Volume 12, Number 4
June - July 2005
A Short History of
The Round Table
its reaction to the League of Nations, the Round
Table struggled to control events, but its moment
was already passing, as was Britain’s...
THE ROUND TABLE
AND THE LEAGUE OF NATIONS
The Round Table’s failure to achieve its primary objective of
imperial federation is a significant fact, yet it is ignored by most
New World Order researchers. Quigley, though, much to his credit,
was not shy of addressing the issue with this trenchant observation:
"...whether this group succeeded in transforming the British Empire
into a Commonwealth of Nations or merely succeeded in destroying the
British Empire is not clear, but one seems as likely as the
Arresting Britain’s decline was the ultimate goal of
these would-be elite conspirators, but the tide of history and the
growing nationalism of the dominions were against them.
Events during the First World War and the Paris Peace Conference
also signaled that there were growing limits to British power and
Round Table influence. The catastrophic war against Germany and its
allies had accelerated the erosion of Britain’s global position. In
fact, by the start of 1917 Britain was facing a financial crisis as
its reserves of gold and American bonds became seriously depleted,
impeding its ability to purchase much needed supplies from the
United States. Britain’s financial dependence upon the US had
reached such a stage by mid-1917, Britain’s Chancellor of the
Exchequer had warned that US President Woodrow Wilson would soon be
"in a position, if he wishes, to dictate his own terms to us".125
Fortunately for Britain, Wilson stopped short of using America’s
financial power to force both sides to mediate; instead US troops
joined the war against Germany. But Wilson did exploit America’s
newly pre-eminent economic position to introduce on 8 January 1918,
what he described as a "programme of the world’s peace…the only
possible programme…" the "Fourteen Points". The first four points
were unashamedly internationalist, calling for the abolition of
secret treaties, absolute freedom of the seas, the elimination of
trade barriers and global disarmament. Most of the remaining points
sought to redress territorial disputes within Europe, except for the
fourteenth point, which set out Wilson’s overall global vision:
general association of nations must be formed under specific
covenants for the purpose of affording mutual guarantees of
political independence and territorial integrity to great and small
Wilson’s proposal was subsequently
realized as a "League of Nations"
at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. The Round Table’s response to
this development is generally assumed to have been positive,
although its role in the League’s creation is disputed. Mainstream
historians, such as Kendle, for example, claim the Round Table,
its major wishes fulfilled when both a League of Nations and a
mandates system were established by the Peace Conference".
cautions, the Round Table’s "actual effect" on the Peace Conference
was "very little" and "should not be exaggerated".127
contrast, maintains the Round Table had "a great deal to do with the
formation and management of the League of Nations and of the system
of mandates".128 Outside of the ivory tower,
David Icke goes further
to claim the Round Table actually played a central role in the
Through Milner, [the Round Table]
was the chief influence in the British War Cabinet of Lloyd
George (Committee 300) in the First World War. It would dominate the
British delegation at the ’Peace’ Conference of 1919, when the
shape of the post-war world and German reparation was being
decided. It was also the major power behind the creation of the
League of Nations, the first attempt at world government by
Which of these interpretations is most
accurate? There is no simple answer, but as will become apparent,
the Round Table attempted to shape the outcome of the Paris Peace
Conference though not in ways most would expect. In fact there was
an attempt by some well-placed Round Table members to weaken the
League of Nations. Though that action failed, the Round Table was
arguably more successful in subverting the mandates system,
transforming it into little more than a League-approved imperialist
land-grab. This period would also reveal how divided the Round Table
had become between imperialists and advocates of world government.
A "LITTLE BODY OF
The Round Table had reached the apex of its political power and
influence during World War I.
During the years 1916 to 1919 many
Round Table members occupied senior positions in the government of
British Prime Minister David Lloyd George. This was no accident, for
since January 1916 a number of key Round Table members, including
Milner, Kerr, Dawson, Amery and Waldorf Astor had begun to cultivate
the ambitious Lloyd George. Dining together every Monday, often at
Amery’s residence, the primary obsession of this so-called "ginger
group" was the need to replace the then Prime Minister, Herbert
Asquith, with "firm leadership". For most Round Table members the
obvious choice as Prime Minister was Milner. However an apparently
blundered attempt by Dawson and Astor to convince Asquith to resign
in favour of Milner merely paved the way for the more politically
astute Lloyd George to assume the prime ministership in December
Although Milner was trumped, Lloyd George’s triumph was an immediate
boon to the Round Table as its members joined the new government at
a variety of levels. Milner was appointed to the five-member War
Cabinet, initially as a minister without portfolio, but in April
1918 he became Secretary of State for War. Other Round Table
Philip Kerr as Lloyd George’s private
secretary and foreign policy adviser
Leo Amery as an Assistant
Secretary to the War Cabinet Secretariat
William Waldorf Astor was
appointed as Lloyd George’s Personal Parliamentary Secretary
Brand, already serving on the Imperial Munitions Board based in
Ottawa, was promoted to Deputy Chairman of the British Mission
in Washington DC
John Buchan joined Lloyd George’s staff as
Director of Information
Also joining the government was new Round
Table member Alfred Zimmern who was shifted from the Ministry of
Reconstruction to the Political Intelligence Department at the
Foreign Office in 1917
Only Lionel Curtis was excluded from
Whitehall, retaining his teaching position at Oxford (and travelling
to India in the meantime) until called upon in late 1918 to join the
British delegation at the Paris Peace Conference.
The presence of so many Round Table members within Lloyd George’s
government, in the War Cabinet, Cabinet Secretariat, the Foreign
Office and especially in his private secretariat or "Garden
Suburb" - so named because they were housed in huts constructed in the
garden of 10 Downing Street - did not pass unnoticed. In February 1917
one British journalist wrote scathingly of a "little body of
illuminati" from "the class of travelling empirics of Empire, who
came in with Lord Milner" and had now taken up residence in the
"Garden Suburb", he argued, for the sinister purpose of "cultivat[ing]
the Prime Minister’s mind".131 Even some academic historians have
concluded there was "a good deal of truth" (Lockwood) to these
claims of "Fabian-like Milnerite penetration" (Naylor) of Lloyd
More importantly, this "Milnerite" ascendancy came at the expense of
the Foreign Office, which "might more properly have been described
as a ’passed-over’ department with little influence on the
policy-making process".133 Milner and his acolytes had justified
their new dominance by painting the Foreign Office as incompetent.
According to Kerr, the Foreign Office had "no conception of policy";
Amery accused it of a "general absence of definite purpose"; and
Milner charged that its lack of "energy and promptness of action"
was threatening Britain’s interests.134 With Lloyd George
sympathetic to such sentiments, Round Table influence over British
foreign policy only grew, much to the chagrin of the Foreign Office.
Thus it was not surprising that in mid-1917, the Foreign Office’s
Permanent Undersecretary, Lord Hardinge was privately complaining
about his experienced officials being sidelined while "amateur
diplomacy holds the field".135
A HOUSE DIVIDED
In view of the Round Table’s rise to power it is ironic that it was
divided on the question of the League of Nations.
In fact some of
its key members were deeply skeptical of Wilson’s scheme. Milner had
little faith in the concept, telling an associate in 1919 that he
was "very doubtful about the success of the League of Nations". He
believed the League could only work "by virtue of the influence of
the British Empire and America", but without that support, "the
larger League has no future".136 Milner also cautioned Lloyd George
against relying on the "shadow" of the League of Nations at the
expense of the "substance" of the British Empire.137 Amery was more
scathing, dismissing the League on various occasions as "moonshine",
"a farce", and a "sham structure".138 In one acerbic communication
to Lord Robert Cecil - later Britain’s Foreign Secretary and co-author
of the League covenant - Amery wrote:
"leagues of peace, disarmament
etc are all fudge". An unimpressed Cecil dismissed Amery’s
criticisms as "pure Germanism".139
Philip Kerr also had his doubts about the League. In articles he had
written for The Round Table during the war, Kerr had endorsed
Anglo-American cooperation and the spread of democracy as the basis
for international peace. He had also focused on recreating the
so-called "Concert of Europe" that had kept the peace following the
Napoleonic wars. In private discussions with the US Ambassador to
Britain, Walter Page, Kerr had rejected the idea of a "peace league"
in favor of a permanent great-power conference based on voluntary
participation, no surrender of national sovereignty and an
organization that "would have no executive authority or military
power". Kerr was, according to Egerton,
"emphatically opposed to the
plans for guaranteed or enforced peace now being propounded by
pro-league groups in Britain and America".140
In pursuing this
course, observes Kendle, Kerr was "supported by the majority of the
[Round Table’s] London group".141
But this skepticism about the League was not unanimous. Lionel
Curtis was a keen supporter of the League as was Alfred Zimmern,
whom Curtis admired because his mind was "not shaped in the iron
Milnerian mould". It was through Zimmern that Curtis had joined the League of Free Nations Association, a pro-League group formed by
Fabian Society member H.G. Wells.
The Association later joined with another group, the League of
Nations Society - also dominated by Fabians including Leonard Woolf,
author of International Government (1915) - to form the League of
Nations Union (LNU). Curtis soon became a strong presence in the LNU,
convincing Wells to adopt the Round Table’s research methods, and
driving its agenda towards supporting world government as the only
means of eliminating war.142
The LNU later published its proposal, "The Idea of a League of
Nations" in the Atlantic Monthly in 1919. They presented the issue
as a choice between "a general agreement on the part of mankind to
organize a permanent peace" and the "progressive development of the
preparation for war and the means of conducting war" that would
"ultimately…destroy civilization". They also rejected as a
"delusion" the notion that war could merely be restricted rather
Yet this "League of Nations project" would not only eliminate war
forever, it would deliver "a new economic phase in history" in the
form of "economic world-control". The League was no mere "little
legal scheme", wrote Curtis, Zimmern and their fellow LNU
collaborators, but a "proposal to change the life and mentality of
everyone on earth".
They also claimed it was "fatuous" to "dream of compromises" with
any "political institutions or social methods" that stood in the way
of this project; such obstacles were presumably to be eliminated.
The demands of their "World-League of Nations" project were enormous
and could not be diluted:
"it is either to be a great thing in the
world, an overriding idea of a greater state, or nothing".144
Curtis had already spelled out his own ideas on the League in an
article for The Round Table, "The Windows of Freedom" (December
1918). Curtis made three points. First, he made an impassioned plea
for Anglo-American cooperation to ensure the League would function.
The war had revealed to America "the world is one" and that it was
"now impossible" to retain its policy of isolation.
"Having put her
hand to the plough, can [America] look back?", Curtis asked
rhetorically. "Can she now go back to the plea that American
interests are the dominating principle of her policy?"145
Second, he warned the League of Nations "will not constitute a world
government", and would be little more than "scaffolding" until it
was composed of popularly elected representatives who were able to
levy taxes. In fact, until it had "developed the structure of a
world government", a powerless League "plastered with phrases and
made to look like stone" would become "the greatest danger which can
threaten mankind". Although optimistic, the world would "live to
see" a "Government speaking and acting in the name of mankind".
Curtis cautioned: "the hour is not yet".146 Finally, Curtis proposed
a trusteeship system in which the League would direct certain powers
to bring "peace, order and good government" to those "races who
cannot as yet hope to govern themselves" in tropical Africa and the
Zimmern’s article in the same issue of The Round Table was more
effusive in its support for the League of Nations. A true ideologue, Zimmern claimed the "real work" of the "coming age" was to "moralize"
states both internally and externally, as "[b]etter States" would
create "better citizens" who were "more public-spirited" and
"fully-conscious of their obligations". When all states were
dominated by such "civic dedication", only then could the "machinery
of the League ever develop into the organic union or world-State to
which all students of the political affairs of mankind are bound to
look forward to".148
Continuing this theme, Zimmern averred:
It is only by the co-operation of
States which have common ideals that the new world order can be
built up, and the idea of the commonwealth, the principle of the
conscious and responsible co-operation of the citizen in the
making of laws by which he is bound, is the only possible
foundation for the world-State of the future.149
The other purpose of Zimmern’s article
was to influence the deliberations of the Paris Peace Conference.
Thus to achieve the third of Wilson’s Fourteen Points - which called
for the "removal…of all economic barriers" and the global "equality
of trade conditions" - Zimmern recommended creation of a "permanent
commission on Commercial Practice". Much like the World Trade
Organization of today, this proposed body would address
"controversies on tariff discrimination, dumping and similar
questions".150 Zimmern even warned of the "dangers" to civilization
posed by "international syndicates" and "international trusts" who
were becoming "real and serious rivals to the power of free
governments". Although he noted the "[m]eans…exist for controlling
them", it was "too early" to describe those controls.151
Of these it was Curtis’s article - subsequently reprinted in the New
York Times (21 December 1918) and published by the LNU as its first
study - that was the most influential. General Jan Smuts and Lord
Cecil, key contributors to the League of Nations Covenant, both drew
on Curtis’s paper; and it was on the strength of "The Windows to
Freedom" Cecil had invited Curtis to join the League of Nations
Section at the Paris Peace Conference.152 Fate though, had decreed
that it was the League sceptics - Milner, Kerr and Amery - who had the
ear of Lloyd George, not Curtis.
LEAGUE OF NATIONS
The position of Philip Kerr is perhaps the most important in this
episode as he was the closest Round Table member to Lloyd George.
the private secretary and foreign policy adviser to Lloyd George
from 1916 to 1921, Kerr’s influence has been much debated. Recent
academic accounts paint Kerr as the "gatekeeper" (MacMillan) and
"intimate companion" (Warman) to Lloyd George, who was able
manipulate him with ease due to his absolute control over the flow
of information to the Prime Minister.153 Some contemporary
observers, however, suggested Kerr’s influence was exaggerated. As
Thomas Jones, Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet, for example, observed
in 1917: "Kerr pumps things into [Lloyd George] and he seems to
agree and then he goes and does the opposite".154
In the case of the League of Nations, however, it is clear that
Kerr’s influence over Lloyd George was more substantial than not.
This is confirmed by a little-known incident in January 1919, when
at Kerr’s instigation Lloyd George attempted to force
Cecil - Britain’s representative at the League negotiations - to make
substantial changes to the League Covenant.
Kerr had been attempting for quite some time to seek Lloyd George’s
support for a less ambitious League arrangement. In December 1917,
for example, Kerr had suggested that Lloyd George support the
creation of a "League of Allied Nations" based on the Supreme War
Council at Versailles as the centerpiece of any post-war
arrangement. Kerr advocated transforming the Supreme War Council
into a "permanent international agreement" that would commit the
Allies to enforcing the peace settlement, though they would only
need to meet "from time to time".155
A particular concern of Kerr was Wilson’s insistence on territorial
guarantees, automatic sanctions against violators of the
international peace, and that League members would have a compulsory
obligation to uphold the Covenant. Kerr had repeatedly warned that
"no international machinery or treaties" could guarantee
international peace; only a less ambitious permanent conference,
based in Versailles, and comprised of representatives of the
"Greater States" could deliver.156 Kerr’s influence eventually bore
fruit when in December 1918 Lloyd George declared in a War Cabinet
meeting his view that the League "must not be constituted as a body
with executive power" but as a body "whose authority rested with
governments".157 In short: national sovereignty was not to be
Unlike Lloyd George, the British representative in the League
negotiations, Lord Robert Cecil, was more sympathetic to Wilson’s
vision and had prepared a draft covenant - the ’Cecil-Miller’ draft
that end. It was because that draft went well beyond what the
Imperial War Cabinet had authorized, that on 31 January 1919 Lloyd
George had confronted Cecil with a list of changes. That list was in
fact a memorandum prepared by Philip Kerr. The Kerr memorandum
rejected the collective security program embodied in Wilson’s
original proposal for territorial guarantees and upheld by the
Cecil-Miller draft. Instead it argued that if the League attempted
to "impose obligations" on members to "go to war in certain stated
conditions", it would result in the "destruction of the League
itself". The only real option was a system of "continuous
consultation" among the nations of the world, with solutions to each
crisis to be decided on a case-by-case basis; the "paper
obligations" the League members entered into should be "reduced to
the absolute minimum…"158
Cecil, who was due to meet with Wilson in a matter of hours, chose
to totally disregard Lloyd George’s new instructions. Believing
Lloyd George’s "thoroughly bad" plan to be part of a French plot to
delay resolution of the League question - rather than a Round Table
plot to weaken the League of Nations - Cecil also kept details of the
confrontation secret from the American delegation.159
THE AMERICAN CONNECTION
This was perhaps a wise move on Cecil’s part as Wilson was already
suspicious of Milner and his acolytes.
In a private discussion with
future Rockefeller aide Raymond B. Fosdick while en route to the
Paris Peace Conference, for example, Wilson had dismissed Milner as
"a Prussian".160 Wilson also opposed the cultural formula for
Anglo-American unity - the centerpiece of Cecil Rhodes’s
vision - telling a British diplomat in December 1918 the British
should not describe Americans as their cousins or brothers, as they
were "neither". Due to its ethnic diversity the US could not be part
of any Anglo-Saxon world, Wilson argued. Only a "community of ideals
and interests" could form the basis of an Anglo-American
As chairman of the commission at
Versailles charged with drawing up the League Covenant, and aided by
a sympathetic Cecil, Wilson was in a good position to prevail.
According to Knock, there was a "fair measure of congruence" between
the original Wilson-House draft covenant of August 1918, and the
covenant produced by the League Commission in February 1919. In fact
it could be argued the League Covenant had been "thoroughly
reconstructed along Wilsonian lines".162
It is therefore ironic that while the London branch of the Round
Table failed to make the League more compatible with British
imperialism, it was a group of Americans sympathetic to
Anglo-American unity who succeeded in crippling Wilson’s creation.
Lead by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, a majority of US Senators put
forward a plethora of reservations. Their primary aim was to ensure
that American freedom of action at home or abroad would not be
restricted by joining the League of Nations. Wilson, though, refused
to compromise and on 8 March 1920, the US Senate rejected membership
of the League Covenant.
The failure of the US to join the League has been celebrated by many
New World Order researchers as a triumph of popular will over elite
hegemony. This might be an erroneous assumption. Lodge had long been
close to former President Theodore Roosevelt and a number of his
acolytes, including naval strategist Captain Alfred T. Mahan and the
author Brookes Adams. Roosevelt openly admired Cecil Rhodes’s "great
and striking conquest for civilization" in southern Africa, which he
hoped to duplicate in Latin America and the Pacific.163
Adams endorsed an "Anglo-Saxon coalition" to check German and
Russian ambitions; while Mahan advocated an "Anglo-American
re-union", especially a naval alliance, as the two powers "united
upon the ocean" would be "all-powerful there".164
In the 1890s Roosevelt, Lodge, Mahan and Adams had often met in the
Metropolitan Club in Washington DC to discuss the virtues of America
becoming an imperialist power.165 They were also close to the
business community, especially J.P. Morgan.166 As President
(1901-1909), Theodore Roosevelt had maintained his imperialist
impulse. Declaring himself an "expansionist" he had sought to
establish the US as a world power. Inevitably, until his untimely
death in 1917, Roosevelt was one of the most vehement critics of
Wilson and the League of Nations. Roosevelt’s preference, curiously
enough, was for a "League of Allies".
It is perhaps no coincidence that in the same month as the final
Senate vote that Philip Kerr wrote a lengthy piece in The Round
Table finding favour with the Lodge-Roosevelt approach while
rejecting Wilson. The League Covenant had "aimed too high and too
far", Kerr observed; it was also now apparent that support for the
League from "one of its most important members" - the US - was "very
unlikely". In fact:
"The emphasis of public sentiment in all nations
is now on the rights of national sovereignty, rather than on
Kerr acknowledged that joining the League required "the complete
abandonment of the doctrines of the Fathers of the American
Republic" and credited the US Senate with expressing "the real
sentiment of all nations with hard-headed truthfulness". Few nations
were genuinely willing to subordinate their "national sovereignty to
an international code and an international ideal". The United
States, Kerr wrote, had "reaffirm[ed] the principle of national
sovereignty as over-riding the ideal of world government enforcing a
Believing popular support for the League was waning, Kerr argued the
"proper course" was to "revise and restate" Britain’s League policy.
He suggested three guidelines for Britain’s League membership.
(1) avoid any "general obligations"
(2) not make
any commitments beyond its capabilities
denounce the idea" that the League could enforce its rules by
"military or economic pressure on recalcitrant States"
there could be no alternative course because the "influence of the
League of Nations upon British Imperial relations has for the moment
been misleading and dangerous".169
One area where the imperialist faction of the Round Table did secure
a victory was on the issue of League mandates.
The Round Table had a
key role in formation of the concept. Curtis had proposed a
trusteeship system for "derelict territories", arguing that the only
hope of these races who cannot as yet govern themselves or ever
learning to do so is in tutelage by some great democratic civilized
nation. Through such a system the League would "render obsolete the
old, pernicious idea of empire…"170 Kerr had also been contemplating
the issue and was "against handing back the colonies" Britain had
seized from Germany. He supported "civilized control over
politically backward peoples" as Africans and many Asians had
"proved unable to govern themselves". The solution he sought was for
European powers to intervene and protect these peoples from "demoralizing
Additional work was being done by the Round Table’s primary US
member, George Louis Beer (one of Kerr’s recruits), who now served
on "The Inquiry" as its colonial expert. Beer’s correspondence with
Curtis and two other Round Table members had produced the idea of
the US having mandates over former German colonies in East Africa.
At the Paris Peace Conference in December 1918, Beer had taken
Curtis to meet with senior US representatives Colonel House and
General Tasker Bliss to sell the idea. Curtis also talked with
Milner, Kerr and Lloyd George as well about the proposal. Beer
appeared to be successful when Wilson announced on 30 January 1919
that the US would accept mandates.172
This moment of triumph for Beer soon unraveled when it became
apparent Britain and France had already secretly divided the spoils
of war. According to Kendle, Milner as the newly-appointed Colonial
Secretary was "at the heart of things and deeply involved". This was
no understatement: Milner was personally conducting the "out of
court" negotiations with the French at the Paris Peace
Conference.173 He was also chairman of the commission established at
the Peace Conference to draft the mandates putting him in a
Kendle suggests that Milner was defying Round Table views on the
mandate but this is doubtful for there was no firm consensus.
Moreover, Milner had always been an imperialist and suddenly
overcame his previous reluctance to acquire new territory now that
Germany was defeated. He had advocated American acquisition of
mandates as a means of establishing a "bond of union…between the
United States and [Britain]". But he had little time for Wilson’s
dreams of "self-determination" and actually opposed giving the US
mandates in East Africa arguing that it would deprive Britain of a
vital line of communication running the length of Africa.175
The rewards of this venture were, for Britain, France and some other
powers, substantial. One obvious result, in the words of Lord
Balfour, was "a map of the world with more red on it".
untroubled by his efforts; but a confused Curtis suffered a nervous
breakdown and retreated to Morocco to recuperate.176 Beer accepted
the position of chairman of the Permanent Mandates Commission, even
though he despised the outcome of the Peace Conference. He died
suddenly in March 1920. In its tribute to him the Round Table
admitted that Beer was its "American correspondent" and praised him
as "an internationally minded man" who was "the centre of a
considerable group of men whom his criticism and advice had a
That influence, however, clearly had its
limits. Whitney Shepardson, an American Rhodes Scholar and intimate
friend of Curtis, took his place.
"INTERNATIONAL ANGLOPHILE NETWORK"
The political defeat of the Round Table’s world government faction
at Paris merely followed the severe blows administered to the
movement as a whole by the First World War.
The war, according to Kendle "had had a disastrous effect on the movement". Many members
in the dominion branches, especially in Canada and Australia, had
been lost in the war. Added to the public controversy stirred up by
publication of Curtis’s incendiary The Problem of the Commonwealth,
more members were lost than gained causing some groups to collapse.
Round Table groups in India and South Africa soon disappeared, while
the remaining members in New Zealand succumbed to apathy.178 The
movement was not dead, though its members moved off in different
directions adapting to the changed world of the 1920s and 1930s.
According to Quigley, the Round Table was transformed into an
"international anglophile network". This process was led by "the
mastermind", Curtis - "who established, in England and each dominion,
a front organization to the existing local Round Table Group". The
main fronts were:
the Royal Institute for International Affairs (RIIA
or Chatham House) in Britain
the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR)
the Institute for Pacific Relations (IPR) in the US.179
mocked in some quarters, Quigley’s record of events is accurate on
In May 1919 Curtis returned to Paris where he called a meeting at
the Majestic Hotel. Thirty members of the British and US delegations
participated. Curtis had proposed that a committee be formed to
"prepare a scheme for the creation of an institute of international
affairs". He justified this proposal with the argument that as the
Peace Conference had revealed:
"Right public opinion was mainly
produced by a small number of people in real contact with the facts
who had thought out the issues involved"
Curtis had then suggested creation of an "institute of international
affairs" with "one branch in England and the other America" to
ensure that expert opinion could be cultivated.180 Sure enough at
subsequent meetings of this Majestic-thirty group in June 1919 the
committee recommended formation of an "Institute of International
Affairs" with two branches, one in Britain and the other the US.181
Out of the deliberations of this Majestic-thirty, the RIIA and
emerged to take their respective places in the British and US
foreign policy establishments. They were not only were led and
dominated by Round Table members in their early years - Curtis, Zimmern and Kerr at Chatham House, and Whitney Shepardson at the CFR
subscribed to many of the Round Table’s goals.
"The foundation of
Chatham House", Curtis acknowledged in 1938, "was a necessary
tactical change to effect the same strategic object" as the Round
The "time is gone", Curtis wrote to Kerr in 1936, "…to be afraid of
admitting…that Chatham House was the outcome of Round Table
Both organizations also retained the Round Table’s
divisions; advocates of world government co-existed with proponents
of a world order built on an Anglo-American alliance.
Despite their differences, the ties between the core Round Table
group members endured in other forms, most notably the so-called "Cliveden
Set". During the inter-war years Milner (before his death in 1925),
Kerr, Brand, Dawson, and Curtis were regular visitors at the
palatial residence of Waldorf Astor at Cliveden.
Due to the higher political circles the Astors mixed with, the
suspicion that greater intrigues were underway at Cliveden soon
gripped the public imagination. The dominant theory, advocated by Claude Cockburn, editor of the political newsletter The Week in the
1930s, claimed there was in fact a "Cliveden Set" intent on
appeasing Nazi Germany.
This was not without foundation - Philip Kerr had endorsed
accommodating Nazi objectives in Eastern Europe, and had most of the
"Set" agreeing with him until Nazi aggression became too serious a
challenge to appease.183
There were other ventures involving the Round Table remnants. In the
late 1930s Kerr and Curtis were both heavily influenced by Clarence Streit’s book Union Now (1939). Streit, an American Rhodes Scholar
and New York Times journalist, had recommended "the union now of the
United States with other Democracies, under one Federal Union
Government, as a practical first step toward World Federal
Union…"184 Kerr had made many similar proposals during the 1930s and
in July 1939 he and Curtis had supported the establishment of the
Federal Union movement.
As Britain’s Ambassador to the US from 1939 to 1940, Kerr had
continued to support closer Anglo-American co-operation. In 1940 he
seemed to resurrect Cecil Rhodes’s ideas with his advocacy of a
"standing council in Washington representing all the states of
pan-America and the British Commonwealth" and a "Pan-American
British Empire Conference".185 Kerr would never see his vision
realized, however, dying unexpectedly on 12 December 1940 while
As an organization, however, the period from the 1920s onward was
marked by the decline of the Round Table. Dawson resigned as editor
of the Times in October 1941 and died in November 1944. Amery,
increasingly impatient with Curtis’s wild schemes, had drifted away
to become a member of parliament.
Curtis, though, had become embroiled in a number of clashes with the
new younger members of the movement who disagreed with his views.
Nevertheless Curtis stuck doggedly to his faith in world government
through some form of imperial federation as the path to world peace;
a view he maintained until his death in 1955.
As for the other Round Table members, Brand and Zimmern, the shift
in world power following World War II seemed to hasten their own
shifts into obscurity. The Round Table journal also changed, losing
its anonymity by the 1960s and becoming more a venue for ideas on
the Commonwealth than a platform for a secretive elite clique.
A LEGACY OF DECLINE?
The Round Table’s main legacy has been its unintentional role in
hastening the replacement of the Empire with the Commonwealth of
Nations. This is clearly ironic, given that the aim of its members
was the exact opposite, and reveals that their cherished propaganda
methods were also somewhat less effective than they realized.
Moreover, the Commonwealth - being little more than a portentous name
attached to those dominions and colonies that once formed the
British Empire - has struggled to establish itself as an effective
Commonwealth leaders have made many optimistic declarations about
the Commonwealth’s pivotal global role. In 1966, Commonwealth
Secretary-General Arnold Smith claimed an essential global role for
the Commonwealth in promoting more "understanding and tolerance".
"We have to develop quickly the habits and insights of
co-operation on a global basis. The Commonwealth gives us one of the
promising instruments for this purpose".
While one of his later
successors, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, at the 1999 Commonwealth Heads of
Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Durban, suggested a world leadership
role for the Commonwealth with his claim that, "In a very real sense
the Commonwealth is now a club of democracies".186
Yet, as a successor to the British Empire, the Commonwealth, as a
number of commentators have ruefully observed of late, is a very
poor substitute. "[I]t lacks much relevance in today’s world…",
claimed a scathing editorial in the Brisbane Courier-Mail after the
annual CHOGM meeting - then scheduled to be held in Brisbane,
Australia, in September 2001 - was cancelled in the wake of the
terrorist attacks on America. The Courier-Mail continued,
enforce discipline among its own members when they abuse human and
property rights (as in Zimbabwe) or devalue their democratic
institutions (as in Fiji). And now it has, in effect, acknowledged
that it would contribute little to the struggle against
The divisions within the Commonwealth, particularly between the
former dominions with large Anglo-Saxon populations and the former
colonies where most of the population is indigenous, have not gone
unnoticed by those seeking a reprise of the Rhodes-Milner vision of
a racially and culturally homogenous federation. In the 1950s and
1960s, for example, a number of federalists proposed consolidating
the Anglo-Saxon members of the Commonwealth. One Canadian supporter
suggested forming a "CANZUK Union", comprising Canada, Australia,
New Zealand and the United Kingdom.188
The real initiative, though, has been taken by those seeking to
resurrect the original Rhodes-Stead dream of the unification of the
United States with the British Empire. Since the 1990s an increasing
number of Anglo-Saxon enthusiasts on both sides of the Atlantic have
called for a "grouping that is natural rather than artificial"
through "some form of unity between countries of the same legal and
political - and linguistic and cultural - traditions…" Robert Conquest
of the Hoover Institution, for example, endorsed the merging of the
US with Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada into an
"English-Speaking Union", which would act as "a model and centre
from which the eventual progress of the entire world may
Other advocates include the now-disgraced media mogul Conrad Black,
political commentator John O’Sullivan, policy analyst John Hulsman,
and journalist James Bennett. The objective is known as "Anglosphere"
and proponents believe that "network civilizations" are emerging
using technological innovations in travel and communications to link
nations together on the basis of culture rather than geography. One
of these "network civilizations", they contend, is the
9/11 the notion of Anglosphere has gained considerable
currency. More than a few commentators observed that the partnering
of the US and Britain to invade Iraq in 2003 with substantial
assistance from relatively few allies other than Australia, made it
more of an "Anglo-Saxon" exercise than any of the other formulations
the Bush Administration tried to popularize. Tensions between Europe
and Britain over its relationship with the US have also contributed
to this idea that Britain and America’s embrace may tighten at the
expense of the European Union. Moreover, the overtly imperialist
policies of the Bush Administration have raised the specter of an
American Empire dominating the world. There is still scope for a
reversal, but it seems that over a century after his death, the
dreams of Cecil Rhodes - of Anglo-American unity and imperial
expansion - have had new life breathed into them.
If there can be said to be an enduring bequest to the New World
Order by the Round Table, it is providing an
blueprint. The Round Table is arguably the father of the plethora of
think-tanks and unofficial policy-planning organizations we see
around the world today.
All the features that distinguished and were pioneered by the Round
Table - including exclusive membership, private off-the-record
meetings, financial support from the business community, a focus on
changing elite rather than popular opinion and a high-profile
periodical - have been adopted by countless other organizations around
the world. Perhaps the most important of these organizational
successors to the Round Table include the
Council on Foreign
Relations, Chatham House, the
Bilderbergers and the World Economic Forum.
It is therefore a bitter irony of history that the Round Table
organization, a posthumous product of Rhodes money and idealism,
which still exists and still publishes its periodical, should be so
marginalized at a time when the idea which motivated its founders
has found new life. But this probably reflects the fundamental
reality that formation and objectives of the Round Table were in
fact "an admission of weakness". According to Norman Rose in his
book The Cliveden Set:
It reflected a widespread premonition that Britain was falling
behind in the great power race. Anxious to keep up with the future
giants, Germany and the United States, their projects were designed
to preserve in time a status that was fast disappearing - as it
happened, forever. On every count their game plan was doomed to
failure… Dominion nationalism was on the rise… Nor would it fade
away… it flowered, leading the Commonwealth down a different road
from that intended by Curtis and his followers...
By the time the Round Table had been formed in 1909, Britain’s
moment as a great power had already passed. As this series has
sought to illustrate, despite their valiant and conspiratorial
efforts, Rhodes, Milner, Curtis and their cohorts were too late to
save the Empire and create the English-speaking union that they
believed would bring peace to the world. Instead, primary
responsibility for establishing the New World Order was to fall to
elite groups within the United States. Britain’s destiny then, as
now, was to become a junior partner in a program for global control
largely devised and implemented from Washington DC, rather than in
Pax Americana was the future. Britannia would rule no more…
124. Carroll Quigley, Tragedy and
Hope: A History of the World in Our Time, (Angriff Press, 1974)
125. David Dimbleby & David Reynolds, An Ocean Apart: The
Relationship Between Britain and America in the Twentieth
Century, (BBC Books, 1988), p.52.
126. Wilson quoted in Thomas J. Knock, To End All Wars: Woodrow
Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order, (Princeton
University Press, 1992), pp.143-144.
127. Kendle, The Round Table Movement, pp.249, 259.
128. Carroll Quigley, The Anglo-American Establishment: From
Rhodes to Cliveden, (Books in Focus, 1981), p.5.
129. David Icke, …and the truth shall set you free, (Gateway
Books, 1995), p.63 (emphasis added).
130. See Rose, The Cliveden Set,pp.95-96.
131. Quoted in J.A. Turner, "The Formation of Lloyd George’s
’Garden Suburb’: ’Fabian-Like Milnerite’ Penetration?",
Historical Journal, March 1977, p.165.
132. P.A. Lockwood, "Milner’s Entry into the War Cabinet,
December 1916", Historical Journal, Vol. VIII (1964), p.133; and
John F. Naylor, "The Establishment of the Cabinet Secretariat",
Historical Journal, December 1971, p.793.
133. Roberta M. Warman, "The Erosion of Foreign Office Influence
in the Making of Foreign Policy, 1916-1918", Historical Journal,
March 1972, p.133.
134. Quotes in ibid, pp.138 (Kerr), 154 (Amery), & 144 (Milner).
135. Quoted in ibid, p.157.
136. Quoted in Marlowe, Milner: Apostle of Empire, p.336.
137. Quoted in George Egerton, "Imperialism, Atlanticism, and
Internationalism: Philip Kerr and the League of Nations
Question, 1916-1920", Annals of the Lothian Foundation I (1)
138. Amery quoted in George W. Egerton, "The Lloyd George
Government and the Creation of the League of Nations", American
Historical Review, April 1974, p.425; and Leo Amery, My
Political Life, Volume II, War and Peace 1914-1929, (Hutchinson,
1953), pp.162, 163.
139. Amery to Cecil 23 December 1916 and Cecil to Amery,
undated, in John Barnes and David Nicholson, eds, The Leo Amery
Diaries, Volume I: 1896-1929, (Hutchinson, 19??), pp.133-134.
140. Egerton, "Philip Kerr and the League of Nations Question"
(including Kerr quotes); Kendle, The Round Table Movement,
141. Kendle, ibid, p.252.
142. Lavin, From Empire to International Commonwealth,
pp.158-159 (including Curtis quote).
143. H.G. Wells, H. Wickham Steed, Viscount Grey, Gilbert
Murray, Lionel Curtis, J.A. Spender, William Archer, A.E.
Zimmern and Viscount Bryce, "The Idea of a League of Nations
(Part One)", The Atlantic Monthly, January 1919 at
144. H.G. Wells et al, "The Idea of a League of Nations (Part
Two)", The Atlantic Monthly, February 1919 at
145. [Lionel Curtis], "The Windows of Freedom", The Round Table,
December 1918, pp.5, 33.
146. ibid, p.25 & 18.
147. ibid, pp.32-33.
148. [Alfred Zimmern], "Some Principles and Problems of the
Settlement", The Round Table, December 1918, p.90 (emphasis
149. ibid, pp.91-92 (emphasis added).
150. ibid, pp.98-99.
151. ibid, pp.105-106.
152. Lavin, From Empire to International Commonwealth, p.161.
153. Margaret MacMillan, Peacemakers: The Paris Conference of
1919 and Its Attempt to End War, (John Murray, 2001), p.49; and
Warman, "Foreign Office Influence", p.138.
154. Quoted in Priscilla Roberts, "Lord Lothian and the Atlantic
World", The Historian, Spring 2004, p.98. Jones (1870-1955) was
Deputy Secretary to the Cabinet from 1916 to 1930.
155. Quotes in Egerton, "Philip Kerr and the League of Nations
156. Quoted in George W. Egerton, "Ideology, Diplomacy, and
International Organisation: Wilsonism and the League of Nations
in Anglo-American Relations, 1918-1920", in B.J.C. McKercher,
Anglo-American Relations in the 1920s: The Struggle for
Supremacy, (MacMillan, 1991), pp.25-26.
157. Quoted in George Egerton, "Conservative Internationalism:
British Approaches to International Organization and the
Creation of the League of Nations", Diplomacy & Statecraft,
March 1994, pp.8-9.
158. Quotes in Egerton, ibid, pp.17-19; and Egerton, "Ideology,
Diplomacy, and International Organisation", p.37.
159. Quote in Knock, To End All Wars, p.215; and Egerton,
"Ideology, Diplomacy and International Organisation", p.37.
160. Quoted in "From the Diary of William Christian Bullitt, 11
December 1918," in Arthur S. Link et al, The Papers of Woodrow
Wilson, Vol. 53, (Princeton University Press, 1986), pp.366-367.
161. Quoted in MacMillan, Peacemakers, p.29.
162. Knock, To End All Wars, p.224-225.
163. Quoted in William N. Tilchin, Theodore Roosevelt and the
British Empire: A Study in Presidential Statecraft, (St.
Martin’s Press, 1997), pp.18-19, 24.
164. Adams quoted in Howard K. Beale, Theodore Roosevelt and the
Rise of America to World Power, (John Hopkins Press, 1956),
p.78; Alfred T. Mahan, "Possibilities of an Anglo-American
Reunion", North American Review, November 1894, p.558, 559, 555
165. [Philip Kerr], "The British Empire, The League of Nations,
and the United States", The Round Table, March 1920, pp.225, 226
166. ibid, pp.232-235 (emphasis added).
167. ibid, pp.246-247.
168. [Curtis], "Windows of Freedom", pp.25, 33.
169. Quoted in Kendle, The Round Table Movement, pp.2254-255.
170. Wm. Roger Louis, "The United States and the African Peace
Settlement of 1919: The Pilgramage of George Louis Beer",
Journal of African History, Vol. IV No.3 (1963), pp.417-418.
171. See Wm. Roger Louis, "Great Britain and the African Peace
Settlement of 1919", The American Historical Review, April 1966,
172. Kendle, The Round Table Movement, p.259.
173. Quoted in Louis, "Great Britain", p.878.
174. Balfour quotedi n Louis, ibid, p.892; Kendle, The Round
Table Movement, p.259.
175. "George Louis Beer", The Round Table, June 1920,
176. Kendle, The Round Table Movement, pp.260-263.
177. Quigley, Tragedy and Hope, pp.950, 951-952.
178. Quoted in M.L.Dockrill, "The Foreign Office and the ’Proposed Institute of International Affairs 1919’",
International Affairs, Autumn 1980, pp.665-667.
179. ibid, pp.667-668.
180. Quoted in Inderjeet Parmar, "Anglo-American Elites in the
Interwar Years: Idealism and Power in the Intellectual Roots of
Chatham House and the Council on Foreign Relations",
International Relations, Vol.16 No.1 (2002), p.56.
181. See Rose, The Cliveden Set, pp. 150-152, 169-173.
182. Quoted in Kendle, The Round Table Movement, p.293.
183. Quoted in Roberts, "Lord Lothian", p.125.
184. Smith quoted in W.D. McIntyre, Colonies into Commonwealth,
(Blandford Press, 1968), pp.358-359; Anyaoku quoted in Derek
Ingram, "Commonwealth moves to deepen democracy", Post-Courier
(Port Moresby), 3 February 2000, p.11.
185. "CHOGM succumbs to reality", The Courier Mail (Brisbane),
29 September 2001, p.29.
186. McIntyre, Colonies Into Commonwealth, p.340.
187. Robert Conquest, "Towards an English-Speaking Union", The
National Interest, Fall 1999, pp.64, 70.
188. See James C. Bennett, "Anglosphere: Limits to
Globalization?", The Washington Times, 9 February 2002.
189. Rose, The Cliveden Set, p.215 (emphasis added).
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