« EdellinenJatka »
But Nicholas II conceived an invincible and irrational antipathy for his Minister. True, Witte was full of angularities and prone to absolutism in manner-defects which set the monarch's nerves on edge. His method was at times that of a dictator conscious of his power, heedless of form and impatient to obtain results. Occasionally it was that of a benevolent mentor. When he thought that his master was going astray he would say so without mincing his words, and on more than one occasion he struck the table by way of emphasising his views. And these peculiarities, but more still Witte's vast intellectual superiority, were bitterly resented by the Tsar. Izvolsky, on the other hand, was accustomed to put the Autocrat in possession of all the facts, and leave him to draw the logical conclusion from them; if he strayed away he would seek to convince or persuade him and, when these means failed, would hopefully look out for some other avenue of approach. For he was a confirmed optimist and, like the doctors depicted by Molière who swore by their medicines, he had absolute faith in the efficacy of diplomacy. And the pen portrait which he draws of Nicholas II is tinged with the pleasing memories of his success in winning the monarch's approval for measures which he had at first been reluctant to sanction, and with the high hopes which he once entertained of contributing to steer the Ship of State clear of the rocks on which it since has foundered.
The historian, with whom no such considerations can have any weight, will judge Nicholas II by his public acts, the most momentous of which was his refusal to profit by the experience and capacity of his greatest statesman. At the most critical epoch of his reign, when things were still in flux, and therefore capable of being moulded, he trifled with visionaries and theorists, undoing to-day what he had done yesterday and thwarting, now deliberately now unwittingly, the best-laid schemes of his far-seeing minister. Thus Witte, during his premiership, was a solitary man fighting his enemies boldly and his friends' hesitatingly, the trustee of a State that distrusted him, the spokesman of a body that frequently disavowed and silenced him, the champion of a community that paralysed him, a limb torn off from society. The monarch whose interests he was faithfully
furthering would have condemned him to die, could he have done it with impunity; the order to which he belonged practically ostracised him; the cause to which he devoted his time and sacrificed his peace of mind was made infamous by its chiefs and their associates ; but Witte pursued his course perseveringly, loyal to his country and his Tsar. Some of the momentous tasks which were confided to him by Nicholas II were conceived by his master as traps whence there was no issue but to failure and discredit; yet Witte emerged from every such ordeal, not only with personal success and an enhanced reputation for statesmanship, but with substantial advantages for his country and his monarch. How, in such a discouraging environment, he contrived to preserve his faith in monarchism is a psychological mystery. He certainly knew how rotten was Tsarism in its ultimate manifestation, and yet he toiled and moiled to save it from itself and its crazy friends with the least amount of structural change.
Many of his rivals and adversaries were either solicitous about their own careers and fortunes or else incapable of conceiving their daily tasks as connected with any great humanitarian or international problem. They addressed themselves, with a simpering indifference which passed for serenity, to each issue as it became actual, and dealt with it in its casual environment; and, for the rest, drifted on the tide of things. There were, to be sure, noteworthy exceptions—capable, conscientious workers who were endowed with political vision and a moral conscience. And foremost amongst these was Alexander Izvolsky. This statesman was gifted with considerable powers of observation and foresight, a refined sense of honour and duty, and correct political vision. His political education received its final touches from the most consummate statesmen of his own day, including Prince Gortshakoff and King Edward VII, from whose words, example, and errors, he drew profitable lessons.
Hence he could contemplate a political problem not only in its national setting but also in its international framework. And this is what few of his Russian co-workers could do. But, unlike Witte, he never went beyond the boundaries of the political. His horizon was narrow, his conceptions were diplomatic.
Hence, when he judges Witte's scheme of European policy, he applies to it the merely political standard in lieu of the humanitarian.
Each of the two statesmen was sagacious enough to bring his reforms into strict relationship to the time, people, and specific needs, which had invested the issues with actuality. Izvolsky, as was natural in the director of foreign affairs, was wont to go a step further and examine the probable effects of each proposed measure -even when it dealt with purely domestic mattersupon Russia's international prestige. But he never looked beyond that. Witte, on the other hand, in all questions affecting the fundamental policy of
of the Empire, would station himself at a broad humanitarian angle of vision and carry on his survey from there.
This difference of view-point is probably sufficient to account, if not for the genesis of Witte's hotly contested scheme for a Continental alliance, at least for the fervour with which he advocated and the tenacity with which he clung to it. True, his ardour was not always at white heat, nor was his idealism by any means unalloyed. At times he descended to lower ground, and mingling, like Mars before Troy, with the rank and file, crossed swords with the enemy for unsubstantial aims. He has been aptly termed a Colossus with feet of clay, but he was a Colossus. He let slip many an opportunity and committed grievous mistakes, but he never lost sight of the ultimate goal, which was well worthy of the noblest ambition.
Izvolsky's attention was fixed on the necessity for considerable structural changes in the political fabric of the Tsardom; but he was ever optimistic, although he clearly foresaw the danger of postponing them. Witte contemplated a vivid mental picture of the internal rottenness of the Tsardom, and of the vast transformation, political, social, economic, and religious, which not Russia only but the civilised races of mankind were slowly undergoing; and it was with the object of preparing his country for this great change that he drafted his far-reaching programme.
Parenthetically, I may add that the only chief of a State who draws his inspiration from the same broad survey of the cosmic forces of to-day is the President of the Mexican Republic, General
Obregon, whose ideas, aims, and achievements are too little known in Europe. The balance of political power constituted the ultimate aim of Izvolsky's strivings. Witte, convinced that the political aspect of the world's interests were the least important, included all the Continental Powers in his comprehensive plan for a pacific league which would transform Europe into a single federal State.
In virtue of that humanitarian aim and also of his intimate knowledge of Russia's lack of cohesion, Witte was a man of peace. War, he was wont to say, would be the ruin of his country; and the sole efficacious means of avoiding it was, to his thinking, to bring about a sincere alliance between Russia, whose vital interests were rooted in peace, and the two Powers in whose mutual hatred and ambitions lurked the only danger of hostilities. This conception, in the abstract, was specious and superlatively attractive; but whether the concrete conditions were such as to render it feasible may well be doubted. In any case the Russian statesman, like the Mexican President, deserves credit for instinctively making straight for the deepest and most powerful currents in the history of his time and seeking to connect with them those of his own country, and for descrying or divining, behind the clatter of official tongues and the noisy clamour of naive or knavish agitators, the dynamic forces which, as yet silent and well-nigh imperceptible, were steadily sapping the foundations of human society.
In his conversation with the Kaiser at Rominten, Witte opened his mind on the European situation in the following words:
'I declared .. that, among the countries of the world, Europe seemed to me like a decrepit old woman. Unless a radical change is brought about, ... Europe will soon have to yield her dominating place in the world to the mighty empires which are rising beyond the seas. The time is not far off . . . when this continent will be treated with that condescending respect which well-mannered people accord to venerable old age; and before the next few centuries are past, the greatness of Europe will be to the inhabitants of our planet what the grandeur of Rome, the glory of Greece, and the might of Carthage are to us' (p. 409).
But Izvolsky's efforts to preserve the balance of political power, as well as Witte's more ambitious and statesmanlike aims, were frustrated by Nicholas II. During his reign everybody who obtained a responsible post in the administration was estimated, not by his specific weight but by the degree of favour which he was supposed to enjoy with the Tsar himself or with some of the influential personages in his environment. And in nearly every case this reflected nimbus usurped the place of intellectual capacity and moral character. If one examines the gallery of political portraits of the reign of Russia's last sovereign, one is astounded at the piteous dwarfs who then passed for giants. Most of them received, together with their office, a ready-made reputation for what they were deemed capable of achieving. The ore of genius and of genuine talent was hardly ever hall-marked by the Autocrat; and without his stamp it had no currency in political circles.
There have been providential men' in the history of nations who seem appointed by destiny to ruin the Empires over which they preside. And among the classical examples, Louis XVI, Nicholas II, and Wilhelm II occupy foremost places in the annals of modern times. Such men, by their character, temperament, and mentality, contrive mechanically to raise to their highest power the main forces of disintegration, and to effect a wide breach in the dam which theretofore kept them confined and inoperative. The last ill-fated Tsar of all the Russias worked unwittingly and fatally in this direction almost from the day of his accession to the hour of his dethronement. His shiftiness, tergiversation, and cunning, his spasmodic acts which contradicted each other and left confusion worse confounded, his everchanging objects, his jealousy of superiority in his ministers, and above all else, his fatal gift of irritating those whom it was his duty and his interest to conciliate, qualified him for the office of executor of Fate.
E. J. DILLON.