Friday 16th of August 2002 11:54 PM 
 
 
Essay [01]

CAUSED BY JINGOISM?


The term 'Jingoism' became part of the English vocabulary as a result of the Balkan crisis of 1878, when the war spirit in England gave rise to the popular song:
"We don't want to fight"
But by Jingo, if we do,
We've got the men, we've got the ships,
We've got the money too"
Twenty years later the term was frequently used to describe the super-patriotism and war spirit which was fostered by those supporting imperialism. The reading below is from the book by J. A. Hobson, The Psychology of Jingoism. Written as a follow-up to his book of the preceding year, The War in South Africa, Its Causes and Effects, it is a further blast at the government's policy. Hobson analyses the state of mind called jingoism and develops his thesis as to the factors which created this spirit.



The Forces of Press, Platform, and Pulpit
J. A. Hobson
1901


A recent French writer, discoursing on the nature of a "crowd" attributes to it a character and conduct which is lower, intellectually and morally, than the character and conduct of its average member. Even when the crowd is little other than a fortuitous concourse, and not an organised gathering of persons already assimilated by some common feeling or idea, a sort of common mind is temporarily set up, which often seems to dominate, or even to supersede, the normal mind of the individual. A sensational rumour, a sudden unusual spectacle, the powerful appeal of a mob orator, so agitates the mass of individuals, hitherto related by mere propinquity, as to raise by a largely unconscious interaction of personalities, a quick ferment of thought and feeling which impels individuals to take part in a common action that is not their mere individual choice. This passion of the mob, implying an abandonment of self-control by the individual, is a fact too well recognised to require proof. But its nature and origin are both obscure and interesting. This war in South Africa casts a powerful searchlight upon the nature of the large, and in some ways highly-organised, crowd which we call the British nation, The suddenness, the size, and the manifold sensationalism of the occurrence are the precise conditions requisite for testing the mass-mind of the people. What the orator does for his audience the press has done for the nation; it has injected notions and feelings which, instead of lying in the separate minds of their recipients, have bubbled up into enthusiastic sympathy, and induced a community of thought, language, and action which was hitherto unknown.

Now, the most astonishing phenomenon of this war-fever is the credulity displayed by the educated classes. It is, of course, true that ordinary education is so curiously defective in this country that not one in fifty persons could have correctly named the capital of the Orange Free State at the beginning of 1899. But education might have been expected to teach caution in the acceptance and assimilation of the flood of information which poured through the press during the last two years. Our educated classes are usually scornful of the man who believes everything he reads in the newspapers, and who pronounces quick dogmatic judgments upon delicate and intricate points of politics or economics. Yet the majority of these cultured persons have submitted their intelligence to the dominion of popular prejudice and passion as subserviently as the man in the street, whom they despise. The canons of reasoning which they habitually apply in their business or profession, and in the judgements they form of events and characters, are superseded by the sudden fervour of this strange amalgam of race feeliing, animal pugnacity, rapacity, and sporting zest, which they dignify by the name of patriotism.

No one would think of accepting in any ordinary private matter of importance the testimony of interested parties, unchecked and incapable of cross-examination, as sufficient evidence to warrant the spending of his money and the risking of his life. Yet the testimony to the Outlander grievances and the Dutch conspiracy given as the justification of this war is almost entirely of this order. The allegation that the press of South Africa which has furnished information to the press and people of this country, is owned and controlled by a small, known and named body of mining capitalists and speculators who have openly avowed the gains they hoped to make by this war, is not seriously disputed. Yet persons fully aware of this allow their minds to be swayed by the unanimity of the British testimony from South Africa, as presented by this press and by the poli ticians who have got their information from the same factory of falsehood.


But the most remarkable example of this corruption is afforded by the adoption of members of the mine-owning confraternity as authoratative advisers on the nature of the war and its settlement. Mr Fitzpatrick,. whose book, "The Transvaal from Within," is accepted as if it were the unbiased state- ment of a skilled historian who happened to reside in the Transvaal, is a member of the Ekstein firm (the local branch of Weinher, Beit, and Co.), and was one of the leaders in the Johannesburg insurrection of 1895; Mr. Lionel Philipps, whose recommendations on settlement were fully reporteed in the Times, is. a partner in the same firm; Mr. Hosken, another widely- read authority, is a importer of mining machinery, an ex-director of the Transvaal Leader, a newspaper started in the spring of 1899, to bring matters to the test of battle; while Messrs. Rudd, Hayes, Hammond, Robinson, Farrar, and other men, whose voices resound through the British press, are directors and employes of those leading Rand companies, which have calc ulated the millions they hope to make from the results of the war. It is reason able that these men should be heard, but it is not reasonable that their statements of fact and views of policy should be taken as authoritative, while the facts and views set forth, not merely by Dutch Colonists, but by British travellers like Mr. Bryce and Mr. Selous, are treated with contempt. The unanimous support of the Christian Churches in South Africa is similarly raised into authority by leaving out of account the Dutch Christian Churches, which are, of course, equally unanimous in denouncing the war It is, indeed, curious that men and women with any knowledge of history should adduce the blessing of the Churches as testimony to the justice of any cause. Where have the priests ever failed to bless a war supported by authority and popular passion?

The most momentous lesson of the war is its revelation of the methods by which a knot of men, financiers. and politicians, can capture the mind of a nation, arouse its passion, and impose a policy. It is now seen that freedom of speech, public meeting, and press not merely affords no adequate protection against this danger, but that it is itself menaced and impaired; the system of party, which has heretofore, by providing a free, vigorous, and genuine scrutiny of every important political pro posal, been a strong safeguard against all endeavours of a clique or a class to exploit the commonwealth, has broken down under the strain of an attack unprecedented in its vigour and in the skill of its direction.

The information from South Africa which impressed upon the public mind a conviction of the justice and necessity of war, and which aroused and sustained the passion of Jingoism, did not flow freely into the country through many diverse, unconnected channels, as is commonly supposed. The extraordinary agreement of the metropolitan and provincil press, Unionist and LiberaI, religious and secular, in its presentation of leading facts in its diagnosis of the situation and its pressure of a drastic policy, is doubtless responsible for the unwavering confidence which the great majority of the nation placed in the policy of the Government at the outset of the war. Such an amount of consentaneity seemed to attest a case of overwhelrning strength. When the Government press was joined by the two leading Opposition organs in London, and by the great majority of important Opposition papers through- out the country; when the nonpolitical press, and, in particular, the most powerful journals of the Churches, urged the necessity of war, the doubts of intellect and of conscience in many minds were overborne by such unanimity.
When to this union of the press was added the voices of a thousand pulpits and the instruction of a thousand platforms, where travllers, rnissionaries, politicians and philanthropists set forth substantially the same body of facts and drew the same morals, the case for war seemed undeniable. It is little wonder that people unacquainted with the structure of the press, and with methods of educating public opinion should have been imposed upon by this concurrence of testimony. If the papers which they read, and the speakers to whom they listened, had drawn their facts and their opinions from a variety of independent sources, the authority they exercised would have been legitimate. But what was the actual case? Turn first to the press, by far the most potent instrument in the modern manufacture of public opinion. The great majority of provincial newspapers, and most of the weeklies, metropolitan or provincial, religious as well as political, derive their information regarding foreign and colonial affairs entirely from the chief London 'dailies,' supplemented; in the case of the more important organs, by "cables" from the same sources which supply the London "dailies." Most provincial papers take not only their news but their "views," with abject servility, from the London journal which they most admire.
In a very few instances, important provincial papers receive first-hand intelligence from special correspondents of their own by mail, but for all prompt intelligence they are absolutely dependent upon the sources abovernentioned. The otherwise miraculous agreement of the British press is, thus, first resolved into the agreement of a few journals; chiefly in London, and of two or three press agencies. We have next to ask from what sources do the latter get their information? On this point the case of the South African war is particularly instructive. All the leading London papers received their South African intelligence from correspondents who were members of the staff of newspapers in Capetown and Johannesburg, supplemented in two instances last year by information from special travelling correspondents, who, in their turn, derived most of that information from newspaper offices in South Africa. In particular, the two London newspapers which exercised most influence upon the mind of the educated classes in this country, the Times and Daily News, were instructed, in the former case, by the newly-appointed editor of the Johannesburg Star; in the latter case by the editor of the Cape Times. The two chief cable companies also drew rnost of the Capetown intelligence from the Cape Times and the Argus Company, while one of them was fed with Transvaal intelligence by a prominent member of the Executive of the South African League at Johannesburg.
The press unanimity in Great Britain is thus traced to certain newspaper offices in Capetown and Johannesburg. Now if these half dozen newspapers had been independent and reliable organs, the news they supplied, and the forcible policy they imposed upon the British press and the British public might have reasonably carried weight. But they were neither independent nor reliable; they are members of a bought and kept press. The Cape Argus, bought some years ago by Messrs. Rhodes, Barnato, and Eckstein is now the nucleus Company, owning some half dozen papers in South Africa, and among that the Star of Johannesburg, whose editor instructed the readers of the London Times in the necessity of war, since the capture of the Orange Free State, the Company has strengthened its resources by obtaining from the British military authorities the sole right to establish a newspaper at Bloemfontein. The newspapers at Kimberley and at Bulawayo are in the same hands, and the Cape Times is financially controlled by Mr. Rotherford Harris, a colleague or Mr. Rhodes in his several financial ventures. The principal organs of public opinion at all the political pivots in South Africa are thus owned by the little group of men who also own or control the diamond mines at Kimberley, the goldfields of the Rand, and the government and resources of Rhodesia.

This conjunction of the forces of the press, the platform, and the pulpit, has succeeded in monopolising the mind of the British public and in imposing a policy calculated not to secure the interests of the British Empire, but to advance the private political, and business interests of a small body of men who have exploited the race feeling in South Arrica and the Imperialist sentiment of England. They have done this by the simple device of securing all important avenues of intelligence, and of using them to inject into the public mind a continuous stream of false or distorted information.

 

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