JINGOISM (Social Science)

The term jingoism dates from the late 1870s. The jingoes, so termed after a music-hall song, were vociferous supporters of a strong British foreign policy in the Near East. Jingoism subsequently came to define any foreign policy in support of national interests that took its cue from public opinion. For social scientists, jingoism stands as one of the manifestations of nationalism in the Western world in the half-century leading up to World War I (1914-1918).

In the spring of 1877, Russia went to war with Turkey. The Conservative British government, led by Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), was concerned that Constantinople might fall to the Russians and that this would endanger the security of British routes to its Indian empire. Neutrality was declared, but conditional on the safeguarding of British interests. Toward the end of the year, it seemed as if these interests might be threatened, and the possibility loomed that Britain would become involved in a reprise of the Crimean War of the 1850s. A strong peace campaign urged the government not to get involved in the war, and for some weeks it seemed to carry all before it. But then, in January 1878, the peace meetings began to be broken up by supporters of a strong policy. The changing mood of the public was evident also in popular entertainment. G. W. Hunt (c. 1830-1904) wrote and composed a song to reflect and express the views of those who wanted the government to stand firm in the face of the Russian advance. It played on a deep-rooted Russophobia in Britain, one verse going:


The ‘Dogs of War’ are loose, and the rugged Russian Bear, Full bent on blood and robbery, has crawled out of his lair, It seems a thrashing now and then will never help to tame That brute, and so he’s bent upon the ‘same old game.’

Sung by G. H. Macdermott (c. 1845-1901) in London, and then on a provincial tour, the song became a popular hit, its rousing chorus giving the jingoes their name:

We don’t want to fight,


But by Jingo if we do

We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, we’ve got the money too.

We won’t let the Russians get to Constantinople.

Thoroughly alarmed at the changing mood of the public, and at the violent breakup of their meetings, the advocates of peace described their opponents as jingoes, "the new tribe of music-hall patriots who sing the jingo song."

From that moment on, through the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, jingoism was a term used by opponents of an assertive foreign policy. Moderate Conservatives as well as Liberals and socialists were alarmed at what they saw as the undue influence on poli-cymaking of raucous public opinion. It was not that there had not previously been virulent antiforeign sentiment, against the Spanish in the early modern period, and against the French in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. A fear of Russia itself had deep roots. What was new, and what distinguished jingoism from these earlier manifestations, was that it coincided in time with Britain becoming increasingly democratic. Most urban working-class men had become entitled to vote in 1867, and this was extended to those living in rural areas in 1884. The worry of the elite classes, whatever their politics, was that an undereducated electorate, swayed by a cheap popular press and music-hall songs, would exercise an undue influence on the conduct of foreign policy.

Lord Derby (1826-1893), who had been Disraeli’s foreign secretary in 1878 but lost his job when Disraeli gave way to the jingoes, complained in 1882 that the leading idea of jingoism seemed to be "that no State can be in a healthy condition that is not occasionally pitching into its neighbour." Lord Salisbury (18301903), Conservative prime minister for much of the late nineteenth century, argued in 1897 that an arbitration system "would be an invaluable bulwark to defend the Minister from the jingoes." The most extended attack on jingoism came from the Liberal publicist J. A. Hobson (1858-1940), whose The Psychology of Jingoism (1901) was prompted by the renewed breakup of peace meetings during the South African War of 1899 to 1902. Hobson explained jingoism by linking together the fashionable psychology that was alarmed by the "herd instinct" of the populations of the large cities of the modern world and the growth of the popular press, which seemed to pander to the worst instincts of these urban masses.

Detailed research on those who might be called active jingoes—those who tried to break up peace meetings— suggests that they were often associated with other right-wing populist causes such as fair trade (to keep out foreign imports) and opposition to immigration. Medical students, hardly typical of an undereducated urban mass, featured prominently in the rowdy meetings. Many jingoes had links with the Conservative Party. Although the party leaders were often distinctly lukewarm about jingoism, there is much evidence that, as in the 1900 general election where the South African war was the dominant issue, Conservatives gained by their association with an assertive foreign policy. More generally, a nationalistic foreign policy appealed to the growing lower middle class of clerks and shopkeepers who may have been trying to overcome their anxiety about their status by affirming loyalty to the nation.

Jingoism as a word crossed the Atlantic, its use particularly prevalent in the 1890s. In 1896 the Nation in New York referred to "Jingoish ideas of America’s past and future," and in 1898 President William McKinley (1843-1901) was reported to have said that he "will not be jingoed into war." But whether or not the word jingo was used, all Western countries were familiar with the phenomenon prior to World War I. In France, chauvinism was the equivalent of jingoism.

The experience of World War I put an end to the more overt assertions of national aggression. There were people who continued to hold views similar to the jingoes, but they were more on the fringe. The right-wing nationalism of the 1920s and 1930s came in the even more alarming form of fascism. After World War II (19391945), critics of British foreign policy or public opinion sometimes blamed jingoism, for example, for the war over the Falkland Islands in the 1980s. But as a permanent presence on the political scene, jingoism had a lifespan of some forty years preceding World War I.

Next post:

Previous post: