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50 FORD MADOX FORD'S THE INHERITORS s A CONSERVATIVE RESPONSE TO SOCIAL IMPERIALISM By Robert Green (Kenyatta University College, Nairobi, Kenya) "The opening of the twentieth century finds us all, to the dismay of the old-fashioned individualist, 'thinking in communities .'"! So wrote the Webbs in their influential essay, "Lord Rosebery's Escape from Houndsditch," in September 1901, the year that also saw the publication of The Inheritors, the first of the novels written jointly by Ford and Joseph Conrad. The Inheritors was indeed designed as an attack on the very values the Webbs personified, and it is in these terms, as a fictional response to, and rendering of a political ideology, that I shall consider the novel, rather than as an illustration of the problematics of literary collaboration. The "Houndsditch" essay promulgated the doctrines of "Social Imperialism" and "National Efficiency," and it was the conflict between what the Webbs called "collectivist" and "old-fashioned individualist" approaches to government that was to form the main line of cleavage in English politics between the end of the Boer War and the outbreak of the First World War. The various groups that constituted the Social Imperialist movement began to be vocal and active after the South African fiasco, yet the roots' of collectivist agitation can be traced back earlier, to the 1880s and the growing opposition to Gladstonian individualism.2 The Boer War and its demonstration of the State's inefficiency only served to crystallise and clarify this unease; the war's mismanagement made particularly urgent the call for efficiency and a scientific approach to government. In a diary entry in 1894, before the South African disasters, Beatrice Webb had remarked that for her and Sidney "individualism " was synonymous with "anarchy."3 "Collectivism" was to be their lodestar and she summarised their creed as comprising collective ownership wherever practicable; collective regulation everywhere else; collective provision according to need for all the impotent and sufferers; and collective taxation in proportion to wealth, especially surplus wealth.^ The stress in this litany plainly lies on "collective," on the individual's subordination to the needs of the community, or, as Beatrice Webb was to comment in an admiring reference to Japan, on "the self-abnegation of all classes of the community in a common cause,"5 Liberalism was contemptible because of its commitment to individualism, to freedom of contract, and the primacy of the market laws of supply and demand. The State, the collectivists argued, had to intervene in the lives of individuals. Backed by the facts gleaned 51 from scientific investigation, it had to legislate for the improvement of material conditions. Ford's work between 19OI and 1915 was aimed, above all, at countering this growing collectivism, The Inheritors being only the most explicit of many attacks. Ford championed the traditional pieties of the Conservative Party, "individualism and property as against collectivism and labour legislation," at the same time as Salisbury and Balfour, the repositories of these values, were being thrust aside by Chamberlain.° The latter had been primarily responsible for the declaration of war in I899 and The Inheritors opposes both of Chamberlain's main platforms - Imperialism and social reform. Yet although the Boer War was the novel's most obvious target, its deeper concerns lay in Ford's unease over the increasing collectivism of English life, the State's growing power over the individual. Ford was fond of describing himsqlf as a "Tory revolutionary."7 He was a Conservative by virtue of his adherence to the ideals of Salisbury and Balfour, the primacy of a landed aristocracy and Established Church, authority based on "tradition." From this position Ford would oppose what he called "levelling" tendencies in politics, the social reforms of Chamberlain and the Webbs.8 Yet he could call himself a "revolutionary" Tory because of his attack on the party's Imperialism and his belief that South Africa ought rightfully to be ruled by its indigenous black population.9 (This was indeed a radical departure from Conservative policy, and even among the pro-Boers, the Liberal opposition to the war, nobody was then prepared to go so far as to support the blacks' right to rule. Their political rights were soon...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 50-61
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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