategic points in Africa, i.e., Cape Colony, Suez Canal, Gibraltar. Robinson and Gallagher see the scramble as a continuation of British imperial policy and not any new motives to colonize Africa. Britain's role is mostly defensive, reacting to the French, German, Belgian, and Italian imperialist policies in Africa. Britain's primary motive was national security, to protect British trade routes in the Mediterranean, and to safeguard the routes from India and Asia from competing powers. The scramble is important, however, because it shows that Britain's global strategic power is weakening. Challenged by other European powers, Britain was forced to take defensive measures in Africa, measures that were reactive, negative, and superficial. For Britain, India was all-important. In Africa, there was no commercial incentive for empire.
Nevertheless, British prestige and influence remained strong. By 1900, roughly a quarter of the entire population of the globe was part of the British Empire. British New Guinea, North Borneo, and Upper Burma were added to the Empire in the 1880s. In 1899, the Sudan was brought under British control. In the 1890s, Uganda and Kenya became British protectorates, while in 1885, the area west of Transvaal and the areas that would become Northern and Southern Rhodesia were part of the Empire due to the efforts of Joseph Chamberlain and Cecil Rhodes. The Boers, however, posed an obstacle to British expansion in the south. This conflict led to the Boer War, a war fought between Britain and the Transvaal and Orange Free State. The Boer War lasted from 1899 to 1902 and led to the defeat of the Boers. The war was unpopular at home and divided Britain politically abroad, it engendered great hostility towards Britain, especially in Germany, which supported the Boers. The war also exposed the military weaknesses of Britain. What resulted was the end of the period of "splendid isolation". Britain now felt threatened and embarked on a policy of forming alliances and a diplomacy of balance of power. In 1902, Britain signed a treaty with Japan. In 1904, Britain and France established the Entente Cordiale, a defensive pact and alliance meant to counter the growing commercial and colonial imperialistic expansion of Germany. It should be noted that Kaiser Wilhelm II embarked on an aggressive and confrontational foreign policy after Bismarck was dismissed in 1890 In 1907 Britain formally joined the Dual Entente created between France and Russia and announced in 1895.The triple Entente that emerged now placed Britain in a military and political alliance in opposition to Germany, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The days of splendid isolation were over. Britain could no longer maintain a balance of power and containment policy without direct British involvement. Now her back was to the wall and Britain was scrambling for alliances, with France, with Russia, with Japan. Earlier, the immense British power allowed Britain to forego taking a direct role in global geopolitical alliances. Now Britain was forced to take an active role. The stage was now set for World War I.
This period also saw the formal abolition of the East India Company following the 1857-8 Mutiny and the direct rule of India by Britain. Queen Victoria became the Empress of India. In 1867, Dominion status was granted to Canada whereby Canada secured self-government. In the 1850s, Australia and New Zealand were granted self-government. In 1872, the Cape Colony was granted self-government, while natal received the same in 1893. Thus, Britain lost direct rule over these vast territories during the period in question, and, although Britain could derive benefits from these territories when they later became the British Commonwealth of Nations, nevertheless, British power was in decline. As A. Turgot stated, "Colonies are like ripe fruit which fall off the tree when they ripen." As the twentieth century approached, John Seeley's notion of a Greater England was no closer to realization. Moreover, the Irish Home Rule debate meant that Ireland too sought self-government and was a source of weakness for the empire.
In summation, the strategic position of Britain during the late 19th century showed a gradual decline, in absolute and in relative terms. In some ways, however, British power increased. The occupation of Egypt and the Suez Canal meant that Britain controlled the Mediterranean and secured the trade route to India, Britain's most important overseas possession. Britain held her own in the scramble for Africa, and even though it was defensive in nature, nevertheless, Britain benefited from the scramble. Germany and the US gradually surpassed Britain in virtually all measures of power. Britain no longer was the major industrial power in the world. Moreover, Britain lacked the population, territory, and resource base of their powers, such as Russia, the US, and Germany. By 1873, Britain had reached the peak of economic power and growth. An unfavorable balance of trade meant that Britain could no longer invest surplus capital abroad as it once had. Germany soon surpassed Britain in technological innovation, in industrial efficiency, in the application of scientific and technical advances to industry. The US by the turn of the century would surpass Britain in industrial output. But British naval superiority would remain throughout the period, although it would be challenged by Germany. An arms race ensued between Germany and Britain which Britain was only able to win at sea, i.e., British naval strength remained paramount. During the period 1851-1911 saw a decline in the strategic position of Britain in the world. It would continue for the next century.
History shows me one way, and one way only, in which a high state of civilization has been produced, namely, the struggle of race with race, and the survival of the physically and mentally fitter race.
---Karl Pearson, National Life from the Standpoint of Science (1900) The horror! The horror!
---Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness (1902)
What were the problems of identity and culture inherent in the imperial idea of Britain, in British imperialism? The problems of identity/culture were reflected in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1902), the seminal literary work on British imperialism.
As John Halstead noted in The Second British Empire, the "imperial idea of Victorian Britain" was based on the conviction of Britons of their superiority. Victorians viewed imperialism as an "effective and acceptable means of dealing" with undeveloped and backward peoples. Britons saw no moral qualms in this dominance and superiority. They saw imperialism as bettering mankind, as civilizing backward peoples and imparting to them the fruits and benefits of a superior culture and civilization. Much like the US in the 1990s is a champion of human rights and democracy around the globe, so too, Victorian Britain was a champion of the Victorian equivalent, i.e., free trade, laissez-faire capitalism, constitutional government, liberal and tolerant political tradition, Christianity, science. Britons believed they were making the world a better place. Like the Pax Romana, the Pax Britannica brought "civilization" to the world and bettered the lot of mankind. To be sure, there was an ideological component of imperialism, but Britons unconsciously held these views. These views were intensified with the erosion of liberalism and the emergence of patriotic nationalism in the late 19th century. A jingoistic imperialism emerged. The White Man's Burden, that is what imperialism became for Rudyard Kipling, that the white races were in a position to better mankind, to assist the backward and inferior races and peoples. Kipling published "The White Man's Burden" in 1899 in New York intended for the United States, which had embarked upon a policy of imperialism/colonialism following the 1898 Spanish-American War. This policy would re-emerge in the 1990s in US foreign policy as "globalism" and "hegemonism". Kipling merely propagated the dominant themes and justifications for imperialism of the era: Social Darwinism, scientific/biological racism. The superior races, Aryans, had a duty and moral obligation to civilize and improve the living conditions of the inferior races. The negative aspects of imperialism were rarely addressed by British imperialism. The racism, the exploitation, the displacement of aborigines, none of these issues were addressed. In 1902, Joseph Conrad released/published Heart of Darkness based upon his experiences as a British seaman, and based particularly upon his own journey to the Congo in 1890. Conrad based many of the characters and incidents in the story upon actual events and people he encountered in the Congo. The thesis of Heart of Darkness is that modern man is the one who is truly debased and corrupt, and not the so-called savages and inferior peoples he hopes to civilize and better. His theme is one of man's inhumanity towards man, how power corrupts, and how absolute power corrupts absolutely. We can probably better understand what Conrad is getting at by his portrayal of Mistah Kurtz if we recall the major events of the 20^th century which all sprang from British and American imperialism and the theories that evolved to justify them. Then we can see what he is getting at. Cecil Rhodes, Houston Chamberlain, Karl Pearson, Kaiser Wilhelm II, William Randolph Hearst, Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler were all products of the age of imperialism. The atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the US that killed several hundred thousand civilians, men, women, and children showed the extent of the racism and exterminationist fittest race doctrines developed during imperialism. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were strictly civilian targets. There was no military value in those targets. The fire bombing of Dresden in 1945 by the US and Britain are further examples. Dresden had no military value as a target. The objective was merely to kill as many German civilians as possible to destroy the German morale, or the will to resist. The master race concept and Alfred Rosenberg's The Myth of the 20^th Century were derived from the theories that emerged from British imperialism. The SS death camp/concentration camp commanders who made soap from melted human flesh, who made lamp shades from human skin, who exterminated human beings like vermin using the latest advances in chemistry and technology, represented the apotheosis of this mindset. All of this was done in the name of racial superiority, all in the name of progress, all in the name of making the world better. All justified by science, by scientific/biological racism, by evolutionary theories of natural selection, by the survival of the fittest, manifest destiny, global leadership, humanitarian intervention, military humanism, human rights. In other words, these actions were sanctioned by nature, by God himself. These all sprang up from imperialism. When we see the impaled heads around Kurtz's hut, we can appreciate his depravity and inhumanity.
When Kurtz exclaims, "The horror! The horror!" he is speaking about what he sees. But what he sees is himself ...what he has become. T.S. Elliot later used this quote to preface "The Wasteland" as evocative of twentieth century man, a hollow man. For Conrad, this is what imperialism led to, a total exploitation that corrupted not the backward colonials but the imperialist himself. Conrad's genius is that he is picturing the consequences of imperialism on the imperialist, not on his subjects.
Some of the theories that provided the framework for imperialism were Social Darwinism and scientific racism. Racism had long been used to justify colonialism/imperialism. Joseph A. de Gobineau (1816-1882) published Essay on the Inequality of Races in 1853-55. What changed during the Victorian era was that racism now had a scientific basis, Social Darwinism. The Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin gave a scientific foundation for racism. Scientific/biological racism would provide the rationale to justify imperialism/colonialism. Indeed, Nazism, for instance, relied on the same historical roots. In fact, the father of Nazism and the master race concept was a Briton, Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1855-1927), and not Adolf Hitler, who merely assimilated the many ideas that came his way. Houston Chamberlain was a Social Darwinist and a product of 19th century Victorian values and ideals. Chamberlain moved to Germany where he developed his theories of Aryan superiority based in the British Victorian Social Darwinist theories. In 1901 Chamberlain published the influential book The Foundations of the 19^th Century, wherein he argued that the Anglo-Saxon, the "Teutonic" race, was the superior race, this superiority justifying British/German Imperialism:
The present civilization and culture of Europe are specifically Teutonic...The man who belongs to a distinct, pure race, never loses the sense of it...Everyone must admit that in the very places where they were most cruel---as for instance, the Anglo-Saxons in England, the German Order in Prussia---they laid by this very means the surest foundation of what is highest and most moral.
Chamberlain argued for Anglo-Saxon, Aryan, Teutonic supremacy to justify British/German imperialism. He would have a major impact and influence on Adolf Hitler, Alfred Rosenberg, and German nationalist thinking. Another exponent of British Social Darwinism was the German professor Heinrich von Treitschke (1834-1896), who rationalized Anglo-Saxon imperialism as follows:
Without war no State could be. All those we know of arose through war...War, therefore, will endure to the end of history...All great nations in the fullness of their strength have desired to set their mark upon barbarian lands. All over the globe today we see the peoples of Europe creating a mighty aristocracy of the white races...
Scientific or biological racism emerged with the work of Sir Francis Galton (1822-1911), who was a cousin of Charles Darwin. Galton developed "eugenics", an extension of Social Darwinism to the study of biological and social engineering, of ensuring that only the fittest survive. Eugenics is derived from the Greek, meaning "to be well born".
British mathematician Karl Pearson created a scientific basis for British and European imperialism in his book National Life from the Standpoint of Science (1900), in which Social Darwinism was applied to foreign policy. Pearson maintained that "there is a struggle of race against race and of nation against nation". According to Pearson, there was a "dependence of progress on the survival of the fitter race" which was achieved "chiefly by way of war with inferior races..." The imperialist wars with "inferior races" would lead to the "Aryan's success." "Inferior races" and "dead peoples" would be the "steppingstones" for a higher intellectual life, for human progress. Pearson concluded that "the path of progress is strewn with the wreck of nations." Pearson thus provided a scientific basis for imperialism which justified the racism and exploitation of the "inferior races" and the colonial competition between the great powers, the "scramble for Africa":
History shows me one way, and one way only, in which a high state of civilization has been produced, namely, the struggle of race with race, and the survival of the physically and mentally fitter race...You will see that my view---the scientific view of a nation---is that of an organized whole, kept to a high pitch of internal efficiency by insuring its members are substantially recruited from the better stocks and kept to a high pitch of external efficiency by contest, chiefly by way of war with inferior races, and with equal races by the struggle for trade-routes and for the sources of raw material and of food supply.
Imperialism was justified and explained in scientific terms based on Social Darwinism that explained why there was a natural necessity to colonial/imperialist wars, economic exploitation, racism, a conflict between superior and inferior races, Aryan primacy.
Conrad anticipated these developments by taking Victorian notions of superiority to their logical conclusion. In this sense, Heart of Darkness is almost an absurd parody because it takes imperialism to its logical conclusion. But British imperialism was always cushioned and ameliorated by beneficial effects and by restraint and a measure of compassion. But we need only look at the concentration camps established during the Boer war for women and children where over 20,000 died, or the virtual extinction of the Tasmanian aborigines, or the obliteration of the Native American Indians, to see that imperialism was fraught with evils. "Negro slavery" is another example of the inhumanity inherent in imperialist expansion. It is the treatment of human beings as animals, as sub-humans, as objects, as pawns, as instruments. There is an old saying that slavery degrades both the slave and the master. Imperialism first and foremost corrupted the imperialist himself. This is what Conrad was getting at, with a focus on the degradation of the master.
Conrad offers a profound psychological analysis of how power corrupts and depraves, how dominance and control lead to degradation. Kurtz is an imperialist who seeks to explore and dominate virgin lands. Kurtz finds the `heart of darkness", but it is within himself. The analysis by Elazar Barkan is relevant here, the notion that imperialism is based on seeing the Other, of a dichotomy between Us and Them, and defining oneself in terms of an alien Other. Psychologically, the Other is merely a projection of our own worst fears and insecurities. We fear our own bestial depravity and thus project it onto the Other. Thus, the Other is a subhuman ape, a simian, a caricature of us. This is because man progressed from a backward stage, but this stage is still buried in our subconscious. It is a stage we all fear. Thus we project it on the Other. Similarly, the imperialist projects his/her fears onto the Other. When those fears are examined and confronted, we are horrified, like Kurtz is. But we are horrified with what we find in ourselves and not what is out there in the real world. The inhumanity and dehumanization of which we are capable shocks us and appalls us. This is what Conrad saw with British imperialism, with imperialism itself.
Conrad was a British seaman for much of his adult life and traversed the globe on British merchant ships, rising to a high level in the British merchant marine. He was born Josef Konrad Korzeniowski in Poland. His 1890 voyage to the Congo at the height of the British "new imperialism" is the basis for the story Heart of Darkness. Conrad was able to observe colonial activities very closely and indeed to observe Victorian imperialism first-hand. Clearly, he saw British imperialism as a degrading and dehumanizing practice to the imperialist. It corrupted his judgment and his morals and ultimately his humanity.
The Victorians themselves never saw it in this deleterious aspect. For Victorian Britons, imperialism was seen as a benefit to undeveloped peoples. As Halstead noted, Britons saw their interaction with undeveloped peoples as imparting benefits to those who were not as advanced as the British. There was a British notion of "philanthropy", that missionaries were civilizing and bettering the lot of backward peoples. That commercial trade and exploitation ultimately benefited the colonial, that Britain set up good government for the colonial and bettered his lot. Victorians had no qualms about seeing colonials as inferior and themselves as superior. Social Darwinism provided the answer as did scientific racism. The Victorian notions of progress and evolution buttressed their position.
Conrad offers a pessimistic view of Victorian progress and of imperialism. To him, imperialism is based on exploitation of other peoples which degrades the imperialist himself. When the colonial is depicted in subhuman terms, this is a reflection of the fears within the mind of the imperialist himself. Imperialism is seen as corrupting and degrading.
Conrad attacks the imperial idea as exemplified by the "empire-builder" Cecil Rhodes and Joseph Chamberlain and Leander Jameson. For Conrad, the heart of darkness is within the mind of the imperialist himself who dehumanizes the people he interacts with because his goal is one of exploitation and domination. Conrad offers a sobering view of British imperialism, one that is insightful and of psychological depth. It is a reminder of fact that the heart of darkness is within us, within each and every one of us all.
The architects of the Congress of Berlin, Bismarck and Disraeli, argued that they had preserved the peace and avoided war and bloodshed. Disraeli stated that "Lord Salisbury and myself have brought you back peace, but a peace I hope with honour." Bismarck stated, when he closed the Congress, that it had "within the limits of what was possible, done Europe the service of keeping and maintaining the peace." But was the peace achieved at the Congress of Berlin only a short term compromise that resolved nothing and satisfied no one, or was it a successful resolution of the Great Eastern Crisis?
The Berliner Tageblatt for July 15, 1878, which analyzed the results of the Congress, concluded that it had only ensured that an anti-German bloc would not emerge and that it was only a short term peace:
[T]he Peace of Berlin represents a compromise that satisfies nobody and yet guarantees peace in Europe for a short period. Russia demanded too little, England conceded too much, Austria has poked around in a Slav wasp's nest while the little states are unhappy...[T]he honest broker, however, rubs his hands; for the cards have been shuffled in such a way that the planned anti-German coalition looks less likely to emerge than ever.
Bismarck sought to maintain the balance of power in Europe by preventing the emergence of a coalition that could overpower Germany. The Dreikaiserbundis, The Three Emperor's Alliance, was signed between Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary in 1872 and was set up to establish spheres of influence in the Balkans and to ensure that there was no conflict between the major powers. In 1787, Emperor Joseph II of Austria and Catherine the Great of Russia had met in Yalta to discuss the Greek Project, which would divide the Balkans between Russia and Austria. Britain, however, supported the Ottoman Empire and the maintenance of the status quo because it would assure commercial exploitation in the Near and Far East. The Greek Project did not result because of British opposition. Bismarck wanted to divide the Balkans in a similar manner. Disraeli sought to prevent Russian influence in the Balkans, but also to destroy the Dreikaiserbundis. He perceived that a German and Russian alliance would be detrimental to the interests of Britain. The British policy, indeed, all imperialist policy, is based on the primary tenet of divisa et impera, divide and rule/conquer. Disraeli's policy was based on divisiveness. Ironically, but perhaps not surprisingly, Bismarck had the identical policy objectives. They mirrored each other. Disraeli explained his real motives at the Congress of Berlin as follows:
Next to making a tolerable settlement for Turkey, our great object was to break up and permanently prevent the alliance of the Three Emperors, and I maintain that there never was a great diplomatic result more completely effected.
Bismarck was no less blunt and concise about his motives at the Congress. Bismarck wrote that he, in fact, had no intention of resolving the Eastern Question. He did not want a solution, but only sought to exacerbate the conflict because Balkan divisiveness would benefit German interests and German foreign policy. In November, 1878, Bismarck wrote: "It would be a triumph for our statesmanship if we succeeded in keeping the Eastern ulcer open and thus jarred the harmony of the other Great Powers in order to secure our own peace." Divisa et impera. Divide and conquer. That is a guiding principle of imperialism, whether Roman, British, or American. Peace was bad for imperialist/colonial expansion. War was good. "Iron and blood" were decisive. It was all about power in other words. We do what we do simply because we can, and you cannot. We have the Maxim Gun. In the final analysis, that is all that matters, all that counts.
Britain and Turkey had signed a secret convention before the Congress of Berlin took place in which Turkey accepted the occupation of Bosnia-Hercegovina and the Sandzak by Austria-Hungary. The status of Bosnia had been decided by Britain and Turkey in advance. Disraeli justified the occupation of Bosnia by Austria-Hungary in anti-Slavic, anti-Serbian, racist terms:
If the Congress leaves the two provinces in the same state of affairs in which they are at the moment, one would witness the appearance of the domination of the Slav race, a race which is little disposed to do justice to others. One should have in mind that the proposition made by Lord Salisbury had not been made for the interests of England, but only for the sake of peace of the whole of Europe.
The British consul in Constantinople, A.H. Layard, also saw the Congress as a short term fix that would lead to future war:
Those who think themselves strong enough to support their aspirations by arms will be ready to rebel against the authority under which they believe they have been placed in violation of justice and of the principle of `nationality.'
The two schools of thought that emerged during the Great Eastern Crisis were the realpolitik/power politics school represented by Bismarck and Disraeli and the humanitarian school represented by Gladstone and Lothar von Schweinitz. Alexander Gortchakoff wrote Bismarck that the Eastern Question was a European issue that should be addressed in a bi-partisan, united front: "The problem is neither German nor Russsian, but European." Bismarck dismissed the humanitarian appeal as self-interested and disingenuous. Bismarck argued that Europe was a "notion geographique", a "geographical conception", merely an abstraction that was meaningless: "I have always found the word `Europe' on the lips of those statesmen who want something from a foreign power which they would never venture to ask for in their own name." Schweinitz, who had been the German Ambassador in St. Petersburg, perceived the Eastern Question the way Gladstone did, as a humanitarian issue. He foresaw deleterious consequences for Germany in the long-term because he understood that a realpolitik approach to the Eastern Question was a short-term compromise that was inequitable and unjust. A realpolitik approach was like putting a bandage on an internal head wound, merely a short-term fix with long-term consequences. Schweinitz wrote in his diary that a realpolitik or an imperialist power politics approach by the German government would lead to disaster for Germany in the long-term because it is neglecting a humanitarian solution "but wants to turn them to political advantage and bring about a constellation of he great powers, by which coalitions hostile to us shall be made impossible for a long time to come." The Serbian population was not even taken into account, let alone their desires, wishes, or views. They did not matter. A French diplomat who worked on the secretariat of the Congress of Berlin, wrote in his memoirs: "The congress assigned or refused territory to the Serbs or the Turks without any regard to the wishes or objections of either side, which were treated with lofty indifference."
British Liberal William Gladstone was one of the few political leaders to accurately assess the Eastern Question as one of "peoples rightly struggling to be free." Both Bismarck and Disraeli rejected this view. Bismarck disdainfully dismissed all the Balkan peoples and states, which he referred to as "the fragments of nations which people the Balkan peninsula." They were not interested in human rights or self-determination or an equitable solution to the nationalities question in the Balkans. All they were concerned about was maintaining imperialist control. They understood that one man's freedom fighter was another man's terrorist. One man's humanitarian intervention was another man's foreign imperial occupation. One man's humanitarianism was another man's imperialism/colonialism. This selective morality and moral relativism and ethics result when power, not law, is the criterion of international relations and foreign policy. Might makes right. That is the only principle in realpolitik, in power politics, in imperialism/colonialism. It is all about power and nothing else. This dichotomy between power and humanity has endured into the New World Order, with a new terminology for the same concepts: "Globalism" and "hegemon" have replaced "imperialism", while "humanitarian intervention" and "military humanism" and "human rights" have been added to the political lexicon.
One consequence of the occupation of Cyprus by Britain was the demand by France to occupy Tunisia in North Africa. The occupation of the Maghreb by France led to the "scramble for Africa" and a new rush to imperialist/colonial expansion and conflict in Africa between France, Britain, and Germany, which further exacerbated tensions between these major powers, and which led inexorably to World War I.
A.J.P. Taylor wrote that the Congress of Berlin was convened to "solve" or resolve the Great Eastern Crisis/Eastern Question but in fact it "contained the seeds of future disaster":
Macedonia and Bosnia, the two great achievements of the congress, both contained the seeds of future disaster. The Macedonian question haunted European diplomacy for a generation and then caused the Balkan war of 1912. Bosnia first provoked the crisis of 1908 and then exploded the World war in 1914, a war which brought down the Habsburg monarchy.
Several decades after the Congress of Berlin, when Bismarck was asked what would start the next war in Europe, his reply was:
Europe today is a powder keg and the leaders are like men smoking in an arsenal...A single spark will set off an explosion that will consume us all...I cannot tell you when that explosion will occur, but I can tell you where...Some damned foolish thing in the Balkans will set it off.
The seeds to World War I were sown at the Congress of Berlin. The peace achieved at Berlin was only a temporary, short term fix that only exacerbated the underlying ethnic/religious/national/ political conflicts of the Great Eastern Crisis. The peace was illusory and inequitable and did not resolve any of the issues. The Congress offered no solution to the Eastern Question. The Realpolitik/power politics paradigm used by Bismarck and Disraeli was inappropriate to resolve the conflict. The Congress of Berlin deliberated in the context of imperialism and Great Power balance of power and spheres of influence polices. Imperialism presupposed future wars. Imperialism was based on the inequality of nations and peoples, on a hierarchical structure of domination and subordination, of exploitation and control. The Congress of Berlin created a powder keg. The spark that ignited the explosion came on June 28, 1914, Vidov Dan or Kosovo Day. World War I began in 1914 in Sarajevo. But the origins can be found in 1878 in Berlin.
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