CECIL RHODES AND HIS IMPERIAL VISION
The Round Table was the product of two people: Cecil Rhodes (1853-1902)
and Lord Alfred Milner (1854-1925).
This was not to be a living partnership, given Rhodes’s untimely death
well before the Round Table was founded and their limited contacts while
he was alive, but more of a posthumous association in which Milner sought
to realize Rhodes’s dream of a unified British Empire. As prominent Round
Table member Leopold Amery (1873-1955) later observed,
"If the vision was Rhodes’, it was Milner who over some twenty years laid
securely the foundations of a system whose power...throughout the English-
speaking world...would be difficult to exaggerate".
While his claims of the Round Table’s power can be forgiven as wishful
thinking, Amery by no means overstates the importance of Rhodes and Milner.
Cecil Rhodes is better known as the founder and primary owner of the famous
diamond company, De Beers; as creator of the colonies of Northern and
Southern Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe); and as Prime Minister of the
Cape Colony from 1890 to 1896.
Compelled by a life-threatening heart condition to leave Britain, Rhodes
had travelled in the 1870s to southern Africa where he made his fortune in
the diamond-mining boom in the Kimberley region. It was there that Rhodes
first demonstrated his desire for centralized control.
In 1888 Rhodes realized his vision, collaborating with share dealer Alfred
Beit and the London bankers Nathaniel M. Rothschild and Sons to buy out
rival mining companies throughout the Kimberley region. The product of this
collusion was a single diamond mining company, De Beers Consolidated Mines.
rans-African railway stretching from the Cape to Cairo, were for him
personally costly and conspicuous failures.
Rhodes was using the plans of others to fulfill his broader vision. As one
"Rhodes was not a thinker; he was doer. He appropriated the ideas of others
rather than conceiving ideas himself."
Significantly, the only exception to this rule was his most ambitious grand
design of all: imperial federation.
This is not an accepted fact in most accounts, including in Quigley’s book
where the famous British artist John Ruskin is cited as the sole source of
Rhodes’s enthusiasm for imperial federation. Rhodes is said to have attended
the inaugural lecture given at Oxford in 1870 by Ruskin, then Professor of
Fine Arts, and to have been so inspired that he kept a copy of the lecture
with him for the next 30 years, regarding it as "one of his greatest
The problem with this version of events is that Rhodes did not attend Oxford
until September 1873, thus obviously missing Ruskin’s lecture; more importantly,
as Rotberg notes, there is "absolutely no evidence...that Rhodes was ever
affected by Ruskin’s popularity and the cult which helped spread his message
of light, right and duty".
There are certainly good grounds for supposing that Rhodes would have agreed
with most of Ruskin’s message that Britain’s destiny, "the highest ever set
before a nation", was to make it "for all the world a source of light" by
founding colonies "as far and as fast as she is able to".18 There is, however,
no single source of inspiration for Rhodes’s dream of unifying the British
See https://www.corbettreport.com/wwi/ &
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