Cecil Rhodes dreamed the Secret Society — Alfred Milner gave it life.
A journalist and then a colonial administrator, Milner was the perfect man to take up leadership of Rhodes’ Secret Society, for he was as ardent a “British Race patriot” as Rhodes himself, and considerably more capable when it came to pulling political strings. He bent his life’s work toward the maintenance of Anglo‐Saxon supremacy in a rapidly changing world. His “Credo” stated it plainly:
I am a Nationalist and not a cosmopolitan .… I am a British (indeed primarily an English) Nationalist. If I am also an Imperialist, it is because the destiny of the English race, owing to its insular position and long supremacy at sea, has been to strike roots in different parts of the world. I am an Imperialist and not a Little Englander because I am a British Race Patriot … The British State must follow the race, must comprehend it, wherever it settles in appreciable numbers as an independent community. If the swarms constantly being thrown off by the parent hive are lost to the State, the State is irreparably weakened. We cannot afford to part with so much of our best blood. We have already parted with much of it, to form the millions of another separate but fortunately friendly State. We cannot suffer a repetition of the process.
At the time Milner stepped into the inner circle of the Secret Society, the core group was composed of the founder, Rhodes; journalist Stead (though he would be pushed out of the inner circle); Regy Brett (Lord Esher), friend and advisor to monarchs; and Lord Nathaniel Rothschild, of the family of international financiers.
From the late 1890s into the 1920s, Milner was the leader of this cabal, prime mover of a Secret Elite made of concentric circles of industrialists, bankers, media kingpins, diplomats and political placemen, steering the British Empire into war with the Boer Republics in South Africa and — with world‐shaping consequences — manipulating Great Britain and the Empire into a showdown for dominance with Germany.
As High Commissioner for South Africa, Milner pushed hard on the Boer Republics — the South African Republic (Transvaal) and the Orange Free State. The aim was to secure the Witwatersrand within a federated South Africa. His maneuverings pushed the Boers into war, which the British eventually won, despite initial, costly failures and a grinding guerrilla war. The outcome was unsatisfactory to Milner. The British commander, Lord Horatio Kitchener, wanted conciliation and as quick an end to the war as possible. Milner wanted the Boers utterly defeated and subdued and the land populated by English settlers.
Kitchener was not “on side” and his peace was, in Milner’s view, far too soft on the Boers. Milner ran into other troubles: censure for signing off on a concentration policy that led to at least 26,000 civilian deaths, and the use of Chinese coolie labor to get the mines back in operation. He returned to England in 1905, having left South Africa in the hands of administrators he had trained and mentored, known as Milner’s Kindergarten.
In 1909, Milner started what would become known as the Round Table Movement. Round Table groups (echoing King Arthur and his knights) met in a “moot” (echoing the ancient Anglo‐Saxons) to promote cooperation among England and the Dominions. The Round Table exists to this day.
Revisionist historians argue that Milner and the Secret Elite engaged in off‐the‐books diplomacy and propaganda that led to World War I.
Such is the thesis of Gerry Docherty and James MacGregor’s flawed but fascinating tome Hidden History: The Secret Origins of the First World War. Following the trail blazed by Carroll Quigley, the authors posit that Rhodes and Milner’s Secret Elite saw the rise of Germany as a threat and therefore manipulated their Entente partners, France and Russia — and thus the world — into war to crush German power and assure the dominance of the Anglo‐Saxon. They argue that:
This war engulfed the known world to a degree that had no precedent. Histories have been written to explain away the reasons why, histories that favored the victors and twisted the truth to blame Germany. How history has been manipulated, how evidence has been removed, burned, shredded or otherwise denied to genuine researchers remains a crime against truth, against humanity. The received history of the First World War is a deliberately concocted lie. Not the sacrifice, the heroism, the horrendous waste of life or the misery that followed. No, these were very real, but the truth of how it all began and how it was unnecessarily and deliberately prolonged beyond 1915 has been successfully covered up for a century.
Unfortunately, the authors oversell their thesis. They lose sight of Quigley’s important distinction: that the Secret Elite exerted significant influence, but not control. Docherty and MacGregor frequently present a circumstantial case and draw a definitive conclusion that matches their thesis. Of course, they argue that they can’t produce smoking guns because the Secret Elite purged the record and tweaked the history. Well… you can see the problem here.
Did the Secret Elite maneuver the world into war? Perhaps, in a way and in part. Certainly, the men identified by the authors as the Secret Elite did pursue policies to contain and isolate Germany. In the authors’ estimation, they actively sought to provoke Germany into war. Containment and isolation may push an adversary into a corner, but I haven’t been convinced by evidence of intent to deliberately provoke war.
The authors overlook what I consider to be a significant element in the slide into war: Fear of relative decline. Each of the Great Powers suffered grave anxieties about their position. Germany feared that in a few years, Russia would grow too powerful to overcome. Austria, too, feared Russian, and the rise of a Greater Serbia. France feared the expiration of her alliance with Russia, which France depended upon for security vis‐a‐vis Germany. And Great Britain feared being eclipsed by Germany and left unable to balance power in Europe.
Those anxieties led all of the Great Powers to conclude that war now, in 1914, was preferable to what might come of a perceived degradation in their position. That’s not quite the same thing as a Secret Elite coldly maneuvering the world into a cataclysm.
Docherty and MacGregor wrongly portray Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany as a much‐put‐upon victim rather than an aggressive actor in her own right. The record is clear that there were powerful forces in Germany that actively sought war — sooner rather than later — in an effort to defeat Russia before that giant, shambolic empire grew too powerful to take on. It’s not insignificant that both the German Chancellor and the Chief of the General Staff burned their personal papers from the period.
Sometimes the mercurial Kaiser was a warmonger, sometimes a peacemaker. In the July Crisis of 1914, he rattled his sabre, then tried to take it back at the last minute — and cataclysmic events slipped out of his hands.
Germany may not have been the sole “guilty” party in the slide into war, but the Germans were not innocent Rhine Maidens ravaged by a conniving Anglo‐Saxon elite, either. And there are other candidates for the role of instigator. Russia, for instance.
I remain convinced that everybody in that volatile, pressurized era was walking waist deep in the Big Muddy, each and all pursuing their own power, economic leverage and prestige — all too willing to risk world war to achieve their ends, or simply to avoid being overrun by events. And they blew up the world for it.
With all of those grains of salt added to the mix, it is nevertheless important to understand that Great Britain was not the reluctant combatant that has usually been portrayed these past 100 years. A powerful and influential faction in Great Britain had been preparing for war with Germany — whether they specifically willed it or not — and that Secret Elite must bear some responsibility at least for playing with fire around the powder keg that blew sky high in August 1914.
The influence of that elite continues. The “special relationship” between the UK and the U.S. and the entire Atlanticist worldview is in large part an outgrowth of the Rhodes/Milner vision. The Council on Foreign Relations, which has fed dozens of members into cabinets of U.S. administrations, is a legacy of the Secret Elite. Those early British Imperialists and “race patriots” were the pioneers of the “New World Order,” and those who have promulgated that vision can trace their family tree back to Rhodes, Milner, Round Tables and the Secret Elite.
Alt historians argue that such outfits are the tools by which a now‐global and globalist oligarchy runs the world. They’re not entirely wrong, by any means, but again we must recognize the difference between influence and control. And it’s too easy to portray that influence as entirely sinister — a cabal manipulating the whole world can’t be good, right?
We don’t need to create a caricature or a cartoon to recognize that the Secret Society born in London in February 1891 had profound influence, or that its progeny lives on today. We do not need to veer off into the fevre swamps of conspiracy to recognize that the powerful, wealthy and connected will always seek to enhance and increase their power, wealth and connections, and will wield their influence to rig the game in their favor. They may well truly believe that they are doing so for the greater good.
That is the legacy bequeathed by Cecil John Rhodes and Alfred Milner to the modern world.
Tragedy & Hope by Carroll Quigley
The Anglo‐American Establishment by Carroll Quigley
Rhodes and the Secret Society by Robin Brown