Summary: As our mad, expensive but profitless empire weighs us down, we can learn from the policies of the greatest western empire since Rome. One of its leaders explains the key aspects of their grand strategy.
From a speech by Lord Palmerston, one of Britain’s great Foreign Ministers (and Prime Minister), on 1 March 1848:
I hold with respect to alliances that England is a Power sufficiently strong, sufficiently powerful to steer her own course, and not to tie herself as an unnecessary appendage to the policy of any other Government.
I hold that the real policy of England — apart from questions which involve her own particular interests, political or commercial — is to be the champion of justice and right, pursuing that course with moderation and prudence, not becoming the Quixote of the world, but giving the weight of her moral sanction and support wherever she thinks that justice is, and wherever she thinks that wrong has been done.
In pursuing that course, and in pursuing the more limited direction of our own particular interests, my conviction is that as long as England keeps herself in the right, as long as she wishes to permit no injustice, as long as she wishes to countenance no wrong, as long as she labours at legislative interests of her own, and as long as she sympathizes with right and justice, she never will find herself altogether alone. She is sure to find some other state, of sufficient power, influence, and weight, to support and aid her in the course she may think fit to pursue.
It is a narrow policy to suppose that this country or that is to be marked out as the eternal ally or the perpetual enemy of England. We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.
When we find other countries marching in the same course, and pursuing the same objects as ourselves, we consider them as our friends, and we think for the moment that we are on the most cordial footing; when we find other countries that take a different view, and thwart us in the object we pursue, it is our duty to make allowance for the different manner in which they may follow out the same objects.
It is our duty not to pass too harsh a judgement upon others, because they do not exactly see things in the same light as we see; and it is our duty not lightly to engage this country in the frightful responsibilities of war, because from time to time we may find this or that Power disinclined to concur with us in matters where their opinion and ours may fairly differ.
Other notes from the past
- Our futures seen in snippets of the past, 16 June 2008
- President Grant warns us about the dangers of national hubris, 7 July 2008
- de Tocqueville warns us not to become weak and servile, 21 July 2008
- Let’s look at America in the mirror, the first step to reform, 14 August 2008
- Can Americans pull together? If not, why not?, 29 August 2008
- A warning from Alexis De Tocqueville about our military, 7 August 2009
- Daniel Ellsberg writes about the past, helping us to see our future, 16 September 2009
- France gives us tips for the Afghanistan War, from their successful role in the American Revolution, 11 March 2010