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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

The anti-war and anti-empire British politician John Bright, along with his colleague Richard Cobden, suffered at the hands of the electorate for their opposition to Britain’s involvement in the Crimean War (1854-56) against the Russian Empire. The nationalism of the moment led to Cobden’s defeat at the election of 1857. Bright was able to hold his seat perhaps with the help of his great skills as an orator as exemplified in this speech from 1858 in which he reflects on the path Britain’s foreign policy had taken after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 up to the Crimean War. His conclusion is that, as in so many areas, the ruling elites were able to dominate parliament in such a way as to make sure that taxpayer funded benefits and subsidies ended up in their pockets. In this case, he argued that the elites who controlled the army, the navy, and the foreign office were just so many “place-hunters” who sought and got secure, well-paying government jobs and contracts at the expense of the ordinary British taxpayers. He took every opportunity to bring these facts to the attention of the British people in public talks and speeches in parliament during his long political career which spanned the years from 1843 to 1889. He sadly concluded that things had not changed very much during this period since “men made no progress whatever, but went round and round like a squirrel in a cage” making the same mistakes over and over again.

Other quotes about War & Peace:

5 November, 2012

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John Bright calls British foreign policy “a gigantic system of (welfare) for the aristocracy” (1858)

Read the full quote in context here.

The British MP John Bright (1811-1889) gave a speech to his constituents in the Birmingham Town Hall on October 29, 1858 in which he asked who benefitted from Britain’s foreign policy of constantly interfering in the affairs of other nations? His conclusion was that it served the needs of the “place-hunters”, those members of the ruling elite who sought jobs for themselves, their families, and their friends. In other words, a form of welfare for the aristocracy:

There is no actuary in existence who can calculate how much of the wealth, of the strength, of the supremacy of the territorial families of England has been derived from an unholy participation in the fruits of the industry of the people, which have been wrested from them by every device of taxation, and squandered in every conceivable crime of which a Government could possibly be guilty.

The more you examine this matter the more you will come to the conclusion which I have arrived at, that this foreign policy, this regard for “the liberties of Europe,” this care at one time for “the Protestant interests,” this excessive love for the “balance of power,” is neither more nor less than a gigantic system of out-door relief for the aristocracy of Great Britain. [Great laughter.]

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

But, it may be asked, did nobody gain? If Europe is no better, and the people of England have been so much worse, who has benefited by the new system of foreign policy? What has been the fate of those who were enthroned at the Revolution, and whose supremacy has been for so long a period undisputed among us? Mr. Kinglake, the author of an interesting book on Eastern Travel, describing the habits of some acquaintances that he made in the Syrian Deserts, says that the jackals of the Desert follow their prey in families like the place-hunters of Europe. I will reverse, if you like, the comparison, and say that the great territorial families of England, which were enthroned at the Revolution, have followed their prey like the jackals of the Desert. Do you not observe at a glance that, from the time of William III, by reason of the foreign policy which I denounce, wars have been multiplied, taxes increased, loans made, and the sums of money which every year the Government has to expend augmented, and that so the patronage at the disposal of Ministers must have increased also, and the families who were enthroned and made powerful in the legislation and administration of the country must have had the first pull at, and the largest profit out of, that patronage? There is no actuary in existence who can calculate how much of the wealth, of the strength, of the supremacy of the territorial families of England has been derived from an unholy participation in the fruits of the industry of the people, which have been wrested from them by every device of taxation, and squandered in every conceivable crime of which a Government could possibly be guilty.

The more you examine this matter the more you will come to the conclusion which I have arrived at, that this foreign policy, this regard for “the liberties of Europe,” this care at one time for “the Protestant interests,” this excessive love for the “balance of power,” is neither more nor less than a gigantic system of out-door relief for the aristocracy of Great Britain. [Great laughter.] I observe that you receive that declaration as if it were some new and important discovery. In 1815, when the great war with France was ended, every Liberal in England, whose politics, whose hopes, and whose faith had not been crushed out of him by the tyranny of the time of that war, was fully aware of this, and openly admitted it, and up to 1832, and for some years afterwards, it was the fixed and undoubted creed of the great Liberal party. But somehow all is changed. We who stand upon the old landmarks, who walk in the old paths, who would conserve what is wise and prudent, are hustled and shoved about as if we were come to turn the world upside down. The change which has taken place seems to confirm the opinion of a lamented friend of mine, who, not having succeeded in all his hopes, thought that men made no progress whatever, but went round and round like a squirrel in a cage. The idea is now so general that it is our duty to meddle everywhere, that it really seems as if we had pushed the Tories from the field, expelling them by our competition.

[More works by John Bright (1811 – 1889) and on War and Peace]