A Commentary (Oct 1930)
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190 ] A Commentary The Criterion: A Literary Review, 10 (Oct 1930) 1-4 The End of a Session The summer of Parliament ended in public depression and apathy, and we look towards the autumn resumption with still less hopefulness. Until recent years Parliamentary Government meant that one section of voters wanted to keep the Government in, to carry on its good work; and another section of voters wanted to turn it out, and substitute a really good one. So everyone, satisfied or not, had something to hope; and a General Election could be the occasion of excitement and festivity. But now no one wants thepresentgovernmentin,andnoonewantsitout.Mr.Snowdenbecomes more unpopular, and his policies more obviously ruinous; yet one shudders at the disturbance and expense of an Election which might merely instate Mr. Churchill in his place.1 Meanwhile Parliament has been occupied chiefly with matters such as finance which very few persons, either in it or out of it, can possibly understand; and has had very little time to give to such matters as its average education and intelligence should enable it to comprehend. Such persons within that body as have strong convictions are frequently more embarrassing to their own party than to any other. In short, the distinction of M.P. is not what it once was; and we may hear at any moment from the more inflammable daily press that Parliamentary Government is an “anachronism.” It is true that the present Government has acquitted itself moderately well in Foreign Affairs.2 That is to say, it has done very much as its predecessor did; in foreign affairs the Labour Government has not deviated from the Liberal policy of the previous Conservative Government. We doubt whether the Conservative Government would have done a jot better: though when a Conservative Government does it we call it a failure; and the same policy pursued by a Labour Government is called a success. It is the same old policy after all: that of presenting premature “self-government ,” such self-government to be, of course, invariably on an English model; and it involves the same old fallacies. One is that the absolute difference between governments is not between good and bad simply, but between being governed by people of one’s own race and language and [ 191 A Commentary (Oct) being governed by people of an alien race and language: the former is invariably better and a sovereign recipe for happiness. Another is that peoples can and must be “educated” up to our own forms of government: even if these do not work always quite so well at home as they once seemed to, they are certain to work better abroad than any other. And another is that “self-government” or “responsible self-government” is the one true hall-mark of a high civilization; and that no other contributions to culture can avail to make a people hold up its head, unless it is also “responsibly governing itself.” So we cannot congratulate the Labour Government on any wisdom or originalityinitsforeignpolicy ;butmerelyondemonstratingthattheConservative Government was no better. It would however be not only unfair, but dangerous self-deception, if we blamed the weak heads of contemporary ministers, ex-ministers, and Parliamentarians in general for the present depressing state of affairs at home and abroad. The rot in Parliament is only a symptom of the rot without ; and outside also mediocrity of mind and spirit is to be found conspicuous . The need is for causes for which sacrifices can be made: one might cheerfully submit to even higher taxes were there reason to believe that the money thus squeezed would be anything but squandered. The pathetic desire for a cause, for something simple to believe in, is shown by the partial acclamation of Lord Beaverbrook’s flimsy proposals. On one page of his sixpenny pamphlet he commends the “empire free trade” of the United States; and on another he shows us how clever the Germans are to prohibit the export of potatoes from East Prussia into the rest of Germany, with the result that they are dumped into England.3 Such a pinchbeck policy could only command attention in default of anything at all serious, and, we might add, of more intense spiritual appeal as well as greater practical utility. The Standard of Living “Self-determination” or “responsible self-government” is a catchword; “the standard of living” is another. It is freely used by Protectionists and by Trade Unionists (two divisions of interest only temporarily put...


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