The Expansion of Civilisation
The nations of the civilised world began to seek means of expansion during the fifteenth century, and the process has never been more active than at the present time. The white man has subjugated the greater part of the globe. America and Australia are occupied, Africa is in process of partition, and the greater part of Asia is already in a state of dependence. Thanks to the overwhelming power of their armaments and capital, the white races meet with little real opposition, and may style themselves masters of the world.
Yet the white man's methods of conquest and domination differ in few essentials from those of the barbarian who once invaded civilisation. The barbarian massacred and pillaged, and only when pillage ceased to be as remunerative as heretofore, did he turn to a permanent occupation of conquered territories and a regular exploitation of subject populations. When civilisation became the stronger power it used the same methods upon the barbarian and other backward races. Spain and Portugal led, and their rivals and successors—Holland, England, France—have been content to follow. With the fewest possible exceptions colonial systems, resulting from extra-European conquest and discovery, were devised for the sole purpose of exploiting foreign lands for the exclusive benefit of the political and military oligarchies ruling the homeland, or commercial and industrial corporations to which, in return for a monetary consideration, those oligarchies were content to cede the right of colonial trade, and the monopoly of importing colonial produce. The insatiable cupidity and bloody cruelty of the Spanish conquistadors has become a byword of history. Their advent in the West Indies, Mexico, and Peru, was marked by an orgy of massacre and pillage, and nothing but exhaustion of the gold, silver, and other movable treasures of those countries, turned the thoughts of these men towards partitioning the land, and exploiting the mineral and other resources of the country, not excepting the human cattle—their inhabitants. The vast colonial territories of Spain afforded ample scope for a fruitful activity on the part of its governing classes, soldiers, civil officials, holders of concessions, who exploited their lands by Indian labour, and later—when the native had perished under the lash—by the labour of imported African slaves. A few industrial and commercial monopolists secured rapid fortune by their control of colonial markets, but the Spanish nation obtained no return for the enormous expense of maintaining its empire. Desirously coveted by the oligarchical governors of other States, these colonies required a costly garrison and navy, and were an incessant cause of war. Those wars necessitated increased taxation, harassed industry at home, multiplied the numbers of the unemployed, and reduced the masses to a state of covetousness and misery. By its temporary enrichment of a few families, and their enrichment was only temporary since general impoverishment of the nation soon overwhelmed them with the rest, the vicious colonial system of Spain was the chief cause of that country's ruin.
Nor, if we regard it from the point of view of general national interests, has the system of conquest and exploitation been of real benefit to any country. The governing oligarchies, aristocrat or bourgeois, in England, France, or Holland, may have benefited from colonial possessions, but they are a burden on the generality which must pay for endless wars, and suffer the artificially enhanced prices of colonial products protected in the home market. And, after all this, the colonies cast loose from their mother countries. In the Spanish colonies the war of emancipation was initiated by native aspirants to civil and military employ, who sought to displace officials imported from home; the leaders in the English colonies were colonists—landed proprietors, merchants, and artisans—claiming the right of their relatives in the mother country to be subjected to no taxation of which they had not themselves approved. Thus to the expenses already incurred in colonial conquest and defence there was now added the cost of combating these revolts. The War of American Independence, to mention no other, doubled the National Debt of England, and loaded French finance with a burden which was a prime cause of the premature explosion of the French Revolution. A balance sheet of a "Colonial Undertakings" account, between the close of the fifteenth and opening of the nineteenth century, would discover a singular inclination towards the debit side. And if it be asserted that expansion of trade and industry, due to colonisation, has been an active cause of progress, the assertion is true, but it remains that the same progress could have been secured at less cost and by far less barbarous methods.
After a period of comparative rest, civilised nations have again begun to seek after expansion; but so far from novel are the means employed that, while conquered nations suffer no loss than in former times, those which expand do so at a greatly enhanced cost. Under the old system, governments seeking to conquer or exploit nations outside the civilised pale, were accustomed to entrust part of the task—and often a very large part—to specially organised companies. They still delegate governmental rights to semi-political, semi-mercantile companies, but it is seldom indeed that they delegate the task of conquering and administering actual new colonies. The colonial expansion of to-day pretends to foster industry and commerce generally, but its true purpose is to satisfy the demands of particular, and politically influential, classes whose support is essential to the governments concerned. This class, the active element in the electorate, is greedy of public employment, and salaried officialdom belongs almost entirely to its ranks. These men live on the budget, whether they be civil or military officials, great merchants or manufacturers, and their agents, in search of markets protected from foreign competition. The enormously increased costs of a modern war between civilised peoples, and the difficulty of procuring new territory by this means, have forced the governing classes to go outside the boundaries of civilisation in search of employment for their surplus officials, and protected markets for their merchants. The benefits thus secured by certain classes are as nothing compared to the costs imposed on the nation at large. Taking the single example of the French colonies, these possessions cost the mother country a sum practically equal to the value of her exports to the same places, so that it is no exaggeration to assert that colonisation is the most costly and least remunerative of all enterprises undertaken by the State.
Although the colonies of England cost her less and yield a greater return, there can be little doubt that the balance on their account is still on the wrong side. Colonial Office estimates may be relatively inconsiderable, but the Navy and Army votes increase every day, and are largely necessitated by the obligation of England to protect her empire, and to be prepared for the numerous quarrels which are inseparable from a policy of expansion. The English taxpayer supports a destructive apparatus little short of colossal, and little more than a fraction of which would suffice to protect the United Kingdom proper. Impost plays no small part in meeting the cost of that armament, and it must not be forgotten that impost increases public revenue at the expense of a corresponding diminution in private income plus the cost of collection, while, by increasing the cost of general production, it also renders the producer less able to compete with his foreign rivals. Competition daily becomes more acute in the field of industry no less than between nation and nation, and while colonial expansion augments the burden of naval and military establishments, it also enfeebles British industry, and renders the nation decadent.
Nor will the effects of this policy appear less disastrous when examined from the standpoint of the nations thus subjected to their civilised brethren. In no single case has the conquest and exploitation of territory inhabited by barbarians, or people on a lower plane of civilisation, brought any moral or material benefit to the victims. Destruction seems inseparable from conquests of this nature—destruction in the act of conquest, but still more from the vices and sickness introduced by the conqueror; destruction of natural wealth through a greedy and improvident system of exploitation which fells the tree to pluck the fruit of a single season.
But a substitution of a State of Peace for the State of War immediately gives a preponderant influence to that majority of the people which is vowed to productive labour. This class finds little use in expending blood and treasure on an empty pursuit of conquest, only profitable to a minority of civil and military officials and certain privileged merchants. While necessity, consequent on the pressure of universal competition, compels it to decrease its costs of production to a minimum, it is cheaper to delegate the acquisition and exploitation of countries, still without the civilised pale, to free "Colonising Companies," whose action in extending civilisation will be no less rapid, more sure, and much more economical.
The present system by which the government of a State undertakes these functions and the taxpayers support the cost, appropriates all profits to the governing class in the mother country. The interest of the conquered State and its now subject population is wholly subordinated, and invariably sacrificed, to that of the conqueror and master. Substitute the agency of companies, constituted without limitation as to the period of their duration, and with no restrictions on the choice of personnel or method and—the enterprise being at their proper risk and peril—they will take good care that the wealth of countries, hitherto occupied by backward or decadent races, is exploited on the most scientific lines. Such companies will have every interest in developing the productive faculties of their subjects, and will be entirely ready to ameliorate their moral and material condition. Civilisation will thus be extended without recourse to the present barbarous and costly processes of conquest.