A short, successful war would probably tend to confirm the industrial population of England in its somewhat narrow outlook on life, in its well-ordered but unsatisfied materialism; a long one, waged in a just cause for the greater freedom of democracy, could not fail to create a higher type of intelligent nationalism in the masses. Clearly, then, the future of Liberalism, both as regards its leadership and its dominant principles, depends greatly on the duration and results of the war.
But, whether it be long or short, there can be no doubt that the memory of these days, in which the people has heard, and answered the higher call of patriotism in the hour of national peril, must infuse into Liberalism, as into Conservatism, a broader view of the public interest, something less parochial and more truly national in its attitude. The spirit of comradeship, of kindly sympathy of class for class, the common hopes and sorrows and fears, that have united the nation to confront a common danger, these will not lightly be forgotten. War, despite all its horrors, undoubtedly calls forth in men some of the noblest virtues. Tried in its cleansing fires, the gold of humanity is purified. From this great upheaval of all our comfortable securities, the nation will emerge with new and broader conceptions of duty and self-denial and discipline.
Our class wars will not end, but they will surely be made less bitter, at least during the life of the present generation, by recollection of the days when dukes’ sons and cooks’ sons fought side by side in the trenches and together stormed the deadly breach. Conservatives will remember that, in the supreme hour of trial, it was the leaders of the Liberal party, Mr. Asquith, Sir Edward Grey, Mr. Churchill, and Mr. Lloyd George, who upheld the nation’s honor, and refused to parley with the ‘infamous proposal,’ which would have bought peace at the price of Belgium’s freedom and the utter humiliation of France. And Liberals will remember that, when the storm broke, there was no voice of recrimination or reproach from the ranks of their political opponents, from the men who, following Lord Roberts, had for years urged the utter inadequacy of the nation’s military defenses.
When this war is over and done, and civilization comes to count its appalling cost, there must be a strong reaction against militarism, and especially against that which Mr. Wells calls Kruppism; but never again, we may be sure, will England consent to be an unarmed nation amongst nations in arms. Pacifists and humanitarians will continue, as Liberals, to proclaim their traditional principles and policies; Nonconformists and the Society of Friends will continue to work for the day when arbitration treaties and mutual goodwill between the nations shall be the guarantees of universal peace; but Liberalism, both among the classes and among the masses, has been rudely awakened from dreams to the tough world of realities. If Lord Roberts lives to see England’s house set in order after tis war, he should have the satisfaction of knowing that his life work has been crowned by the nation’s recognition of the need for national military service, organized on an equitable and democratic basis.