Lord Salisbury: A Model for Aspiring Imperialists

Perhaps Lord Salisbury's most useful and permanent lesson, lies in the particular nature of his patriotism and of his conduct of foreign policy.

Issue: Fall 1998

To recommend Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil (1830-1903)--third Marquis and twenty-third Earl of Salisbury and three times prime minister of Great Britain--to contemporary American leaders as a role model may well seem quixotic, given the immense cultural difference between him and them. If brought face to face, they would probably find him quite incomprehensible. For his part, Salisbury would find them--well, his opinions of both America and democracy were rather harshly expressed 140 years ago, and it is unlikely that he would think that things had improved in the meantime.

Nonetheless, the recommendation is worth making, for the combinations of vast apparent strength with great difficulties in actually mobilizing and using that strength, and of enormous world prestige with equally great world resentment of that prestige that characterized the British Empire of the later nineteenth century are not without their echoes in the U.S. world hegemony of today.

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