London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1999, ISBN: 340657901X; 525pp.
University of East Anglia
Date accessed: 26 February, 2021
John Charmley is, of course, no stranger to controversy.... How tempting it would be to begin a review of his latest book in this vein. Indeed, one suspects that Professor Charmley must be only too aware that his own reputation as a trenchant Conservative (with a very capital C) controversialist all too often overshadows the substance of his arguments. Unsurprisingly, then, most reviewers have focused on the final third of Splendid Isolation?, in which Charmley deals with the fateful decision of the Asquith Cabinet to join the ensuing war on the continent in August 1914. Certainly to this reviewer's mind, this is the most problematical aspect of the book. Nevertheless, this foreshortening of the perspective is somewhat unfortunate, for Splendid Isolation? is a book of some considerable scholarly erudition and merit, and has more to offer than a revisionist take on '1914'.
Having said that, this is not an easy book to review. First of all, its title is slightly misleading. This is not primarily a history of British foreign policy from Disraeli's second administration to the outbreak of the Great War. Charmley's chief interest is rather in what he calls a Conservative, or 'Country Party', foreign policy tradition. Secondly, especially in the first part of the book, he deals less with the actual course of British diplomacy than with the politics of British foreign policy, that is the influence of diverse groups and individuals within the Cabinet on policy-making. It is here, in its 'high politics' approach, that the book's real strength lies. Broadly speaking, the book falls into three parts, the first of which deals with the problems of British foreign policy under the auspices of the awkward Disraeli-Derby tandem. This is followed by a survey of Lord Salisbury's long and unruffled ascendancy over Britain's foreign relations, and its sequel under Lord Lansdowne. As almost a kind of anti-dote, the final part of the book is devoted to what Charmley sees as Edward Grey's gratuitous over-committing of this country to France and Russia, and his subsequent blundering into war.
At first glance, Splendid Isolation? may strike the reader as curiously old-fashioned. In parts, it is almost Macaulay-esque in its partisanship (- though, of course, Professor Charmley sends his shock troops into battle under the banner of a quite different political colour). John Charmley has his heroes and villains, and he presents his tale with great verve and punch. And yet, it is not quite as old-fashioned as it might appear. The history of Britain's foreign relations in Splendid Isolation? is not of the 'what-one-clerk-said-to-another' variety, and this is not just because clerks do not feature very prominently in this book - in sharp contrast to the Tapers and Tadpoles of the Tory party. In its first part, John Charmley offers a shrewd analysis of the developing dynamics within the Disraeli Cabinet, especially the Earl of Derby's attempts to rein in Disraeli's forays into foreign policy, though he perhaps underestimates the importance of the 'secret committee' formed by Disraeli, Salisbury and Cairns, the Lord Chancellor, in late 1877 to by-pass Derby. Sadly, however, we shall probably have to bid farewell to the myth of Lady Derby's romantic attachment to Russia's ambassador Count Pyotr Shuvalov as the main source through which St. Petersburg learnt about policy debates in Downing Street. Sir Stafford Northcote, whose historical reputation never really recovered from his mauling by Randolph Churchill and other Tory back-benchers in the 1880's, emerges as the crucial ball-bearing that kept together the disparate groups in the Cabinet; and Lord Salisbury appears a little bit more scheming and ambitious than his biographers have been prepared to concede. Moreover, by emphasizing the importance of foreign policy traditions, Charmley has identified an important, though perhaps somewhat unduly neglected aspect of international history. To some extent, indeed, he seeks to do for 'authentic' conservatism what A.J.P. Taylor did for the dissenting tradition in his Trouble Makers. Following in the footsteps of John Vincent, Charmley particularly seeks to vindicate Derby's policy. He argues convincingly that Derby's passive attitude during the Great Eastern Crisis of 1875-8 was not so much a reflection of his flabby and phlegmatic personality, as has often been argued (- and which he undoubtedly had); but that he was shaped by the core beliefs of the insular 'Country Party' tradition in which he was so firmly rooted. According to Charmley this tradition 'had been ill-disposed towards too great an intervention in European affairs and had tried to avoid expensive commitments abroad' (p.23). This was not merely a question of values but also of self-interest, as Charmley rightly points out, for the expenses of war would have to be borne by the squires and the large landowners (of whom, it ought to be noted, the Lancashire magnate Derby was one, and by no means the least significant) (p.114). All of this makes good sense, and it opens up avenues for further research. Yet, it is unfortunate that Charmley confines himself to a few en passant remarks on this subject. This is perhaps a slightly unfair criticism because it is essentially a request for more, in what is already a weighty tome of some 400-odd pages of text and another 100 pages of footnotes. Nevertheless, the roots and principal tenets of this Conservative tradition are not as clearly worked out as one would have wished. Reference is made to the Tories' seventeenth century 'Country Party' roots, though the real influences are probably to be found in Canning or Aberdeen (p.23). Indeed, one is left wondering whether this 'tradition' was not perhaps more a reaction against the huge financial burden imposed on the country by the Great War against revolutionary and Napoleonic France. Also, given the interaction between economic self-interests of the land-owning aristocracy and its foreign policy preferences one would have wished for Professor Charmley to pursue this topic a little further.
If Derby is the unlikely hero, then Disraeli is clearly the villain of the piece. Although he pays respect to Disraeli's political courage, the latter emerges as the sort of exotic adventurer his contemporary critics held him to be. For Charmley, Disraeli was a Palmerstonian without Pam's moral concerns. Indeed, he contends that the combination of Disraeli's populist instincts, geopolitical awareness, and his cynical irresponsibility drove the country to the brink of war with Russia. It may have become unfashionable to defend Disraeli, but one wonders whether his many detractors on the Conservative right have not perhaps been taken in by his theatrical bombast and seemingly blasé cynicism. If he played to the gallery at home, he did so because he had understood better than Derby that public opinion could no longer be ignored in the conduct of foreign affairs. As his successor as Conservative leader, Lord Salisbury, noted many years later, success in foreign policy depended on 'the swing of the pendulum at home.'(1) It was perhaps the most important lesson he learnt from Disraeli. Moreover, the risks Disraeli was prepared to take were calculated ones. Russia, still not recovered from the Crimean War over twenty years previously, was in no state to wage war; her alliance with the two other Eastern monarchies, Germany and Austria-Hungary, was built on flimsy foundations; and the fact that Disraeli kept open the diplomatic channels to the other great powers ensured that the British government could exert pressure by playing on the differences between the other powers, without having to resort to military force. It was a conjuring trick, but it was effective. John Charmley rightly points out that, in terms of Britain's international standing, the achievements of the Disraeli-Salisbury duo at the Berlin Congress in July 1878 did not last long. But then it is, perhaps, illusory to assume that any kind of permanence can be achieved in international politics. Indeed, thoughtful, intelligent and convincing as his analysis of the high politics dimension of foreign policy is, Charmley's book is hampered by what strike me as two blindspots. First, the exclusive focus on political actors comes at the price of neglecting the role played by the Foreign Office and Britain's diplomats abroad. This is not to advocate old-fashioned 'what-one-clerk-said-to-another'-ism. But leaving the clerks out altogether means that the reader does not get a sense of Derby or any of his successors as operators within the Whitehall machinery. It also means that the reader remains unaware of the extent to which, for example, Disraeli relied on Lord Tenterden, the permanent under-secretary of the FO, for advice, or later Salisbury let himself be guided by the ambassador at Constantinople, Sir William White, during the Bulgarian crisis of 1885 (when Salisbury performed what appeared to be a volte face). A notable exception, though, is John Charmley's accurate emphasis on the influence Sir Thomas Sanderson exercised as PUS between 1894 and 1906. Secondly, by relying on thumbnail sketches of foreign leaders such as Bismarck, Andrássy or Gorchakov, deftly executed and peppered with witty aperçus though they are, John Charmley does not convey fully the dynamics of international diplomacy, the background influences shaping the policies of the other great powers, and Britain's interactions with them. Now, Splendid Isolation? is, of course, a book about British foreign policy. But Charmley's approach has the unfortunate consequence of making international politics appear as some sort of unwelcome intrusion of foreign problems into the orderly course of British affairs. Thus, for example, Bismarck's approach to Britain in 1879 remains mysterious because Austria's desire for close cooperation with Britain in addition to the contemplated dual alliance with Germany is not explained properly.(2)
After the long and detailed examination of the Disraeli period, the Gladstone-Granville stewardship of Britain's external relations between 1880 and 1885 is dealt with in one-and-a-half chapters (- the Rosebery-Kimberley interlude of 1892-5 fares even worse, crammed into two brief paragraphs). This underlines Charmley's overall concern with the Conservative tradition in foreign policy, but it does less than justice to the Liberals' two spells in government. Charmley is undoubtedly right to be critical of Gladstone's idealistic notions about a renewed Concert of Europe and of his 'invertebrate dithering' during the Egyptian crisis in 1882 (p.185). But at no stage does his analysis here reach the level of sophistication and insight displayed in the earlier part of the book. By contrast, he is on much firmer ground with Lord Salisbury who virtually dominated British foreign policy from 1885 to 1902. Charmley very neatly and persuasively outlines Salisbury's approach to foreign policy. His Salisbury is very much a recognizable historical figure, flexible, patient and eschewing as much as possible European entanglements and commitments; someone who had more in common with Derby than is often thought, but who adapted Conservative foreign policy to the changed international circumstances, not least because he accepted the burdens of Empire. Charmley very rightly stresses the fact that the term 'isolationism' does not satisfactorily capture the nuances and the subtlety of Salisbury's diplomacy. It would be difficult to fault John Charmley's scholarship and his grasp of the Salisbury period, though occasionally it seems that he overestimates the strength of Salisbury's position in international diplomacy. The crucial difference between him and Derby was that Salisbury accepted that British interests could only be secured on the marketplace of European politics, and that meant treating with the continental powers. True, Bismarck met his diplomatic match in Salisbury, as Charmley demonstrates very well in the context of events in 1886-7 (p.219). But this should not be construed into an assumption of Salisbury's strength. Salisbury needed Bismarck, and indeed was forced into making barely palatable concessions in Zanzibar in return. Similarly, Charmley's account of the genesis of the Mediterranean agreements with Italy and Austria-Hungary in 1887 is very thorough and persuasive. But he never comes to grips with the background to the agreements, the ongoing 'duel' for control over each other between Bismarck and Salisbury, two players whose respective international position was weakening. It is, therefore, regrettable that Charmley does not properly explore Bismarck's 1889 alliance offer or the Anglo-German colonial agreement respecting Zanzibar of the following year. On the whole, Charmley seems less sure-footed when dealing with the Unionist Cabinet of 1895-1902. It is rather doubtful that Chamberlain was Salisbury's main antagonist already at the formation of the new government in 1895 when most contemporary sources still indicate the reverse.(3) Whereas Charmley displays considerable forensic skill in disentangling the skeins that constituted the politics of foreign policy in the late 1870's, he does not really fully grasp the extent to which Lord Salisbury's last Cabinet grew increasingly impatient with his conduct of foreign policy, and the extent to which Chamberlain was later able to manipulate this growing sense of frustration. A case in point is Charmley's reconstruction of the Cabinet discussions at the height of the Far Eastern crisis in February and March 1898, which he rightly identifies as crucial. His contention that Salisbury was opposed to Britain following the Russia and Germany by acquiring territory in China; that Chamberlain was in favour; and that Curzon, Salisbury's parliamentary under-secretary, opposed the premier, is not borne out by the extant archival evidence. Ironically the reverse was the case: Chamberlain opposed the lease of the Wei-hai-Wei naval base, whereas Salisbury and Curzon favoured it.(4)
But this is very much a momentary lapse. Charmley very briskly and accurately summarizes Chamberlain's role in the abortive Anglo-German alliance talks in 1898 and again in 1901. The other great merit of this book, in addition to his re-examination of Derby's diplomacy, is his treatment of Landsdowne's unduly neglected foreign-secretaryship. Charmley rightly stresses the continuity between Salisbury and his successor at the FO (- though he does perhaps underestimate the extent to which Lansdowne was 'his own man'). Lansdowne's foreign policy was not about alliances per se, but about reducing the burden of Britain's imperial commitments. Ironically, as Charmley points out, the Anglo-Japanese alliance of 1902 provided 'a Salisburian ... answer to the problem of how best to safeguard British interests in the Far East', even though Salisbury himself opposed this combination (p.295). Similarly, he rightly stresses the nature of the entente with France as limiting imperial over-stretch, as well as the link between this agreement and a possible agreement with Russia which Lansdowne, Balfour or Cromer had hoped for. His treatment of Lansdowne's deft diplomacy during the first Moroccan crisis of 1905, giving only vague assurances to France whilst ensuring that France and Germany would not come to a deal at the expense of British interests, is particularly convincing.
In the third and final part of Splendid Isolation? Charmley turns to Sir Edward Grey's diplomacy which, he argues, committed Britain ever more closely to France and Russia against Germany as a power with 'Napoleonic' aspirations. The Grey who emerges from these pages was inflexibly wedded to the idea of maintaining in the long term what had originally been conceived of as a temporary diplomatic instrument, the entente with France (p.339). In Charmley's reading, Grey was also inflexible in his dealings with Germany and plainly wrong-headed in his regarding the Austro-German Dual Alliance as quasi-monolithic (p.354). He rashly committed this country to intervening on the side of France in the event of a continental war. Grey thus occupies a place in Charmley's rogues' gallery alongside Disraeli and Winston Churchill (pp.400-1).(5) All three burdened Britain with continental commitments in Europe, and made her, in the words of a more recent Foreign Secretary, 'punch above her weight'. In doing so, Charmley argues, they helped to bring about the decline of this country in the twentieth century. The decision for war in 1914 was, then, the most fatal one in a series of political blunders from the late 1870s to 1939.
These are bold claims. They echo some of the arguments advanced recently by Niall Ferguson, though thankfully in this thoroughly researched and intelligently argued book the reader is spared the inanities to which Ferguson treated his readers.(6) Nevertheless there are a number of problems, partly conceptual and partly interpretative. The underlying thesis of Charmley's book queries the appropriateness of the 'continental commitment' as Britain's true strategy (p.2). In so doing, Charmley takes on a whole phalanx of historians, among them Michael Howard and Paul Kennedy, who argued that the best means of protecting Britain's imperial interests was to prevent any one power from dominating the continent of Europe.(7) To some extent Charmley is, of course, quite right: the principal concern with European diplomacy, and Anglo-German relations more especially, has led to the neglect by historians of the geostrategic periphery in great power politics. Given that Britain's imperial interests lay in the periphery, this neglect is deplorable. However, Charmley himself focuses almost entirely on Britain's European involvement, without elucidating the interaction between developments in the periphery and the (European) centre of international politics. Thus, to my mind, Splendid Isolation? fails to make sufficiently clear how and why successive Foreign Secretaries, including Salisbury and Lansdowne, thought it imperative to safeguard Britain's imperial interests through limited engagements with other great powers.
This leads me to his treatment of Grey. John Charmley charges him with rashly tying Britain to France and, though to a lesser extent, Russia. He praises Lansdowne for refusing to support France in during the early stages of the Moroccan crisis in 1905, and blames Grey for indulging in casuistry in his dealings with the French during the final phase of the crisis (pp.322 and 336). Essentially, though, both men were pursuing the same objective, viz. to prevent the French from caving in to German pressure and come to a separate agreement with Berlin, possibly at the expense of Britain. Did Grey, then, pay more attention to the spirit of the entente than its details, as Lansdowne did (p.332)? Perhaps, so. More significantly, however, the international scene had changed fundamentally. Russia's defeat in the Far East in 1905 had also, at least temporarily, shifted the European balance of power in Germany's favour. More was therefore required to encourage France to remain firm, though the assurances given to Cambon were still too vague for the Quai d'Orsay's liking. One would have liked to read more about John Charmley's assessment of German diplomacy during the crisis, including also the discussions about the possibility of a preventive war against France. This touches upon a more fundamental problem concerning Professor Charmley's reading of German policy and strategy. He is right to point that 'the skies had not fallen in and civilization had not ended' following France's defeat in the war of 1870 in which Britain remained neutral (p.2). Perhaps the skies would not have fallen in 1914 either, had Britain remained aloof from the war on the continent. But the skies would have been dark with thunder-clouds. The Kaiser's Germany of 1914 was not the same any more as the altogether more moderately ambitious Prussia of Bismarck in the late 1860's. Germany had a large navy which was clearly poised against Britain; she had colonial aspirations; government-orchestrated nationalism was rife in Germany; she was increasingly unpredictable, and to no small degree the cause of the pre-1914 'l'inquiétude de l'Europe'.(8) On the whole, Charmley tends to underestimate the aggressive nature of German policy in the years before 1914, which even the critics of Fritz Fischer now concede.(9)
Splendid Isolation? is a thoroughly researched, intelligently argued and very well written book, that is a pleasure to read. In it John Charmley has offered a series of thought-provoking and useful re-interpretations especially of the Derby and Lansdowne periods; and it is to be hoped that this book will contribute to a revival of interest in nineteenth century international history. But his critique of the fateful decision for war in 1914 seems overdrawn, and is ultimately focusing on the wrong question. It was not the decision to intervene in the war that caused Britain's problems in the later twentieth century, but the inept and wasteful military leadership during the Great War. His scolding of Liberal statesmen is good knock-about stuff, but ultimately detracts from the substance of his argument. Too often one wonders whether John Charmley is not too much influenced by current debates about the future direction of this country vis-à-vis EU-rope, and about current woes of contemporary conservatism.
- E de Groot, 'Great Britain and Germany in Zanzibar: Consul Holmwood's Papers, 1885-7', in Journal of Modern History, vol.xxv, no.2 (1953), pp.135-6.Back to (1)
- P. Kluke, 'Bismarck and Salisbury: Ein diplomatisches Duell', in Historische Zeitschrift, vol.clxxv, no.2 (1953), pp.285-306.Back to (2)
- Cf. Lady F. Balfour, Ne Obliviscaris: Dinna Forget (2 vols., London: Hodder and Stoughton, s.a.), vol.ii, pp.270-1.Back to (3)
- T.G. Otte, 'Great Britain, Germany and the Far-Eastern Crisis of 1897-8' in English Historical Review, vol.cx, no.439 (1995), pp. 1157-79.Back to (4)
- Cf. J. Charmley, Churchill: The End of Glory (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1993).Back to (5)
- N. Ferguson, The Pity of War (London: Allen Lane, 1999).Back to (6)
- M. Howard, The Continental Commitment (London: Penguin, 1974); P.M. Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of British Naval Mastery (London: Allen Lane, 1976).Back to (7)
- P. Renouvin, La Crise Eurpéenne et la Première Guerre Mondiale (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1962), p.183.Back to (8)
- K. Hildebrand, Das verangene Reich: Deutsche Aussenpolitik von Bismark bis Hitler (Stuttgart: DVA, 1995).Back to (9)
I would like to thank Dr. Otte for a very thoughtful and intelligent appraisal of my book. I am glad that he found it enjoyable, because it was quite as difficult to write as it must have been to review. What he gently referred to as my controversial views on Chamberlain, Churchill and British foreign policy in the 1930s and 1940s were not, as most of the horde of reviewers at the time seem to have assumed, the product of a desire to court controversy, but rather (unfashionable as it may be to admit to this in RAE year) the product of a long while teaching classes on British and International diplomacy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and an even longer period poking around in archives. The problem with this process is that it is apt to lead to the posing of awkward questions and the production of answers which fail to fit the received version. This, I used to think, was called writing history, but I have since gathered that it is actually called revisionism. The positions taken up by Churchill and Chamberlain in the 1930s were the product of history and of their reading of that history, and having written extensively on their actions, it seemed only reasonable to explore the roots from which their attitudes sprang. This was where the book acquired the tripartite structure which gave Dr. Otte food for thought.
That it is the victors who write history is a truism. This was true, in spectacular fashion, of Churchill and the 1930s and 1940s, and I have tried to say something more about this theme in a forthcoming edition of the Transactions of the Royal Historical Society. It was, however, equally true of the mod and late nineteenth century for the topic of 'Splendid Isolation?' Although the House of Stanley played the leading role in Conservative politics for more than twenty years and a prominent one for more than thirty, the story we have is one dominated by a Disraeli-Cecil axis. This derives partly from the episode which dominates part one of the book, and I am glad that Dr. Otte finds the rehabilitation of the fifteenth earl of Derby convincing. But it also derives from a series of historical accidents. Disraeli benefited from one of the finest official biographies of the early twentieth century. Moneypenny and Buckles six volumes remain a 'quarry and a classic'; that he should also have been the subject of possibly the finest modern political biography, Robert Blake's 'Disraeli', shows that the old boy's luck has been as phenomenal posthumously as it was in his life time. Much the same thing can be said of Salisbury. His daughter's four volumes, alas unfinished, remain essential reading (as Andrew Roberts has recently reminded us); now Andrew Roberts has provided a compelling modern portrait. As for the Derbys, next to nothing. The relationship between the fourteenth earl and his heir meant there was no proper Victorian life and times. The fifteenth earl fared even less well. He left no children and his relationship with his brother and his family, to whom the title passed, meant there would be no biography, not even a pot-boiler. In the absence of any voice from Lancashire, the Disraeli-Cecil version passed, and still passes, for history rather than as the case for the prosecution. Modern scholarship has, until late, failed to provide a more balanced picture. Robert Blake was, alas, prevented by other duties from writing a biography of the fourteenth earl, and although Angus Hawkins has produced articles and a book offering mouth-watering insights into the thought and activities of the fourteenth earl, we still await the biography that will restore some sense of perspective on his place in history. The fifteenth earl too has begun to stir. The chance discovery in 1974 of his diaries for the period after 1858 provided Professor John Vincent with the opportunity to begin setting that part of the historical record straight. My work would have been impossible without his brilliant edition of the diaries, and I owe much to his kindness in answering my questions about Derby. But even here, the course of true scholarship has hardly run smoothly, and there is something badly wrong with a profession where the ephemeral can find vast funding for cyberspace and an edition of such important diaries cannot find a publishing house to back it. I have never quite known what OUP and CUP think their relation to scholarship in the modern world is, an opinion which, to judge from their publishing policies over recent years, they share. It is to be hoped that even at this late hour some publisher will undertake an edition of the final section of the diaries in a form which will not excise much that will interest scholars.
But, as Dr. Otte spots, in rescuing Derby from what (had the phrase not already been used by a master) might be called the massive condescension of posterity, I stumbled on what may or may not be a mare's nest. The notion that Derby represents an 'authentic' Conservative tradition, that of the 'Country Party' is, as Dr. Otte correctly notes, not fully worked out. He hints, in a kindly way, at one reason - pressure of space. Even controversial historians published by general publishers have to keep to some sort of word limit, and having tested to the limit my publisher's patience by producing a book very different to the one he had thought he was going to be producing, prudence suggested reining myself in. Here, as elsewhere, the merits of prudence as a guide are debatable. I suspect Dr. Otte is right to think that it owes much to Aberdeen, but also, despite his reputation, to Castlereagh. There is much to explore here and it is keeping me and the odd research student or two gainfully employed. Professor Michael Bentley has entered a note of caution here, reminding me that Derby's attitude may have derived from his family's Whig background, but on investigation this appears even less likely than my working hypothesis; we shall see.
Given Dr. Otte's own work on Salisbury I was pleased to escape relatively unscathed on that subject, and delighted that he found the portrait a realistic and persuasive one. I take his point about not construing Salisbury's success as a sign of the strength of his position, and I tried not to do so. Salisbury presented problems with which the book could only deal in passing. The portrait that emerged from the events of the late 1870s showed a ruthless political operator who was prepared to switch positions when it suited his purpose; a pragmatist who thought that any policy, even the wrong one, was preferable to none at all; and a practitioner of the black political arts whose skill commanded respect - and some fear. But in office he was often guilty of the very sin for which he had chided Disraeli in 1880, that of myopia and failing to provide his Cabinets with a lead. The reasons for this are not the obvious ones - they seldom are with Salisbury. The myopia was not, one suspects, his own. Harold Macmillan once described the fruits of office as those of the Dead Sea, echoing Salisbury's own remark about power having passed from the aristocracy to an uncertain destination. One of the things the Great Eastern Crisis had shown him was the debauched nature of the popular taste when it came to foreign affairs. I should have liked Dr. Otte's opinion on this part of the book, but it will hardly do to complain that a long review is not even longer.
Put briefly the argument is that there is a reverse side of the coin to Dick Shannon's description of the public mood of the 1876 showing the high-water mark of Victorian sensibility. The Jingoism of 1877-78 which did for Derby showed what the careers of Palmerston and Canning had already foreshadowed, which is that it was not only in Continental Europe that nationalism could take a virulent turn. To Derby's evident surprise Disraeli's reckless dismissal of the Berlin Memorandum in 1875 received acclaim from the Press and public opinion. Every xenophobic move made by the Prime Minister brought him greater support from opinion outdoors, which had its effect on opinion indoors. Salisbury benefited from this in 1878; it hamstrung him for the rest of his career. Once the public had tasted the 'fleshpots' they would not give them up. What we could do with is more work on Salisbury and public opinion. Indeed more work on Salisbury's diplomacy in the 1880s would, as Dr, Otte has shown, throw up interesting interpretations of what might be called a revisionist nature.
I suspect that copping a 'guilty as charge' plea to the allegation about treating 'international problems as some sort of unwelcome intrusion' in the orderly course of British politics might be a prudent move, were it not for the fact that at one level that is exactly how most British politicians regarded them; in that sense the book tries to reflect a contemporary sensitivity. But it won't quite wash, not least because if it stopped there it would probably mean a guilty plea to more serious charges such as underestimating the threat Germany posed to Britain in the early twentieth century. Just how much of a threat was Germany and when did she become one?
When Dr, Otte questions whether Grey was truer to the spirit of the Entente than Lansdowne he treads on thin ice. To assume that the spirit was what it became under Grey is to fall for the myth, propagated first by Grey, that 1904 marked a caesura in British foreign policy. That came in 1905 with the advent of Grey himself. To Dr. Otte's statement that the events in the Far East in 1905 changed the balance of power in Germany's favour one can only riposte that that was not how Bulow appears to have seen things. Lansdowne's flexible and intelligent diplomacy had settled the problems with France caused by Gladstone's actions in Egypt. Of course he had been greatly aided by France's fear of Germany and of the consequences of a Russo-Japanese war, but all diplomats need luck; the mark of a good one is how he uses it, and Lansdowne passes with flying colours. (If such metaphors are still to be allowed). But Lansdowne, like Salisbury and Balfour, was, whilst well aware of the unpredictability of Germany's leadership, not prepared to abandon her as a possible diplomatic partner; Grey, for all his rhetoric to the contrary was.
Niall Ferguson's reminder of how vulnerable the German ruling elite felt by 1912 chimes with my own interpretation of German policy. By 1909 Bulow's World Policy had brought Germany no rewards and much distrust. Of course German policy was aggressive, but that aggression was not aimed solely, or even (after 1912) mainly at Britain. One reaction to German policy was to behave as Salisbury had in the 1890s and as Lansdowne did before 1905, to live with it, prepares Britain's own defences, and to negotiate a way through diplomatic difficulties; another was to align with France and Russia and, by implication, take German hostility as a permanent given. There was, at this level, a connection between the inept military leadership of the Great War (which revisionists now tell us may not have been that inept) and the inept diplomacy of the pre-war period.
As to contemporary issues, the book concludes in a way that hardly matches my own political proclivities. It suggests that if Europe mattered enough to Britain to sacrifice the position built up over three centuries, it is rather late in the day to be Eurosceptic. It might also have been remarked that the EU may yet, though the democratic deficit we are supposed to deplore, provide a way of short-circuiting the connection between the jingoism of public opinion and jerking knees of democratically accountable politicians. That, however, would be top stray further into the knock-about stuff.
By focussing on what I hope are the serious contributions the book tries to make to diplomatic history, Dr. Otte himself helps contribute to a revival of interest in nineteenth century diplomatic history. That the last major studies of the diplomacy of Castlereagh and Canning date from the early twentieth century, that we lack studies of the diplomacy of much of the 1850s and of the 1880s (at least as far as Salisbury is concerned), and that there is no serious study of Lansdowne's diplomacy, are all marks of the impact historical fad and fashion. In my own teaching I find no want of interest from students in British diplomacy or in international history. The writings of Dr. Otte, like those of David Brown at Southampton, shows that there is life yet in the old dog, and that Muriel Chamberlain, John Grenville and Frank Bridges have worthy heirs - and provides company for myself and the brilliant but undersung Keith Wilson. Diplomatic history is, contrary to the received wisdom, very much alive.