A second pre-condition was required to enable us to approach the problem in question attentively and with an open mind. When, seven years ago, a few isolated calls for the acquisition of colonies were heard in the German press, they were contemptuously dismissed as out of date. Public opinion, dominated by Manchesterism, believed that in unrestricted freedom of trade it had identified for all time the economic philosophers’ stone. We are not among the many who today decry the Manchester school. We believe, rather, that the accepted doctrine of free trade has in many ways had a liberating and encouraging effect on the general cultural development of our century. But on two points all level-headed and reasonable people must by now surely be clear. Firstly, that our economic policy, in adopting the Manchester theory, has come more and more to profess a most one-sided dogmatism. It is an old inevitability, and one that has often manifested itself in history, that newly discovered truths fall a ready prey to this fate. Unless careful attention is paid to their natural prerequisites, they are gradually inflated into the one true doctrine, which then, in accordance with the generally prevailing fashion, has to be pursued as rapidly as possible to its remotest conclusions. [ . . . ] It is, however, understandable that, once these errors have made themselves painfully felt, public opinion will reverse itself and he who was long celebrated as infallible will be quickly branded as an arch-evildoer. This is the second point, which is now a matter of established fact. For, that this reversal of public opinion as regards the Manchester school has now in large measure come about, no-one can deny, not even those who see this, if not as a misfortune, then at least as a danger. Meanwhile this reversal of public opinion has in the last few weeks taken on such tremendous proportions that it has already become a highly noteworthy symptom in the psychology of the people. [ . . . ]
A third factor which may today incline public opinion towards discussion of the question of whether the new Reich needs colonial possessions, is the development, as rapid as it is powerful, of our German Navy. We admit that we were among those who doubted whether the German Reich was acting correctly in setting itself as one of its first tasks the creation of a large and strong Navy. And even today we are not yet convinced that our doubts were unjustified. In view of the enormous expense which, despite the extremely careful and, indeed, in many respects really thrifty, administration of our military establishment, our land armies impose upon us in view of the necessity of outdoing all the European Great Powers alike in number of troops and in battle-readiness for a long time to come, we hold that Germany is indeed too poor to compete in the long run with other Great Powers as a naval Power as well. There is no doubt that Germany’s level of political strength will always be decided by the soundness and the successes of her land armies. If we imagine a German Navy, even of the size and sound construction of the British, what would be its fate on the day on which our land armies were decisively beaten, and, as a result of such defeats, an indemnity of thousands of millions was imposed on the German Reich? We should undoubtedly have to leave our battle-fleet to moulder in our ports, or, at best, sell it at far below cost price in order to meet our debts. Nor would this tragic necessity be spared us if, at the same moment when our land armies were defeated, our battle-fleet were to gain the most glorious victories. This hypothetical case in itself shows, it seems to us, clearly enough that the endeavour to equip Germany with a great and mighty battle-fleet is a somewhat risky one, because as yet it is not a natural enterprise and therefore is to some extent really a luxury.
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