So Briand, the famous French Parliamentarian, is dead, and as would be expected the newspapers have taken the opportunity, to broadcast the story of his life. Reading it serves to emphasise the view, so often advanced in these columns, that people who allow themselves to be led are often led “up the garden.”
We are told he started life humbly (as did most of our own labour leaders), but, being an opportunist, he soared to the heights of Premiership over the bodies of striking railwaymen. From being an “extremist” in his youth and helping to found “L’Humanite,” now the organ of the French Communists, he used his knowledge thus gained to round up and arrest, not many years later, the whole of the strike leaders when assembled round the editorial table of that very journal! Throughout his career be wavered, at one time defending armaments at Washington, at another throwing a sop to the so-called Socialists in order to enlist their support for a return to power. As War Premier he rivalled Lloyd George in advocating a fight-to-a- finish policy, and as Foreign Minister in 1926 he joined the French National Government, even as our own labour leaders joined one in this country last year. The folly of one nation seems to be repeated in every other!
But let us not exaggerate the importance of. M. Briand. Most of his actions echoed the wishes of the multitude: and is he a great man who thinks only as everybody else does? At intervals, he changed places with other political messiahs, who had, for the moment, captured public support. But we notice no change in the conditions of the mass of people under them. There is only one necessary characteristic about a leader and that is he must have followers. Take away the followers and he ceases to be a leader. It seems too obvious to need mentioning, but whenever a plea is raised for a new leader or whenever disgust is shown against an old one this truism appears to be forgotten.
The life of a political shepherd always follows the same plan. His early cryings in the wilderness strike the hearts (not heads) of the common men. A note of sympathy is detected and a vague hope springs in the breasts of the listeners that this plausible speaker who has interpreted their woes must see farther than they, and can lend a hand to help them out. A little more rhetoric, a little more sentiment, election excitement and airy gesticulation and our would-be leader is invested with the robes of office. He is acclaimed a prophet, a maker of history!
Now it is one thing to command a servant to perform a task or to elect a delegate to carry out your will—it is the exact reverse to elect a leader to put things right for you in his own way. Stowed away in his head may be stores of great ideas, but not necessarily all of the kind we should approve. Our interpreter has become a magician and asks for our sanction to foist upon us his mysterious box of tricks. He is no longer our delegate to carry out our commands, instead he is a leader, and we find, alas! that the road he takes is not always to our liking. In course of time, we hear lamentations about his betrayal of his followers’ interests. In 1926 it was Thomas, in 1931 Snowden and MacDonald. In the French Railway Strike of 1910 it was Briand.
Those who are blind and cannot see.
Those who have forgotten.
Those who are ignorant and never knew.
Those who are being escorted forcibly to a destination they do not desire.