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British Jingoism and Popular Media in the Age of New Imperialism, 1870-1914

4479 words (18 pages) Essay in History

18/05/20 History Reference this

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A rise in ‘Empire-critical’ authorship at the end of the nineteenth century is well known to historians. Loosely derived from Adam Smith’s anti-mercantilism and the international pacifism of Richard Cobden, ‘New-Liberal’ Radicals formed loose ideological criticisms that were usually not anti-imperialist per se, but attacked certain aspects of Empire. Despite this, the generic polemic of such writings pronounced colonial possessions as unprofitable and not in the national interest, alternatively supporting ideas of free trade and non-interventionism. With the emergence of a ‘New Imperialism’ in the 1870s, radical writers found that the direction of the British Empire was not congruent with their international ideology, and treated New Imperialism as a wholly new phenomenon, ignoring the commonalities of past imperialism. Strictly speaking, Empire sentiment was nothing new, however it was only then, in the fin-de-siècle, that the oration of pro-imperial attitudes was heard by far-left critics.[1]
 Indeed, the voice of Empire did grow as the century progressed. The emergence of jingoism presented a new, more vocal imperialism, to the bewilderment of Radicals and moderate Liberals alike. Jingoism was largely used as a broad term to describe the ‘state of mind’ of imperialism in this period; a state of mind which was considered, above all else, to be irrational. As a result, Jingoism was not thought of as a philosophy, but instead a ‘national psychology’ that was formed by instinct, rather than based on conscious thought. To Radicals, this psychology was an arrogance, a worship of force, or more degradingly labelled as simple hooliganism.

The Socio-psychological analysis of Jingoism is perhaps most prevalent in J. M. Robertson’s Patriotism and Empire (1900) and J. A. Hobson’s The Psychology of Jingoism (1901). Both were notable members of the socialist ‘Lib-Lab’ society, the Rainbow Circle. This group was one which bridged the gap between New Liberalism and an emerging socialism into an intellectual cross-section, which found the Conservative capitalists’ imperialism to be a natural antagonist to their progressive thinking.[2] Regardless, its seems as intellectuals the only thing that appalled them more than wrong-thought, was no thought at all.
 Firstly, Robertson talks of a sacred patriotism, invoked by a tribal enmity of the ‘other’ group. He draws from the contemporary novel A Child of the Jago by Arthur Morrison to demonstrate the connection between the fictional, fraternal Jago clan of a pseudo-Victorian slum, and the patriotic Jingo.[3] “In what respect is the patriotism of the Jago less rational or less respectable than the patriotism of the Jingo?” His answer predictably determines the Jingo and the Jago of little difference in their psychology and primitive nature: “The inspiration of the patriotic Jingo… is just the inspiration of the blackguard Jago– just as far away from reason, from self-criticism, from the spirit of righteousness. The maxim, ‘our country right or wrong’”.[4]
 Hobson’s Psychology of Jingoism is perhaps the most direct attack on imperialism’s ‘state of mind’. It is evident from the first chapter, titled ‘The Diagnosis’, that he believes Jingoism is something of a mental sickness. At his most crude, Hobson describes the sensationalism of Jingoism as a phenomenon which ­taps into the “most violent appeals of hate and the animal lust for blood, which passes through quick contagion through the crowded life of cities”. Similarly, Herbert Spencer in 1902 summarised the past fifty years as the ‘re-barbarisation of Europe’ whereby through the press, war songs and schooling “a recrudescence of barbaric ambition, ideas and sentiments and an unceasing culture of blood-thirst.”[5]

Much like Robertson, both these observations are of a savage natured people within a civilised country, fuelled by a ‘neurotic imagination’ of war and aggressive foreign policy. The zoomorphism of working class jingoes was relatively uncommon outside of Radical opponents. The Irish M. P., F. H. O’Donnell, in a rousing speech on Home Rule made abundantly clear why he believed his countrymen supported the Liberal party:

They were quite sufficiently justified in supporting Liberalism against Toryism, on the good old principle that any stick was good enough to beat a dog with, and there was no stick bad enough to beat the mad, vicious dog Jingo, for Jingo was a dog the basest of the canine kind; it was the very foulest carrion; it was Jingoism which sent its fangs into the Afghan and African, but shrunk from an encounter with the grizzly bear, and now the same beast of cowardice and slaughter was now howling for the blood of the Irish people.[6]

Individually Hobson calls this ‘imagination’ of the Jingo “the passion of the spectator, the inciter, the backer, not of the fighter.” Collectively, he simply terms Jingoism as the ‘passion of the mob’. However, his criticism does not lie with the mob of working class men, who he finds to be more irrational than immoral, nor even with the educated, who are either dismissed as simply dishonest, or belonging to a system that is so ‘curiously defective’.[7]

The blame is attributed to a duality of individual capitalists and societal ‘instruments of instruction’. These ‘instruments’ can be as minor as the shortening of transport time, or the greater promulgation of news stories; both of these resulted in a more widespread ideological adoption of popular movements. He looks chiefly at how big-town life had become destructive to individuality, whereby the ‘mechanical routine’ and conditions at home and work created a brainless working population. He genericises this connection to seemingly encompass all the western developed world, proclaiming that “In every nation which was proceeded far in modern industrialisation the prevalence of neurotic diseases attests the general nervous strain to which the population is subjective”.[8] For Hobson, industrialisation was an instrument of the capitalist system, and creates an environment by which suggestion and persuasion can easily penetrate the weakened mind of the town worker. It’s no surprise that Hobson’s later work on Imperialism inspired the likes of Lenin and other notable Marxists.
 Despite this, as previously stated, New Liberalists were not anti-imperialists, but instead they believed that the morality of international politics was under threat. Understandably then, war was the greatest abhorrence to Hobson, the Rainbow Circle and the Radical Liberals. It was a very real fear for these men, that an aggressive ‘Jingoist’ stance would become commonplace in foreign policy. As F. W. Hirst writes in the preface to Liberalism and the Empire:

Sentiments like these — call them patriotism, Jingoism, Chauvinism, or what you will – form a strong and persistent force, valuable when checked, dangerous when stimulated… If the Chauvinist and Jingo parties become predominant in the various nations of Europe, security and progress will become constantly more difficult, commerce will decline, our manufacturing supremacy will disappear, and ‘inevitable’ wars, with their inevitable accompaniments of suffering and poverty, will become the staple food of politics.[9]

Though their estimation of Jingoist support was inflated, the basis of this fear was not inconceivable. Earlier in 1878, liberal supporters had already proved they could meet the mob of Jingoes with their own display of working-class rowdyism in what the City Jackdaw satirically described as a clash of “Jingoes versus Jingoes”.[10] This so-called ‘Liberal Jingoism’ later made its mark in official politics, forcing the Liberal leader Campbell-Bannerman – though he was likely anti-war in private – to believe that Jingoism was too prevalent and that a ‘quieter’ stance on imperialism was best for him and his moderate colleges.[11] Whilst the ‘Jingo party’ of Britain was undoubtedly considered to be the Tories, members of the thoroughly divided Liberal party were not opposed to supporting aggressive imperialism. After a meeting with Cecil Rhodes and Randolph Churchill, Sir William Harcourt came away with an admiration for Rhodes, and conceded that Jingoism could be tolerable if done ‘on the cheap’.[12]

This brings us to the ‘Jingo-Imperialist’ businessmen, statesmen and capitalists who Radicals accused of orchestrating the ‘mass psychosis’ of Jingoism in Britain. Hobson, previous to writing Psychology of Jingoism, worked for the Manchester Guardian away in South Africa and provided much of the pre-war correspondence for the paper.[13] Meeting with several prominent figures in the crisis such as Hertzog, Milner, Reitz and Rhodes to name a few, he believed that the capitalists of South Africa were deliberately gearing up for war, and recounts how Lord Alfred Milner thought it was necessary to “break the dominion of Africanderdom”.[14]  From his eighteen-month trip, the resultant claim in Psychology dictates that businessmen acquired South African newspapers to control the public mind back in Britain. The Cape Argus, Johannesburg Star and the Cape Times are three of up to a dozen South African newspapers which were thought to control the nature of the correspondence flowing back to England through telegraphs. Backed by Sir Alfred Milner in the South of Africa, and Joseph Chamberlain in the Colonial Office back home, Rhodes and the De Beers could protect their business interests at the cost of a national war.[15] Thus, businessmen were at the root of Jingoism for Hobson.
 This sentiment was very common among Radicals, in their belief that with commercial interest came a passion of nation and race. They still held on the scientific principle of free trade, which the predominant class had abandoned in favour of the axiom: ‘trade follows the flag’.[16] Robertson, like many, opposed Chamberlain’s policy of Imperial preference by adopting the popular view that consumers would pay more for their goods in ‘the name of empire’.[17] A. G. Gardiner, who crudely sketched Kipling as “a precocious boy with a camera”, believed him to be an popular agent of Chamberlain’s policy, who “turned contemptuously to the ‘little street-bred people’, and commanded them to ‘pay, pay, pay’. It was their paltry share in the glorious enterprise of conquest and Empire.”[18] For the Boer State Secretary Reitz, capitalism (incarnated in Cecil Rhodes) and Jingoism were inextricably linked. “Capitalism, with its great material influence, but barren of any one single exalted idea or principle on the one hand, and Jingoism, sterile, empty, soulless, but with a rich stock-in-trade of bombastic ideas and principles, prompted by the most selfish aspirations…”[19] Both were deemed to be synonymous with each other and interconnected in a deliberate way, and so consequentially this alliance had currently manifested itself in and around of the suitable conditions of South African economic climate, which could be so easily controlled by the Randlords. Reitz saw nothing between his idea of ‘capitalistic Jingoism’ and Afrikander people but war; a war which had been born from a ‘conspiracy’ of capitalists and Jingoes.[20]
 Anti-capitalism may have been commonplace amongst Radical Liberals, but the idea that South African businessmen could exercise control over press back home was less common, and is an idea that is somewhat tenuous and hard to fully verify. On a simplistic level, the accusation proves true that newspapers were connected the mining of capital. Rhodes and the Corner House Group, who dominated the gold mining industry, were the majority shareholders of the Argus Company – the owner of the Cape Times. The Corner House appointed editors such as Moneypenny who they knew harboured imperialist sentiment, but would also finance the hefty cost of using the cables. However, it is equally likely that Jingoist news was produced in reaction to the perceived sentiment in Britain, rather than being a product of the ‘Randlords’. Editors were surprised at the upsurge of support for the Jameson Raid, and responded in support of “gallant Jameson and his lion-hearted lads”. An editor of the Johannesburg Times was even dismissed for describing the raid as a “glorious procession for the Anglo-Saxon race”.[21] It is unclear if this was at all a ‘capitalist conspiracy’, however the effect of pro-imperial news stories was certainly profound on South Africa. ‘Jingo-news’ of the English language press continued into the period of union, and as the African Nationalist Hertzog became prime minister, newspapers became instrumental in the retention of the national flag in 1927. In 1918 Hertzog resigned that “but for the Jingo newspapers, they would hear less of striving after empire and more of South Africa and African interests”.[22]

Without doubt, the press played a central role in the rise of Jingoist sentiment at home and abroad, particularly during the Boer War, often dubbed the first ‘media war’. Naturally then, it would be negligent to ignore the role of anti-jingoist media in Britain. The likes of C. P. Scott at the Manchester Guardian reacted negatively to the shift in politics and the press which now favoured populism, and instead championed their ‘educational’ ideal of journalism. Mass society simply terrified Scott and Hobson. Liberals had always seen the ‘public’ and ‘people’ in more exclusive terms than we do now. Based on the earlier views of Edmund Burke, the public equated to roughly four-hundred thousand Britons, which meant the working class would be excluded from any liberal ideal of representing the people. In this way, the notion of discussion and respectability was linked to class for the liberal press, and so the Guardian looked to educate a limited, ‘cultivated’ readership despite the countrywide growth in newspaper circulation.[23]
 The reprinting of political speeches provided a forum to supporters of both parties and upheld the Victorian practice of non-partisan ‘newsgathering’. Liberal speakers were generally preferred in the Guardian, namely the dedicated Gladstonian Liberal John Morley who avidly spoke of Jingoes and the Jingo press of both parties at the end of the century.[24] The reported political speeches represented the Guardian as moderately anti-jingo rather than engaging in partisanship.[25] However, this tradition was gradually abandoned In the context of the Boer War, where Jingoism became indelibly tied to Conservative policy. The Manchester Guardian sought to persuade readers of the pro-Boer stance in order to preserve the ideal of morality and ‘factual discussion’ which the war and Jingoism respectively threatened. This challenged the loyalty of readers to their country and brought on claims from the pro-war press of circulating ‘unpatriotic’ dissent.[26] Scott however, believed he still represented the professional classes, and that the Guardian’s flagging readership numbers was due to the availability of the Daily Mail in Manchester as the ‘busy man’s paper’, rather than the Guardian’s opposition to the war and apparent ‘anti-patriotism’.[27] It is not wholly untrue that some radicals rejected patriotism. Another member of the Rainbow Circle, J. G. Godard, saw any virtue attached to patriotism as “a misconception… and the vicious conduct which it actually induces is thus positively regarded as virtuous.” In other words (and to invert a common phrase), the means does not justify the end for Godard.[28] Spencer believed that by emancipating oneself from excessive patriotism, a collective humanity could pave the way towards a ‘higher life’, but he similarly criticised a lack of patriotism, by which countries left themselves weakened against more aggressive nations.[29]
 Instead, it seems that Scott adopted an alternate form of patriotism instead of abandoning it altogether. He was concerned with capturing patriotism from the hegemony of the conservative party. To him, Conservative Jingoism was shallow and required mass delusion, whereas ‘true’ patriotism included morality and honour. He argued that ‘pro-Boers’ were the real patriots, and consequentially needed to identify ‘bad’ news and challenge the conduct of war.[30] Scott’s patriotism belongs to that a wider ‘alternative’ patriotism of liberalism that centred on cosmopolitanism and ‘humanity’. Unlike Jingoism, it rejected pride in military prowess, imperial power and commercial supremacy– summarised by opponents as the “self-conceit of John Bull”. This liberal patriotism sought to accept foreigners and what they found to be ‘good’ in other countries. Adopting the ‘good’ of another country was highly commended as part of a cosmopolitan commitment. This chiefly derives from J. S. Mill’s ‘patriotisme éclairé’ which looked to accept ‘foreigners’ in favour of a moral obligation towards a greater ‘humanity’.[31]

The Radicals of the 1890s were deeply driven to discredit followers of Jingoism. A parody of Tennyson’s Hands All Round, supposedly written by Andrew Lang, mocked Jingoism in an exaggeration of their perceived ‘lower-class’ ebriosity. It was likely inspired by the parody of By Jingo in the Spectator which played on the act of sending a native Indian Expeditionary Force to Malta, in preparation for entry into the Russo-Turkish War.[32] The adapted lines read: We don’t want to fight: but, by Jingo if we do, We won’t go to the front ourselves, but we’ll send the mild Hindoo.”[33] Inspired by this, the parody Drinks All Round quite nicely encompasses the Radical idea of the Jingo, and all the features of Jingoism that were so abhorrent to its opponents:

A health to Jingo first, and then
     A health to shell, a health to shot!
The man who hates not other men
     I deem no perfect patriot.
To all who hold all England mad.
     We drink: to all who’s tax her food!
We pledge the man who hates the Rad.![34]
     We drink to Bartle Frere and Froude!
Drinks all round!
Here’s to Jingo, king and crowned!
     To the great cause of Jingo drink, my boys,
And the great name of Jingo, round and round!

To all the companies that long
     To rob, as folk robbed years ago;
To all that wield the double thong,
     From Queensland round to Borneo!
To all that under Indian skies,
     Call Aryan man a “blasted nigger;”
To all rapacious enterprise;
     To rigour everywhere, and vigour!
Drinks all round!
Here’s to Jingo, king and crowned!
     To the great name of Jingo drink, my boys,
And every filibuster, round and round!

Too all our statesmen, while they see
     An outlet new for British trade,
Where British fabrics still may be
     With British size all overweighed!
Wherever gin and guns are sold
     We’ve scooped the artless nigger in.
Where men give ivory and gold,
     We give them measles, tracts and gin!
Drinks all round!
Here’s to Jingo, king and crowned!
     To the great name of Jingo drink, my boys,
And to Adulteration, round and round.[35]

With the consideration that the supporters of aggressive war policy rarely identified themselves with the word Jingo, perhaps the core question of this chapter is to ask if Jingoism was as much a negative label, or somewhat a ‘weapon of debasement’ for Radicals to use against the fervent imperialist, the right-leaning working class, or even supporters of Tory foreign policy after Britain’s instigation of the Boer War. Of course, without the foundation of a real Jingo movement the criticism and parody songs would not exist at all. But, as we have seen, Liberalism had overestimated the scale of Jingoism as a real threat to British politics. Regardless of this, there appears to be a conceited effort by Radicals to paint the proponents of aggressive foreign policy as drunken and, at times, animalistic Jingoes, whose creed could be simply broken down into an illogical hate of the ‘other’. In summary, this calculated slander would declare the Jingoism movement as an unjustifiable patriotism, whist validating the morality-based patriotism adopted by many Liberals. However, it can’t be taken for granted that the Radicals themselves had a unique and factual insight into Jingoism and the South African Crisis, and instead had adopted traditional liberal ideals which disregarded a true realisation of popular politics and propagated the educational role of the press over the wider readership of the London dailies.[36] After the deeply damaging divide in the Liberal party over Home Rule in the mid 1880s, Jingoism was synonymous with the ongoing fear that liberalism was increasingly on the decline, and that popular conservatism would squeeze their opponents into obscurity.


[1] B. Porter, Critics of Empire: British Radicals and the Imperial Challenge, Second Ed., (London, 2008) pp. 5-15

[2] M. Rathbone, “The Rainbow Circle and the New Liberalism”, Journal of Liberal History, 38, (2003) pp. 24-8

[3] J. M. Robertson, Patriotism and Empire, (London, 1900) pp. 30-7

[4] Robertson, Patriotism and Empire, p. 37

[5] H. Spencer, “Re-Barbarization” in Facts and Comments, (London, 1902) pp. 172–88.

[6] “Extraordinary Speech by Mr. F. H. O’Donnell, M. P.”, Manchester Guardian, 18 Mar 1880, p. 8

[7] J. A. Hobson, The Psychology of Jingoism, (London, 1901) pp. 8-9; pp. 20-1; pp. 95-103

[8] Hobson, The Psychology of Jingoism, pp. 5-7

[9] F. W. Hirst, G. Murray & J. L. Hammond, Liberalism and Empire, (London, 1900) p. xiii

[10] “Jingoes Versus Jingoes”, City Jackdaw, Vol. 3 (130), 20 May 1878, p. 205

[11] Porter, Critics of Empire, p. 576

[12] A. G. Gardiner, The Life of Sir William Harcourt, Vol. II: 1865-1946, (London, 1923) p. 199

[13] M. Hampton, “The Press, Patriotism and Public Discussion: C. P. Scott, the Manchester Guardian and the Boer War, 1899-1902”, The Historical Journal, 44 (1), (2001) p. 182

[14] J. A. Hobson, Confessions of an Economic Heretic, (London, 1938) p. 61; see also, The War in South Africa: Its Causes and Effects (1900) and Capitalism and Imperialism in South Africa (1900)

[15] Hobson, The Psychology of Jingoism, pp. 112-9; p. 129-34

[16] Robertson, Patriotism and Empire, pp. 174-5

[17] Ibid. p. 188

[18] A. G. Gardiner, Prophets, Priests and Kings, (London, 1908) p. 297; Ibid. p.295

[19] F. W. Reitz, A Century of Wrong, (London, 1900) p. 42

[20] W. T. Stead, Preface to F. W. Reitz, A Century of Wrong (London, 1900), p. xviii

[21] J. Lambert, “’The Thinking is Done in London’: South Africa’s English Speaking Press and Imperialism” in C. Kaul (ed.), Media and the British Empire, (2006) p. 43

[22] Lambert, “South Africa’s English Language Press and Imperialism”, p. 45- 8

[23] S. J. Potter, “Jingoism, Public Opinion and the New Imperialism: Newspapers and Imperial Rivalries at the Fin-de-Siècle”, Media History, 20 (1), (2014) pp. 13-4; Hampton, “Press, Patriotism and Public Discussion”, p. 179

[24] “Mr John Morley on the Transvaal Question”, Manchester Guardian, 7 Oct 1899, p. 11

[25] “Public Meeting Speeches on the War”, Manchester Guardian, 24 Oct 1901, p. 9

[26] Hampton, “Press, Patriotism and Public Discussion”, pp. 189-90

[27] Ibid. p. 196

[28] J. G. Goddard, Patriotism and Ethics, (London, 1900), quoted in X. A. P., “The Dangers of Patriotism”, The Advocate for Peace, Vol 34, No. 12, (December, 1901), pp. 241-2

[29] H. Spencer, “Chapter IX: The Bias of Patriotism” in The Study of Sociology, (London, 1978) pp. 204-6

[30] Hampton, “Press, Patriotism and Public Discussion”, p. 184; pp. 189-92

[31] G. Varouxakis, “’Patriotism’, ‘Cosmopolitanism’ and ‘Humanity’ in Victorian Political Thought”, European Journal of Political Theory, Vol. 5 (1), (2006) p. 101-2; see also, F. Harrison, “The True Cosmopolis” in F. Harrison, Memories and Thoughts: Men – Books – Cities – Art, (London, 1906)

[32] J. L. Vaughan, “The Indian Expeditionary Force”, The Contemporary Review, 1866-1900, Vol. 32, (1878) pp. 665-674.

[33] Spectator, 1 June 1978, p. 3

[34] abbr. Radical

[35] “Collections and Recollections, By One Who Has Kept a Diary: XXXV”, Manchester Guardian, 11 Sep 1897,

p. 7

[36] Potter, “Jingoism, Public Opinion, and the New Imperialism”, p. 25

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