Plucky King Leopold

by Chris Bertram on June 24, 2010

Jesus Christ. Louis Michel, the former European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, is reported by the EU Observer as offering his opinions about Leopold II, King of the Belgians and one-time private owner of the Congo:

“Leopold II was a true visionary for his time, a hero,” he told P-Magazine, a local publication, in an interview on Tuesday. “And even if there were horrible events in the Congo, should we now condemn them?” … “Leopold II does not deserve these accusations,” continued Mr Michel, himself a descendent of the Belgian king and a “Knight, Officer and Commander” in the Order of Leopold, Belgium’s highest honour. … “The Belgians built railways, schools and hospitals and boosted economic growth. Leopold turned the Congo into a vast labour camp? Really? In those days it was just the way things were done.” …. Admitting there were “irregularities,” he said: “We can easily be tempted to exaggerate when it comes to the Congo … I feel instinctively that he was a hero, a hero with ambitions for a small country like Belgium.” “To use the word ‘genocide’ in relation to the Congo is absolutely unacceptable and inappropriate.”

Let’s be clear about this: what Michel has said is comparable to Holocaust-denial. If you doubt this, or even if you haven’t read it yet, then Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost should set you right. Perhaps 10 million people, perhaps half the population of the area, died during the “Free State” period, victims of Leopold’s greed for the region’s natural resources, chiefly rubber.

{ 195 comments }

1

Warren Terra 06.24.10 at 6:08 am

I second the suggestion of the Hochschild book.

Also, note that, aside from Mr. Michel’s willful ignorance of the atrocities committed under Belgian colonial rule, his assertions about Belgium having built and bequeathed an infrastructure and an economy are also pretty much nonsense. When Belgium decamped, they did indeed leave some railroads and steamships, the better to extract resources with, and some schools (that taught little) and hospitals (without a single black doctor in them), but the Belgian colonial regime did little to educate and nothing to empower the peoples of the Congo, and thus ensured that the tragedy of Belgian exploitation, oppression, and atrocity would be followed by a tragedy of chaos, civil war, and enduring poverty. I can recommend books on the state of the post-colonial Congo by Michaela Wrong and by Jim Butcher, but I’d be interested in any other commenter’s recommendations for books written by Africans.

2

dsquared 06.24.10 at 6:31 am

Oliver Cromwell syndrome, innit? Leopold was such a Good Thing domestically in Belgium that nobody can quite bring themselves to believe he was a baby eating monster overseas.

In terms of books, Larry Devlin’s memoirs weren’t written by an African, but he was the CIA guy there post-independence and “Chief of Station: Congo” is quite a good book.

3

GP 06.24.10 at 6:59 am

Mr. Betram

To use the word ‘country’ in relation to the Belgium is absolutely unacceptable and inappropriate.

4

Dave Weeden 06.24.10 at 6:59 am

Admitting there were “irregularities,” he said: “We can easily be tempted to exaggerate when it comes to the Congo … I feel instinctively that he was a hero, a hero with ambitions for a small country like Belgium.”

That’s good enough for me. I suppose you liberals want things like historical facts, arguments, proof, and so on. He feels stuff, just like Tony Blair. And what do we get? Bloody liberals coming at him with numbers.

5

alex 06.24.10 at 7:28 am

@3: on this score, ‘country’ is about right, phonetically-speaking.

6

Tim Worstall 06.24.10 at 7:30 am

From another report on and translation of the original interview:

“Michel, a former European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Development, admits that at a certain stage Belgium ruled over Congo trying to acquire sheer power. “But eventually civilisation was introduced.””

7

J. Otto Pohl 06.24.10 at 7:44 am

On literature suggestions I am surprised that nobody has mentioned Joseph Conrad’s _Heart of Darkness_. Granted it is a novel, but one that I think that should be read along with historical accounts of the Belgian Congo. I think the Hochschild book is read more profitibly if one has a familiarity with Conrad’s work first. Ironically, while Conrad’s novel is very disturbing it appears that the actual truth was much worse.

8

iolanthe 06.24.10 at 7:58 am

It’s worth remembering that Belgium was so bad that it was criticized by other colonising nations, themselves no laggards when it came to exploitation and colonial brutality. However, it probably is no less than the sad truth that the Belgian Congo had a more advanced economic and social infrastructure when the Belgians left than at any time since.

9

Nick Barnes 06.24.10 at 8:39 am

Belgian exceptionalism?

10

Hidari 06.24.10 at 9:21 am

Genuine progress will never be made in international affairs until Europeans (and some Americans) understand that their colonial empires were a bad thing. Not a mistake. Not things that had good bits and bad bits. Not things that had ‘noble intentions’ which sometimes ‘went astray’. But things which were, in their essence A Bad Thing. (which is not to say that all imperialists were actually evil or that some good was not inadvertently produced by colonialism).

11

Chris E 06.24.10 at 9:54 am

However, it probably is no less than the sad truth that the Belgian Congo had a more advanced economic and social infrastructure when the Belgians left than at any time since.

Physical infrastructure is meaningless without the economy and institutions to support and maintain it. Especially if normal civil society within the country has been systematically eradicated. Your argument is rather like saying “we bombed them back to the stone age, but left them a working space programme”.

12

Doug M. 06.24.10 at 10:10 am

The Belgians left hospitals, but no doctors; industries, but no managers; roads, railroads, and factories, but no engineers.

This was deliberate. At the date of independence, in a country of roughly 20 million people, there were less than 20,000 native Congolese with a high school degree and less than 100 with a college degree. The Belgians wanted a docile native labor force with basic literacy and numeracy; they quite explicitly did not want native doctors, lawyers, accountants, managers or engineers.

Mind, the Belgians of the 1950s were wise, kind and good in every way compared to the Belgians of the 1890s and early 1900s.

Doug M.

13

Steve LaBonne 06.24.10 at 10:25 am

“But eventually civilisation was introduced.”

Reminds me of Gandhi’s excellent wisecrack when asked by some dimwit reporter what he thought of Western civilization: “I think it would be a very good idea.”

14

alex 06.24.10 at 11:26 am

@10 – that is of course true, provided that it is also acknowledged that every other form of government, prior to the introduction of the welfare state, human rights and democratic accountability, was also a Very Bad Thing for most people who came into contact with it. And then you have to ask from which tradition did we get the welfare state, human rights and democratic accountability. Would those things ever have evolved into a global norm without the power and influence of western liberalism built on the back of imperialist exploitation? In that context, is imperialism a particularly Bad Thing, or just one Bad Thing amongst many? It is a tough, tough call. But the Belgian Congo was definitely an odious shithole.

15

Mise 06.24.10 at 11:50 am

Iolanthe, would be interested to know what you intend by social infrastructure?

16

Earnest O'Nest 06.24.10 at 12:15 pm

From the heart of darkness itself I can report: ‘that the opinion of Louis Michel and the opinion of most politicians and intellectuals in Belgium only differ in the fact that Louis has gone on the record in expressing them’. When Belgian officials bash Kabila they really are a tad melancholic about the good times past.

It is one of the rare items uniting the country’s public opinion; maybe because we can talk about Congo like the establishment once could talk about the poor peasant people in Flanders. There’s a good subject for a sociolgical dissertation in this, somewhere ;-(

17

ajay 06.24.10 at 12:17 pm

Hidari, I’d be interested if you could tell me any nation anywhere in the world that has admitted that its period of empire was in essence a Bad Thing. Possibly Germany, if you restrict it to the Third Reich.

18

Jeff 06.24.10 at 12:38 pm

I first read about Leopold and the Congo in Mark Twain’s
King Leopold’s Soliloquy” written with his characteristic fury.

19

bert 06.24.10 at 12:56 pm

The Hochshild book makes clear that Leopold had excellent PR. The best that money could buy. The central figure of Morel is successful because he is able to back up his moral sense with documented fact – first shipping records, then a network of correspondents providing eyewitness accounts. Even then it was a long slog, and Belgium itself was the most resistant audience. The resistance remains: as #4 points out, the key word in Michel’s quote is “instinctively”.

dsquared, I didn’t know Devlin had published a memoir. How straightforward is he? I can imagine an account of the installation of Mobutu done in the style of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. But I imagine if his account was honest it’d be better known.

20

Tom T. 06.24.10 at 1:14 pm

Leopold was also the villain in The Young Victoria.

21

Hoagy27 06.24.10 at 1:24 pm

22

daelm 06.24.10 at 1:36 pm

iolanthe:
“However, it probably is no less than the sad truth that the Belgian Congo had a more advanced economic and social infrastructure when the Belgians left than at any time since.”

this is like saying “sadly, the Green Zone in Iraq is the most advanced social and economic hub Iraq has ever had”.

economic and social infrastructure under belgian tyranny operated solely for the benefit of the colonising power and Congolese were excluded, except as workforce and cogs. so it very much depends on which Belgian Congo you’re talking about in this comment – the white one, or the black one. certainly for the latter, things were worse.

Louis Michel:
“The Belgians built railways, schools and hospitals and boosted economic growth (and things were therefore peachy).”

basically, that’s like saying that the American slave trade wasn’t bad because it exposed Africans to a modern production line process and lifted them from the dark ages of their agrarian existence. the ungrateful spawn of mud people just never had the gumption to capitalise on their tremendous opportunity.

fwiw, what the belgian occupation and wholesale parasitism also introduced to the continent was the charming practice of cutting off people’s hands as an example to the workforce, subsequently a valued practice in Sierra Leone and Rwanda. Adam Hochshild’s book has some extraordinary photographs depicting this – one of them has a man holding his tiny daughter’s hands, if I remember right, out in front of him. (they were cut off as an example to him. he was then posed with them, in a merry tableau.) his face tells you everything you need to know about the humanitarian work undertaken by the philanthropic belgians on behalf of the darkies and wogs.

that’s your civilisation, folks. right there.

d

23

daelm 06.24.10 at 1:42 pm

oh, and louis michel’s a penis.

thanks

d

24

Anderson 06.24.10 at 1:54 pm

Admitting there were “irregularities,”

Yes, and the methods were “unsound.”

… This guy was in charge of humanitarian aid? Why? They couldn’t find any neo-Nazis to take the job?

25

alex 06.24.10 at 1:55 pm

Thanks for sharing, daelm. I’ll be trying not to think about severed hands for the rest of the afternoon.

26

Earnest O'Nest 06.24.10 at 2:03 pm

23 (et al.)- It is not only stupid people that say stupid things. Louis deserves about everything a commenter on the internet can throw at him – but not defamation of character. If you take him to be beyond contempt than you will not just hold the normal 80% of politicians beyond it, but you will be much closer to, say, ‘the five 9’s’. As I said, this is a common wrong perspective and one would do well not to go all the way; I think Chris hit the mark quite well; no need to go much further than that.

27

bert 06.24.10 at 2:16 pm

It gets worse. Severed hands were treated as proof of a kill in the various Belgian counterinsurgency campaigns. Bonus payments were introduced to incentivise a more impressive body count. As a result, severed hands became a form of currency. Entrepreneurial types found they could effectively print their own money. Counterfeit was rife: not only little girls … sometimes monkeys too. It was indiscriminate. As the man said, the horror, the horror.

28

roac 06.24.10 at 2:29 pm

In case anyone doesn’t already know, Tintin was another Belgian colonialist.

29

noen 06.24.10 at 3:14 pm

“And then you have to ask from which tradition did we get the welfare state, human rights and democratic accountability. Would those things ever have evolved into a global norm without the power and influence of western liberalism built on the back of imperialist exploitation? “

Yes.

30

Kaveh 06.24.10 at 3:24 pm

@14 provided that it is also acknowledged that every other form of government, prior to the introduction of the welfare state, human rights and democratic accountability, was also a Very Bad Thing for most people who came into contact with it.

How could anyone think this is true? I doubt anyone seriously contends that most people in China and nearby regions were better off after the collapse of the Han empire, or that most people in Iran were better off after the collapse of the Safavid empire. The collapse of the Safavid state in the 1720s had the same kind of results as the failure of a state in the 21st century–civil wars followed by mass-exodus of people who could afford to pack up and leave, and general impoverishment–basic commodities like coffee completely disappearing from the market. Probably a decline in rural population and much larger decline in urban populations. The political rights and other benefits of a democratic welfare state are important, but so are the state’s basic functions of preserving order and enforcing contracts.

Some of the greatest growth in populations in the second millennium AD was in the 1500s and 1600s, under large empires like the Ming and Ottoman (it may not have been limited to those empires, but then smaller states were consolidating their bureaucracies and borders at this time as well). China’s population doubling in size under the Ming dynasty, under any conditions (and the conditions probably weren’t that bad, by pre-modern standards) is a pretty different outcome from what happened in the Congo under Belgian dominion.

31

rea 06.24.10 at 3:24 pm

Leopold was also the villain in The Young Victoria.

That was Leopold I; the Congo guy was his son Leopold II.

32

Jonquil 06.24.10 at 3:50 pm

” In those days it was just the way things were done.”

Given that Leopold’s behavior was pretty vigorously condemned at the time — notably, as mentioned above, by Mark Twain — the “well, that’s just the historical standard, you can’t judge him by modern standards” argument is blown out of the water.

33

engels 06.24.10 at 3:55 pm

‘[T]he welfare state, human rights and democratic accountability’ are a ‘global norm’? Since when?

34

Red 06.24.10 at 4:03 pm

Sorry folks, but Michel’s opinion is quite common among Belgian nationalists–and I mean “Belgian”, not “Flemish”. We’re talking about good old monarchists here.

35

Chris Johnson 06.24.10 at 4:06 pm

An odd thing about the Congo administratively was that it wasn’t a colony of Belgium — my understanding is that it was the personal possession of Leopold. I would think this made it even easier to do what he did. Property rights and all that.

36

David Moles 06.24.10 at 4:23 pm

Anderson @24:

Admitting there were “irregularities,”
Yes, and the methods were “unsound.”

LOL. Thank you.

37

alex 06.24.10 at 4:26 pm

@33 – norm doesn’t mean usual…

@30 – Indeed, in many times and places people have been able to prosper, relatively-speaking. Ironically you yourself note that this has often been under imperial rule, just not necessarily the western kind, because strong central states favour orderly exploitation over random spoliation. But one might also note that both China and the Ottoman lands practised chattel slavery into the C19, and that prior to the emergence of late-C20 ‘norms’ of rights-based politics [whether honoured in the breach or not] most people, in most places, were always oppressed by somebody [even if it was only the older, stronger, Y-chromosome-bearing members of their own extended family]. And it was usually with the explicit sanction of whatever government they found themselves living under. So as a necessarily broad generalisation I think my point was fair.

@29 – really? How?

38

GP 06.24.10 at 4:42 pm

Europeans are a funny bunch when it comes to the whole colonization thing. It seems they hold a certain nostalgia towards it even while demonizing events like slavery and segregation in the South of the U.S or poor land distribution in Latin American countries.
It is as if having colonized others provides them with a sense of relevance in the world stage that in reality no longer exists.

39

ajay 06.24.10 at 4:49 pm

We had better trolls than GP in the great days of the British Empire. Indomitable Gurkha trolls, faithful Kashmiri trolls, inscrutable Cantonese mandarin trolls, comic Bengali babu trolls, warlike Pathan trolls from the North-West Frontier, stern Highlander trolls in kilts…

40

dsquared 06.24.10 at 5:10 pm

I find the word “demonizing”, like the phrase “reading comprehension” to be a more or less infallible indicator of a comment that is not going to be worth reading. It’s much more reliable than that Godwin thing (a forecasting regularity which has long been overtaken by Goodhart’s Law).

So if you’re going to use the word, please put it near the front so I can save a few seconds, eh?

41

bert 06.24.10 at 5:12 pm

I don’t know. The gap-toothed banjo-plucking troll has a certain rustic charm.

Ronan Bennett wrote a good Greene-ish novel a few years ago. There’s a thinly disguised Devlin character who plays an important role. http://www.nytimes.com/books/99/10/03/reviews/991003.03coopert.html

42

jre 06.24.10 at 5:24 pm

Oh, come on, D2, netherworldly fiends may have a respectable place in this thread after all.

Listen to the yell of Leopold’s ghost,
Burning in hell for his hand-maimed host.
Listen to the demons chuckle and yell,
Sharpening blades for Louis Michel.

43

Donald Johnson 06.24.10 at 5:27 pm

“Would those things ever have evolved into a global norm without the power and influence of western liberalism built on the back of imperialist exploitation? “

I think Japan managed to become a modern industrialized democracy without being colonized. Of course they had their own brutal colonialist period–so maybe you could argue (I wouldn’t) that to have the benefits of western liberalism you have to commit the crimes that western liberal states have committed.

44

Kaveh 06.24.10 at 5:45 pm

@37 I thought your general observation was that pre-modern states were Very Bad Things for most people who interacted with them? I’m not sure why you would want to make a comparison between premodern states and modern democratic welfare states, rather than between premodern states and the alternatives that were available at the time. Only the second comparison resembles any kind of meaningful choice faced by the people involved. And the very general picture is that premodern states made people much better-off than the alternatives.

@29 & 37
Political ideas spread when people see that they work. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. There is an abundance of cases within the Persianate world of people who studied and taught Newtonian physics before the British Empire, or adopted various liberal ideas before the advent of full-blown colonialism. Ming bureaucratization and centralization was probably influential in the tendency towards centralized bureaucratic governance in the Middle East and Central Asia in the 1400s and 1500s–there is even direct evidence that awareness of Chinese bureaucracy inspired similar efforts in the Ottoman Empire. Travelers from the Middle East wrote glowingly about Europe during the brief period between when when the industrial revolution got underway and the beginning of European colonial empires in the Middle East.

45

Mrs Tilton 06.24.10 at 5:48 pm

On the other hand, Roger Casement was a traitor to the Crown and quite possibly a homosexual to boot, so none of those horrible allegations about the Belgian Congo can be true.

46

Hidari 06.24.10 at 6:33 pm

‘And then you have to ask from which tradition did we get the welfare state, human rights and democratic accountability’.

Well now you are asking. But for the last in that trio may I suggest you take a loooooooooooooong and careful read through of ‘The Life and Death of Democracy’ by John Keane, especially the first few chapters (based on the most up to date archeological work) before you start praising (or blaming) the ‘West’ for ‘inventing’ democracy. It turns out (qu’elle surprise) that whereas it is not exactly a lie to state that the ‘West’ created democracy, it ain’t exactly the truth either.

As for ‘human rights’, even a cursory glance at the relevant documentation demonstrates that the story is a bit more complex than the ‘standard’ (i.e. eurocentric) one.

European colonialism/imperialism was a Bad Thing, mmmm’kay?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_human_rights

47

lemuel pitkin 06.24.10 at 6:37 pm

Kaveh’s comments on this thread are very good.

48

Myles SG 06.24.10 at 7:09 pm

Guys, give him a break. He’s a descendant of Leopold II.

If your ancestor was Leopold, and if you were a normal, warm-bloodied human being, you would defend him too. At least I would.

Let’s not rag on descendants of horrible people for not ragging on their own ancestors.

49

Steve LaBonne 06.24.10 at 7:17 pm

At least I would.

That’s the only part of your comment I agree with. ;)

50

Mrs Tilton 06.24.10 at 7:18 pm

Myles SG,

Let’s not rag on descendants of horrible people for not ragging on their own ancestors

Oh yeah? Well, I am the lineal descendant of Attila the Hun, Pope Boniface VIII, T.D. Lysenko and Scott Stapp but you won’t catch my defending them any time soon.

51

MPAVictoria 06.24.10 at 8:03 pm

46:
“European colonialism/imperialism was a Bad Thing, mmmm’kay?”
Says the person on the computer….
The history of what King Leopold’s rule in the Congo is a tragic one, but the history of colonialism is more complex than that. I for one enjoy living in a Western Democracy.

52

Gene O'Grady 06.24.10 at 8:23 pm

One hates to disagree with Mrs. Tilton, but I suspect that Casement’s homosexuality was a good deal more certain than his treason.

53

chris 06.24.10 at 8:38 pm

@46: You don’t think that “Bad Thing” is just a tad simplistic for a description of a pattern of social change and interaction spanning several centuries?

54

Henri Vieuxtemps 06.24.10 at 8:49 pm

It’s a Bad Thing now, but a hundred years ago it was just a Thing.
Eating animal flesh is a Thing today; a hundred years from now it’ll be a Bad Thing.

55

Anderson 06.24.10 at 9:18 pm

Oh yeah? Well, I am the lineal descendant of Attila the Hun, Pope Boniface VIII, T.D. Lysenko and Scott Stapp

Wow! We’re cousins!

56

bert 06.24.10 at 9:21 pm

Backward-looking moral relativism doesn’t cut it, really.
Leopold put a lot of effort into presenting a misleading picture of what his rule was like. Opponents put corresponding emphasis on the contrast between the bullshit and the reality. A moral argument, each side using the ethics of the time.

57

Hektor Bim 06.24.10 at 9:24 pm

54,

No, back then colonialism was close to being just a Thing. Belgian colonialism in the Congo was largely regarded as a Bad Thing even at the time. It was condemned by lots of people who thought it gave their “kindler, gentler” colonialism a bad name which, they believed, it did not deserve.

58

Myles SG 06.24.10 at 9:31 pm

No, back then colonialism was close to being just a Thing. Belgian colonialism in the Congo was largely regarded as a Bad Thing even at the time. It was condemned by lots of people who thought it gave their “kindler, gentler” colonialism a bad name which, they believed, it did not deserve.

The Congo Free State really was atrocious. Even contemporaries thought it reprehensible.

59

roac 06.24.10 at 9:49 pm

And not just enlightened contemporaries, either. One of the leaders in exposing Leopold’s atrocities, a Presbyterian missionary named William McCutcheon Morrison, was an alumnus of the university I attended. When I was there the place was still what it had always been, a stronghold of the white Southern oppressor class. But his contemporaries were sufficiently repelled by the revelations and proud of Morrison that they put up a plaque to him on the walls of the university chapel.

60

Akshay 06.24.10 at 10:32 pm

Colonialism is structurally a Bad Thing for the people being colonized. The reasons were diagnosed by Machiavelli five hundred years ago. Roughly speaking, a ruler from country A who manages to exploit country B will be capable of gaining more power in country A than a ruler who is nice to country B. Machiavelli was so concerned about Italy being colonized that he wrote a whole book devoted to advising a prince on how to unify it against potential occupiers (in spite of his personal preference for republican rule)

Amartya Sen has of course written about the vast death tolls which can result from famines caused by economic and political inequality. See his review of the anti-imperialist polemic “Late Victorian Holocausts” by Mike Davis. That book is about famines caused by imperialist policies (cf. the Irish potato famine). To given an indicator of the horribleness of imperial rule, life expectancy in India has doubled since Independence, in spite of most of its politicians. [a ref to this latter statistic is “India’s Economic Development since 1947″, ed. Uma Kapila, in Google Books, can’t get it to link, sorry]

Michel’s comment reminds us how little is taught about the concrete horrors of colonization in many European countries, especially Belgium. I am sure almost all of my fellow Dutchmen agree that colonization was a Bad Thing, but in school you learn very little about the concrete policies and practices which made it so horrible. This tempts nationalists, including historians, to emphasize how useful those railroads became after the colonizers had left.

61

engels 06.24.10 at 10:45 pm

Eating animal flesh is a Thing today; a hundred years from now it’ll be a Bad Thing.

What about animal right activists who believe that eating meat is wrong (to use your somewhat sarcastic expression, that it is a ‘Bad Thing’). Or anti-torture campaigners who say, for example, that torture is wrong, or that it is barbaric. They believe that it is wrong, that it is wrong right now, not that it will be wrong in a hundred years time. Do you think they are mistaken?

62

Myles SG 06.24.10 at 10:50 pm

They believe that it is wrong, that it is wrong right now, not that it will be wrong in a hundred years time. Do you think they are mistaken?

I should imagine that I wouldn’t much care to live in a world where you can’t eat animal (including marine) flesh. That sounds like a horridly tedious world.

63

engels 06.24.10 at 10:53 pm

Wouldn’t it nice, just once in a while, to ask a question and to get an answer from the person one had addressed, rather than someone else?

64

heckblazer 06.25.10 at 12:29 am

It’s probably worth noting that Joseph Conrad was a steamboat captain in the Congo Free State, so he had first-hand experience on which to base Heart of Darkness.

65

noen 06.25.10 at 1:34 am

Alex @ 37
@29 – really? How?

I took you as saying that our tradition of democracy and human rights could only have arisen out of Western European traditions. I note that we here in the US learned a great deal from the Iroquois and fashioned our political institutions after theirs. Also, while it is very cliché people really do yearn to be free and are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that goal. Finally, it does kind of smack of exceptionalism to suggest, if that’s what you were doing (if not I apologize), that only us enlightened Westerners could’ve thunk up our freedumbs.

———-
Henri Vieuxtemps @ 54
It’s (colonialism) a Bad Thing now, but a hundred years ago it was just a Thing.

Only the colonialist thought it was “just a thing”. I’m pretty sure those being whipped and enslaved had a different take on what was happening to them. But then that is how imperialism distorts one’s thinking into believing that the only legitimate viewpoints are one’s own. Those being subjugated are completely removed from one’s horizon and it’s almost impossible to even think from a non-imperialist perspective.

engles @ 61
They believe that it is wrong, that it is wrong right now, not that it will be wrong in a hundred years time. Do you think they are mistaken?

Shorter: “Are morals objective?” — I don’t see how they could be.

66

subdoxastic 06.25.10 at 2:15 am

I see egocentricism rears its ugly head with noen’s last comment. Inevitable I suppose not least of which because if, as a previous poster suggested, Leo II privately owned the Congo.

Moral realists have a tough time these days, and the Michel’s of the world are of little help. However, the outrage genderated by atrocities such as the Congo seem to suggest all is not in vain. It’s been a decade since I’ve ready any Gert, but I remember distinctly enjoying his approach as structuring the debate around evils as harms and not the promotion of the “good”. I think Leo could’ve benefitted from such an approach.

@Henri V.T. your bang on about the eating animals thing by the way. Of course, I have definite feelings about its utility and morality in the now first and foremost. I think it’s harmful now, and don’t spend too much time worrying about if the future will find it “good”.

67

noen 06.25.10 at 2:41 am

I see egocentricism rears its ugly head with noen’s last comment.

How so?

68

subdoxastic 06.25.10 at 2:51 am

@noen

I realize now, that my use of egocentricism was missplaced (although more likely missequenced as I feel that eventually all moral relativist arguments end here). My moral realism is a peccadillo I’m not sure I’m willing to give up yet. And my post wasn’t meant as insinuation or attack.

Arguments for morality being subjective generally tend to leave me cold. I’m willing to entertain a reasonalbe discussion about it however.

I’ll check back in the morning, this thread has definitely got my attention.

69

MPAVictoria 06.25.10 at 3:22 am

“To given an indicator of the horribleness of imperial rule, life expectancy in India has doubled since Independence”
This is a very bad example of the evils of colonialism. Life expectancies have increased a great deal around the world since World War Two and the population of India increased very quickly under british rule. India is actually a relative success story when it comes to colonization.

70

Jamey 06.25.10 at 3:35 am

Colonialism, can best be summed up by a bit of dialogue, from “Cool Hand Luke”:

Boss: “I’m just tryin’ to help you Luke.
Luke: “Boss, please quit tryin’ to help me.”

71

noen 06.25.10 at 4:18 am

subdoxastic @68
Arguments for morality being subjective generally tend to leave me cold. I’m willing to entertain a reasonalbe discussion about it however.

Ah ain’t no high falutin’ perfesser like y’all but ah does know enough ta git mahself inna troubles.

I don’t know… I think that moral codes must be a lot like money. The bits of paper we call money have no intrinsic value outside of the social institutions that created that value. In that sense money is subjective. All the same, it isn’t up to me to determine what that value is. In that sense the value of the money I hold is objective to me. A confederate two dollar bill has no value in the market today only because no one is willing to give it value.

In the same way, I think that moral codes must be socially constructed but they do not have an ontological existence beyond the social institutions that created them. So eating meat was not against anyone’s moral code 10,000 years ago but perhaps it will be in some future society. But doesn’t that leave me open to the claim of colonisers that their moral code permitted them to subjugate people they deemed inferior? I don’t think so because that was not true even for them and in addition I think that at least some moral codes, you should not enslave others, should be thought of as universal.

So say we all.

72

Donald Johnson 06.25.10 at 4:57 am

“the population of India increased very quickly under british rule. India is actually a relative success story when it comes to colonization.”

British rule did cause tens of millions of famine deaths (see the Mike Davis book listed above, along with Amartya Sen’s review), but that could happen and still one might have had a population increase. Mao caused tens of millions of famine deaths and both population and life expectancy increased in his time.

73

Henri Vieuxtemps 06.25.10 at 6:15 am

@ Engels 61: radical animal rights activists today are visionaries, eccentrics not to be taken seriously; a hundred years from now it’ll be a common, ordinary view. Torture is already wrong today, and hopefully will always be wrong, but it was an ordinary activity during the Inquisition, for example.

74

Myles SG 06.25.10 at 6:34 am

I note that we here in the US learned a great deal from the Iroquois and fashioned our political institutions after theirs. Also, while it is very cliché people really do yearn to be free and are willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that goal.

I am trying to laugh at the fashionable idiocy on display in the sentence above, but I am just frankly floored.

Really, there are Glenn Becks of the world, and then there are the poster above, who not only spouts bullshit, but actually believes in it.

Facepalm. Please read Harry Frankfurt.

Pure facepalm.

75

Myles SG 06.25.10 at 6:35 am

And yeah, of course, why would people yearn to be free? What’s good about being free? Why, all these people coming to America via Ellis Island weren’t looking for freedom, they were looking for autocracy!

(facepalm)

76

Myles SG 06.25.10 at 6:36 am

Sorry, I thought he meant that people didn’t yearn to be free.

My mistake.

77

Mrs Tilton 06.25.10 at 8:17 am

Myles @62,

I wouldn’t much care to live in a world where you can’t eat animal (including marine) flesh

Shocking. The men of the naval infantry may be rough, tough, sometimes even brutal; but it goes too far to class them amongst the animals. Unless you mean to place all humans in that category, of course, which would be biologically correct. In that case, though, your typical marine is a poor choice for the table. Lots of meat there, yes, but it will be tough and stringy; made palatable, if at all, only through long slow braising.

Myles clearly doesn’t think cannibalism a Bad Thing. I reserve judgement as to whether it will be thought a Bad Thing 500 years hence.

78

Earnest O'Nest 06.25.10 at 8:18 am

Henri: why do you gloss over the point that Leopold’s actions in Congo were seen as a very very bad thing at the time – his idea of exploiting his personal property at his own whim was as bad as can be. If you want to find a nutshell on which to float your elephantof relativist assumptions, I recommend you to ignore the glaring points made above. Otherwise, it may be best to wait for a next thing to float by.

In directing your anger, you might direct it at the many families (including the royal one) that in the present day are directly profiting from the wealth accumulated at the expense of the fear of having one’s hand cut off. You will find (indeed, see comment higher) the Belgian establishment.

Instead of apologies, maybe we should ask their contribution into a fund for rebuilding Congo?

79

Ingrid Robeyns 06.25.10 at 8:24 am

Akshay @ 60:
Michel’s comment reminds us how little is taught about the concrete horrors of colonization in many European countries, especially Belgium. I am sure almost all of my fellow Dutchmen agree that colonization was a Bad Thing, but in school you learn very little about the concrete policies and practices which made it so horrible. This tempts nationalists, including historians, to emphasize how useful those railroads became after the colonizers had left.

Indeed, this is exactly what happens in Belgium:
http://crookedtimber.org/2006/12/23/leopold-and-george/

80

Hidari 06.25.10 at 8:34 am

81

Henri Vieuxtemps 06.25.10 at 8:42 am

@78, I’m talking about colonialism in general, of course, not Leopold/Congo specifically. I’ll gladly agree that Leopold/Congo was a Very Bad Thing already at the time, but not because it was colonialism.

82

Earnest O'Nest 06.25.10 at 8:59 am

Henri, that’s already something. Still, you have traded your nutshell for a fig leaf, and I doubt it will carry your elephant (even if it is now reduced to a baby elephant). One would be tempted to think that foreign rule was always considered a bad thing. It would be difficult to show that it is not an essential feature of colonialism that the colony is under foreign rule. I am quite sure that some colonialists made complex argumentations to plead colonialism was an exception but this does not mean there arguments were successful, not even in their times (as you know, freedom of opinion and general voting rights and opinion polls were not quite as powerful back then).

83

MPAVictoria 06.25.10 at 11:48 am

Reply 75:
Famine was hardly unknown before (and after) the British. Peter Mundy, a British trader, described a ghastly account of his journey during the famine of 1631. “From Surat to this place, all the highway is strowed with dead people, our noses never free of the stink of them … Women were seen to roast their own children ,,, a man or woman no sooner dead but they were cut in pieces to be eaten.” So in order for your point to be valid you would have to prove that the famine’s were worse under the British than the Mughal Emperors.

84

Henri Vieuxtemps 06.25.10 at 1:34 pm

One would be tempted to think that foreign rule was always considered a bad thing.

“Foreign rule” implies the concept of nationalism, which is a relatively modern phenomenon. Without it there is no “foreign rule”, just one ruler or another. It makes no difference whether his name is Yaroslav or Genghis.

85

Alex 06.25.10 at 1:52 pm

I can certainly imagine colonialism in one country; arguably, in so far as Victorian Ireland was a colony, that was a case of colonialism in one country. At least some readings of Italian history would suggest that Sicily is like it is because it’s been a colony of its own state for much of its history.

Alternatively, you could argue that colonialism with the nationality taken out is good old feudalism.

86

Earnest O'Nest 06.25.10 at 2:21 pm

84- Well, whatever, at the time of colonialism we had nation states so that’s good enough.

87

piglet 06.25.10 at 2:22 pm

On literature suggestions I am surprised that nobody has mentioned Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Granted it is a novel, but one that I think that should be read along with historical accounts of the Belgian Congo.

I highly recommend Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood bible.

88

Earnest O'Nest 06.25.10 at 2:26 pm

87: I was actually quite proud of my ironic reference in 16.

89

Donald Johnson 06.25.10 at 2:41 pm

“So in order for your point to be valid you would have to prove that the famine’s were worse under the British than the Mughal Emperors.”

No I wouldn’t. I would only have to refer you to the work of Mike Davis and Amartya Sen, who show that the British were responsible for millions of unnecessary deaths–I don’t need to take a position on what happened under the Mughals.

90

ejh 06.25.10 at 2:51 pm

Women were seen to roast their own children

Oh aye.

91

Donald Johnson 06.25.10 at 2:53 pm

MPA Victoria–Using your logic we shouldn’t criticize The Great Leap Forward because China’s population grew much faster under Mao’s rule than it did during the Taiping rebellion in the mid 1800’s. Take a look at the graph in the link below

link

92

Barry 06.25.10 at 3:07 pm

Seconding ejh @90 – ‘mothers roasting their own children?’ Yeah, right.

93

noen 06.25.10 at 3:11 pm

Myles @ 74
I am trying to laugh at the fashionable idiocy on display in the sentence above, but I am just frankly floored.

It seems that you are doing an excellent job of laughing at me, but quite a poor job of talking to me.

The Iroquois had democratic institutions long before we did. Very likely, long before we even “discovered” them. Perhaps they did not directly influence the founders of our nation but they certainly did exist, which is the point. I think that one could also find other native peoples who also had something other than despotic rule or at the very least aspirations to be free of it. This I think goes against the claim that those dusky savages over there could have never developed a civilization as kind and enlightened as ours.

Facepalm. Please read Harry Frankfurt.

What lesson would you have me take from him regarding whether or not the Iroquois’ democratic traditions influenced our founders? Please try to attend to the actual discussion rather than what you imagine the discussion to be.

Sorry, I thought he meant that people didn’t yearn to be free.

I’m not a he. Yes, in your zeal to uncover and decry the evil lurking behind the text on your screen you instead attacked a chimera of your own creation. Perhaps if you calmed yourself down a tad and tried to engage with others rather than do battle against the monsters you imagine surround you we could have a conversation.

My mistake.

facepalm

94

ajay 06.25.10 at 3:13 pm

Not to mention, of course, that the Mughals were themselves a foreign government imposed by armed force on India.

95

noen 06.25.10 at 3:27 pm

Mrs. Tilton @ 77
your typical marine is a poor choice for the table. Lots of meat there, yes, but it will be tough and stringy; made palatable, if at all, only through long slow braising.

Pressure cookers can do wonders with marginal cuts but perhaps it would be best to choose from the ranks of the officer class? They’re bound to be plumper with better marbling. Or better still:

Try the priest.

96

subdoxastic 06.25.10 at 3:46 pm

@noen

Hey, I’m no professor either:)

For me, discussion of the social construction of moral codes are interesting, but not necessarily fatal to the moral realist. It’s a bit wobbly, but my “best possible” approach would be to tie the concept of moral realism to metaphysics: harm/evil as facts. I’d reserve decisions about moral culpability or responsibility to any one actor’s epistemological context. And before anyone thinks to straw man me, I think that Leo II’s epistemological context was just fine to prevent him from cutting off hands– had he wished to.

I had an absolute loon for a prof one term (not the whole term as I got out while I still could) who began every class by drawing a chart on the board listing Metaphysics, Epistemology, and Morality. In a roundabout (discussions about why Europeans were smarter than North Americans because they read more books per annum!) way she touched on the first two, but never did get to spend much time on the third.

Morality, modern philosophy’s red-headed step-child.

97

engels 06.25.10 at 3:53 pm

Torture is already wrong today, and hopefully will always be wrong

You don’t know whether torture will be wrong in the future but you hope it will be? Why do you hope it will be wrong?

98

Mrs Tilton 06.25.10 at 4:33 pm

noen @95,

Or better still: Try the priest

Given their sedentary, pampered, well-fed lifestyle, they’re no doubt the Long Pig equivalent of Kobe beef.

Pound equated priests with capons and, as everyone knows, capons are the best of all fowl for the table. Given the revelations of the past decade or so, though, it’s sadly clear that priests are capons in a figurative sense only.

But why not make it literal? In fact, there’s an idea for a global plea-bargain with the hierarchy. All criminal charges dropped; in exchange, the entire priesthood, worldwide, submit to the gelder’s knife.

It’s win all round. The Church spared further investigation and the inevitable horrific revelations; the altar boys safe at last; the spit and the roasting-pan delighted; and Origen vindicated after all those long centuries.

99

Myles SG 06.25.10 at 4:51 pm

The Iroquois had democratic institutions long before we did. Very likely, long before we even “discovered” them. Perhaps they did not directly influence the founders of our nation but they certainly did exist, which is the point. I think that one could also find other native peoples who also had something other than despotic rule or at the very least aspirations to be free of it. This I think goes against the claim that those dusky savages over there could have never developed a civilization as kind and enlightened as ours.

I am not denying that the Iroquois operated within a democratic (frankly, it’s more of a confederal-consensus-among-all-the-families society than a democratic one by any stretch; there wasn’t a Athenian all-adult-male-citizens-could-vote-and-be-eligible-for-office rule.) framework. And yes, they did have that sort of democracy before the Western countries did. Of course, what is arguable is whether Iroquois democracy is of the “primitive” tribal sort as doubtlessly must have been practiced by our own ancestors before they advanced to a slave-holding society, and then a non-slave-holding monarchic system (that’s the historical progression: tribalism, slavery, monarchy), or a post-monarchic democracy as the West has. My personal view is that the Iroquois democracy is considerably closer to the modern Western model than to our ancestral primitive, tribal one; the confederal element of the Six Nations structure is very intricate and advanced, not to mention organized as a very high level. But what I will laugh unreservedly at is your view that somehow the U.S. democratic institutions (or indeed the Canadian ones) were in some way influenced by or derived from Iroquois institutions. Both are democratic institutions, but both developed wholly separately.

To say that the U.S. Constitution was in some part inspired by Iroquois democracy is to simply invite ridicule.

100

Myles SG 06.25.10 at 4:54 pm

Shocking. The men of the naval infantry may be rough, tough, sometimes even brutal; but it goes too far to class them amongst the animals. Unless you mean to place all humans in that category, of course, which would be biologically correct. In that case, though, your typical marine is a poor choice for the table. Lots of meat there, yes, but it will be tough and stringy; made palatable, if at all, only through long slow braising.

Myles clearly doesn’t think cannibalism a Bad Thing. I reserve judgement as to whether it will be thought a Bad Thing 500 years hence.

Lengthy and complicated attempts to wring humor out of a single word intended clearly with another meaning are, generally, not very funny.

Which seems to be the case here. And yes, I noticed that I ought not to call fish “flesh”. My mistake.

101

Myles SG 06.25.10 at 4:57 pm

Also, by the standard you raised, the early Frankish armies were democratic in a very clear sense and monarchic in another. Democratic in that kings were elected, and monarchic in the sense that kings were supposed to have a personal “magic”, such as the ability to heal just by touch.

102

Akshay 06.25.10 at 5:10 pm

MPAVictoria @ 83 and 69:

Perhaps we should be more concrete. This is from an op-ed which mentions the Mike Davis book.


In his book Late Victorian Holocausts, published in 2001, Mike Davis tells the story of famines that killed between 12 million and 29 million Indians. These people were, he demonstrates, murdered by British state policy. When an El Nino drought destituted the farmers of the Deccan plateau in 1876 there was a net surplus of rice and wheat in India. But the Viceroy, Lord Lytton, insisted that nothing should prevent its export to England. In 1877 and 1878, at the height of the famine, grain merchants exported a record 320,000 tonnes of wheat. As the peasants began to starve, officials were ordered “to discourage relief works in every possible way.” The Anti-Charitable Contributions Act of 1877 prohibited “at the pain of imprisonment private relief donations that potentially interfered with the market fixing of grain prices.” The only relief permitted in most districts was hard labour, from which anyone in an advanced state of starvation was turned away. In the labour camps, the workers were given less food than inmates of Buchenwald. In 1877, monthly mortality in the camps equated to an annual death rate of 94 per cent.

As millions died, the imperial government launched “a militarised campaign to collect the tax arrears accumulated during the drought.” The money, which ruined those who might otherwise have survived, was used by Lord Lytton to fund his war in Afghanistan. Even in places that had produced a crop surplus, the government’s export policies, such as Stalin’s in Ukraine, manufactured hunger. In the north-western provinces, Oud, and the Punjab, which had brought in record harvests in the preceding three years, at least 1.25 million died.

The reason relief efforts were discouraged (by locking up Christian missionaries with a conscience) was to provide sufficient incentives for the farmers to work. The invisible hand, you see. This slamdown of imperial apologetics by Niall Ferguson has another prize quote by Curzon:

The second, more proximate factor was the administrative response to famine, which is neatly summed up in the Report of the Famine Commission of 1878: “The doctrine that in time of famine the poor are entitled to demand relief . . . would probably lead to the doctrine that they are entitled to such relief at all times . . . which we cannot contemplate without serious apprehension.”…

Curzon, who oversaw the decimation wrought by the 1899 famine, warned that “any government which imperiled the financial position of India in the interests of prodigal philanthropy would be open to serious criticism; but any Government which by indiscriminate alms-giving weakened the fibre and demoralized the self-reliance of the population, would be guilty of a public crime.”

Hence the labour camps for famine victims: lethal conditions were necessary to prevent the weakening of moral fibre which would result from famine relief.

103

Akshay 06.25.10 at 5:31 pm

Oops, the two second two last paragraphs should have been blockquoted.

But now a quick comment for MPAVictorias more abstract arguments.

(1) Yes, we do know that after independence famines in India disappeared, though hunger and malnutrition did not. The reason was simple: democratically elected politicians will move food from A to B rather than export it to enrich themselves. See Amartya Sen’s extremely famous works on the political economy of famine. Sen is also a strident critic of current nutrition policy in India BTW.

(2) The Mughals were absolute monarchs, so a bad thing on everyone’s scale. However even monarchs were expected to provide for famine relief. Only tyrants and incompetents did not.

(3) I still hold that if after two centuries of domination, during the greatest technological and economic expansion of world history, there has been no rise in either income per capita or life expectancy of your population, this is an indicator of very bad rulers. Why was life expectancy around Independence only in the low thirties? Don’t you think that the worldwide postwar rise in life expectancy had something to do with the progress of self-rule and political liberalisation? Just as now, improvements in governance can have vast beneficial effects on the population?

104

rm 06.25.10 at 5:44 pm

To say that the U.S. Constitution was in some part inspired by Iroquois democracy is to simply invite ridicule.

Myles, I am not a historian, and I am asking this sincerely. First, are you a historian; that is, do you have good reasons? Next, what is the basis for rejecting the oft-repeated idea that the federal structure of the US owes something, intellectually, to the Six Nations? I’m willing to believe that it’s one of those well-known things that are just wrong, but I’d like to hear why. (For instance, in my field, when I hear people saying that someone other than Shakespeare wrote the major Shakespeare plays, I feel as you do about inviting ridicule. But I realize that if one has never read much about how we attribute authorship, the question look reasonable, so I avoid pure ridicule or pompous pronouncements, and I explain.)

As far as I’ve heard, the basis for the Six Nations –> US federalism idea is Benjamin Franklin’s career. In the Autobiography he has a chapter about serving as a delegate in treaty negotiations with the Iroquois, and I reckon historians and biographers probably could put a lot more context on colonial encounters with the Iroquois confederation. From this non-historian’s point of view, it seems very reasonable that Franklin and maybe others took an idea from this government they had done business with. They wanted checks and balances; the Iroquois model had some.

105

virgil xenophon 06.25.10 at 5:47 pm

Regarding the horrible rein of Belgium in the Congo I would add that when pulling out in the 60s the Colonial administrators even were so cruel/petty as to spitefully remove all the electrical wiring from all Govt buildings.

As to India, however, despite the horrors of British Colonial rule described above I have to question–along with V.S Naipaul–whether the modern nation-state we call India could have even possibly have come into being or continue to exist without the unifying British imposed English language, Governmental, Judicial and merit-based Civil Service (such as it is) to bind such a disparate people and Tower of Babel worth of local languages/dialects together.

106

Myles SG 06.25.10 at 6:13 pm

As to India, however, despite the horrors of British Colonial rule described above I have to question—along with V.S Naipaul—whether the modern nation-state we call India could have even possibly have come into being or continue to exist without the unifying British imposed English language, Governmental, Judicial and merit-based Civil Service (such as it is) to bind such a disparate people and Tower of Babel worth of local languages/dialects together.

Yeah, I am personally never sure if Britain actually ever made any money on India. It seemed to be a money-losing venture starting the latter half of the 19th century. Of course, Africa was even worse, given that everyone knew that Britain never made a penny on the entire continent north of South Africa and sans the Suez Canal, but my impression is that India was pretty bad too.

It’s funny how unprofitable imperialism. Germany was the clearest case of the metropole subsidizing all the colonies for purely egotistical reasons, for the entire duration.

107

Richard J 06.25.10 at 6:39 pm

Probably true, but in a full-blown oligarchy, the nation as a whole not making money isn’t necessarily the most important concern, eg the career of Clive of India…

108

Hidari 06.25.10 at 6:48 pm

‘As to India, however, despite the horrors of British Colonial rule described above I have to question—along with V.S Naipaul—whether the modern nation-state we call India could have even possibly have come into being or continue to exist without the unifying British imposed English language, Governmental, Judicial and merit-based Civil Service (such as it is) to bind such a disparate people and Tower of Babel worth of local languages/dialects together.’

In some alternative Universe, there is doubtless some Muslim (or Scandanavian or Roman) imperialist arguing that, without the conquest ‘it is difficult to see how the modern nation-state we call Europe could even have come into being…..without the unifying force of (X)…to bind such a disparate people and Tower of Babel worth of local languages/dialects together. ‘

109

Barry 06.25.10 at 7:16 pm

What’s interesting about Akshay’s post @102,3 is that a milder form prevails today in the USA. IMHO, the reason that our elites are generally so against stimulus is that they’ve been bailed out – now’s its most important to make sure that the peons don’t think that *they* should be bailed out. Moral Fibre and lifting oneself up by one’s bootstraps is now what’s needed (for us, of course, and never for them).

110

virgil xenophon 06.25.10 at 7:18 pm

But of course Europe IS NOT a “nation-state” Hidari, for all the Balkanizing reasons of separate languages, culture and history that characterized pre-Colonial India. India, btw, has a long history of being ruled by conquering outsiders who brought with them a dominate foreign language, And the current “nativist” movement notwithstanding (such as it is) not just all educated “progressive” Indians scheme, bribe, pay a small ransom for English tutors, etc., to get their children in the best English-speaking schools possible and the best English-language programs possible, lip-service to the glories and “authenticity” of native languages/culture notwithstanding, but so too do the hard-working and ambitious members of the “lower” castes who wish their children to advance and prosper.

111

rm 06.25.10 at 8:01 pm

Barry is right, and it’s not just the elites. The anger and passion of teabaggers and all of their forebears is based on a worldview in which poverty is good for other people, and assistance of any kind for those other people is against God’s way. That passage from Late Victorian Holocausts brings it out in a way that’s new and shocking to me, but I recognize the sentiment.

112

virgil xenophon 06.25.10 at 9:20 pm

Can you POSSIBLY make a statement about the “tea-baggers” which is more broad-brushed, and over-broad–let alone untrue on its’ face, rm? And down-right insulting by way of using the widely bandied-about homosexual-originated term to boot?

113

Substance McGravitas 06.25.10 at 9:28 pm

Oolong marchers brought by bus
Fearless men hitch up their truss
Men who mean some things they say
The brave men of Teabag Day

Home-made buttons upon their chest
Men who wheeze and take a rest
One hundred men teabag today
One hundred came on Teabag Day

Trained to live off noodles canned
Trained to march, to marching bands
Weighty men, the scales must say
Earn Nutty Wings on Teabag Day

Tomato sauce upon their chest
Men upon a noble quest
Men who gladly join the fray
Men who yearn for Teabag Day

Back at home a young wife waits
On Teabag Day, a bitter fate
Her man has tried another way
Leaving her on Teabag Day

“Put Nutty Wings on my son’s chest
Have him foul America’s nest
Make him a man of whom they’ll say
‘I want him!’ for Teabag Day”

114

virgil xenophon 06.25.10 at 10:41 pm

Classy, #113

115

Substance McGravitas 06.25.10 at 10:53 pm

116

Akshay 06.25.10 at 11:03 pm

To Virgil@105 I would happily admit that the railroads, language, courts etc. became really useful after the British had left. The Brits also left India some cool neo-gothic-mughal-victorian architecture, cricket and P.G. Wodehouse novels. So the British Empire does beat Leopold II’s Congo. Indeed, the British Empire did some good, too. This is because there were heroic people among the British who leveraged the empire for good ends. Read Adam Hochschilds other book, Breaking the Chains for a truly inspiring account of the grass-roots British anti-slavery movement. That book gives you Hope that Change is possible.

However, the fact that evil can be transformed into good does not make it less bad. I am sure that in some alternate universe, a sentient version of Yersinia Pestis is defending a nuanced view of the Black Death by pointing out it led to labour scarcity, hence higher wages, thus more investment in productivity growth, and ultimately the discoveries which made Early Modern Europe possible.

117

Red 06.25.10 at 11:10 pm

ToAkshay@116: “I am sure that in some alternate universe, a sentient version of Yersinia Pestis is defending a nuanced view of the Black Death by pointing out it led to labour scarcity, hence higher wages, thus more investment in productivity growth, and ultimately the discoveries which made Early Modern Europe possible”.

Nice theory, terrible history.

118

O3 06.26.10 at 2:01 am

“Not to mention, of course, that the Mughals were themselves a foreign government imposed by armed force on India.”

Give India back to the Dravidians!

Seriously, is any government which is not some form of a democracy not a foreign body imposed by armed force (and some would not even allow that exception)? On some level there is no India, no Ireland, no Congo, but bloody peasants and blood-sucking elites. It doesn’t matter if they came from across the ocean or if they were homegrown, if they were benevolent or brutal, they all existed for moving resources from A to B without the consent of A. And B being their Bottomless appetites. Western colonialism may have been better at this, or more transparent, like the Nazis were better and more transparent in their anti-Semitism, but we can’t blame every pogrom on Hitler. Likewise we can’t blame every atrocity and famine on pesky foreign governments.

119

rm 06.26.10 at 2:08 am

VX at 112: I don’t know, but if you hum a few bars I’ll try to play along.

If it helps, I’m sorry for overgeneralizing and insulting people, and I’d like to clarify what I did and did not mean:
— I did not mean to sexually demean anyone; I had forgotten that “teabag” had any kind of sexual meaning, not having read any discussion of that since, I guess, the election. I suppose “Tea Party” is the term.
— I did not mean to insult anyone’s relatives or to dehumanize anyone.

By “forebears” I meant previous examples of a similar political style, like the John Birch Society, the National Indignation Convention, the Know Nothings, my grandmother, some of the people I live among and go to church with, long-dead authors whose literature and journalism I’ve studied for years while researching varieties of racist discourse in American literature, etc. I was thinking of the tremble of anger Reagan could get in his voice when he spoke about people who were getting things they didn’t deserve — welfare queens and the like — and how my grandmother would get the same tremor in her voice talking about society’s undesirables. I was thinking of how the rural conservatives I know feel instinctively, as part of their fundamental worldview, that they are godly and independent while others are dependent and lost. I’m not mind-reading: they’ve told me, and I’ve heard it preached from the pulpit of supposedly Christian churches countless times. I can’t help hearing the same fundamental vision of the universe’s moral order from all of these sources, expressed most extremely by Lord Lytton and the Famine Commission of 1878: that God’s plan is for people to learn self-sufficiency, so that any help for the poor is immoral because it makes them dependent.

Broad brush, yes. I would not make it a thesis of a social science paper. If one can’t be opinionated on a blog, where can one?

False on its face? Well.

120

rm 06.26.10 at 2:28 am

. . . and Curzon. Lord Lytton and the Famine Commission and George Nathaniel Curzon. Must read more about this.

And there is not its’its is possessive all by itself.

121

Myles SG 06.26.10 at 2:40 am

. . . and Curzon. Lord Lytton and the Famine Commission and George Nathaniel Curzon. Must read more about this.

My name is George Nathaniel Curzon,
I am a most superior person.
My cheeks are pink, my hair is sleek,
I dine at Blenheim twice a week.
So goes the doggerel.

122

Myles SG 06.26.10 at 2:40 am

Sorry. This is it, unadorned:

My name is George Nathaniel Curzon,
I am a most superior person.
My cheeks are pink, my hair is sleek,
I dine at Blenheim twice a week.

123

hix 06.26.10 at 3:27 am

Maybe India would be much better off if it were seperated into many different countries and no one spoke English?

124

alex 06.26.10 at 9:18 am

The overwhelming likelihood, if we’re waving around counterfactuals about the development of India, is that some time in the nineteenth century, the Russians would have marched over the Khyber, and that India would now be where ex-Soviet Central Asia is now: a series of arbitrarily-bordered pseudo-nation-states governed by various grades of Mad Dictator.

Or, if you stick up for the ‘fending off imperialism’ model, India would be a series of states, either recently-revolted-from or still monarchies, their borders determined by centuries of warfare, with an aristocracy as rich as Croesus, and/or a heritage of divisive revolution and expropriation, and an unpredictable quotient of Hindu-Muslim permanent conflict. [On that element alone, then, not much different to now].

125

ejh 06.26.10 at 9:45 am

If the Empire was so good for India, it is astonishing that the Indians are not more grateful for it.

126

Earnest O'Nest 06.26.10 at 10:44 am

But, ejh, they are if they would only get past their petty emotional resentment & dare to acknowledge how barbaric they would still have been without the benefit of our culture ;-(

127

Hidari 06.26.10 at 10:57 am

‘The overwhelming likelihood, if we’re waving around counterfactuals about the development of India, is that some time in the nineteenth century, the Russians would have marched over the Khyber, and that India would now be where ex-Soviet Central Asia is now: a series of arbitrarily-bordered pseudo-nation-states governed by various grades of Mad Dictator’.

Yes but Russia is another European Empire (and it is very much a European Empire…let’s not forget that the Russians themselves saw themselves as heirs to Byzantium (and, thus, heirs to Rome)….the words Tsar, of course, derives from Caeser).

Pointing out that some European Empires are better than others is true, but irrelevant (whatever evils the British were responsible for, they didn’t do anything quite as awful as what Leopold did in the Congo). The problem was not this or that European Empire: the problem was European imperialism per se. I still find it astonishing that many Europeans still do not understand this. And that, of course, was the point of the original post.

128

alex 06.26.10 at 2:18 pm

Why was European imperialism a ‘problem’? It was a major, global political phenomenon of a period of history that is now past. It was the last [to date] of a series of waves of expansion that had created ‘empires’ of a variety of sizes and durations at least since 3000 or 4000 BCE. Seen in that light, European imperialism was exceptional in its extent, but not in its duration, and certainly not, overall, in its willingness to exploit human resources to enrich the imperial elite. In its capacity to do so, it was certainly remarkable, but it has also been remarkable for its legacy – which is a global position in which it is now possible, with a little optimism, to believe that there won’t be another such imperial wave in the future.

And this is largely because, notwithstanding nice stories about how being nice to each other has been a tenet of this or that political or philosophical system in every corner of the world since the year dot, it was not until the conditions of systemic prosperity and productivity had been created, historically, by European imperialism that a public sphere of sufficient durability, extent and variety developed, such that ideas such as Marxism, liberal individualism, the droits de l’homme, and so forth could not merely be posited, but endure, thrive, spread and become implicitly part of the global political culture. Maybe, swinging counterfactuals around some more, equivalent ideas could have emerged some other way, but, historically-speaking, they didn’t.

If some people want to cling to a nostalgic view of imperialism’s benefits, they should be confronted with the facts – all of them. But other people who choose to try to use the evils of imperialism as a justification for – well, really I’m not sure what they want to use it for, they just like using it – are just as nostalgic, in a perverse sort of way. I suppose it might be something to do with the great illusion that humanity is good, except for the powerful – if only we could get rid of them, if only, in this context, every last scrap and vestige of what Whitey did to the rest of the world could be hunted down, extirpated, execrated and expunged, everyone else would get on just fine. Which is a nice idea, in some respects, but it has actually been tried, over and over again, and the pigs always end up looking like the farmers.

129

Hidari 06.26.10 at 2:46 pm

‘Why was European imperialism a ‘problem’? It was a major, global political phenomenon of a period of history that is now past’.

Let me just stop you right there. The proposition that European imperialism is now ‘over’ is only a tenable position if one accepts that the United States (and Austalasia and Canada) are not, in some fundamental sense, ‘European’. But they are. All of these countries are colonies of Europe (classic colony states, created from European invasion, and the resulting dispossession/extermination of the indigenous inhabitants). In the case of Canada and Australasia the links are obvious (the supreme head of state is still the Queen of England). The US is a bit different in that they revolted against the British Empire. But the basic discourse of Empire continued in the US, in terms of the continued dispossession of the indigenous inhabitants throughout the 19th century, ‘manifest destiny’, and so on.

What happened was that after WW2 (or the ‘European Civil War’) Europe was bankrupt and the US stepped up to fill the role that the European Empires had previously held. The American Empire is a lot ‘looser’ than the previous European Empires (Niall Ferguson calls it ‘Empire lite’) but to deny that the US is an imperial power, is to redefine the word ‘imperial’ such that it becomes essentially meaningless. Moreover, as we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, the European and Australasian powers are still imperial, albeit under the aegis, now, of the US. But when push comes to shove, the British were in Iraq, killing Iraqi civilians, just as they were throughout much of the early 20th century, and are now in Afghanistan, killing Afghan civilians, just as they were throughout much of the 19th century. The Americans are still terrified of the Yellow Peril (i.e the ‘rise’ of China) just as the British were throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Americans/British are still trying to limit Russian influence in Eastern Europe (the ‘New Great Game’). The ‘second scramble for Africa’ has now begun. And so on. It is the essential continuities of imperial interests (i.e. between the American and European Empires) that are more striking, taking the long view, than the discontinuities.

Human rights, democracy, freedom of speech (etc.) are indeed very good ideas, although they extent to which they were ‘invented’ by Europeans is highly debatable. But it is equally obvious (given that you can’t be an Empire and a democracy at the same time, as the Romans found out) that they key force preventing the widespread adoption of these excellent ideas, is Empire, and the most important and powerful empire in the world right now is the American Empire.

And that’s why getting it across to people that Imperialism is, like, a bad thing, is such an important task.

130

hix 06.26.10 at 4:07 pm

Fergusson also thinks Germany would have won WWI without those social democrat wimps on the homefront )-:. Meaning hes pretty close to holocohaust denialism aswell, not a good source to back up anything.

131

engels 06.26.10 at 4:49 pm

But other people who choose to try to use the evils of imperialism as a justification for – well, really I’m not sure what they want to use it for

National self-determination perhaps?

In general, you don’t know what someone’s argument is it is not usually a good idea to assume that it is invalid.

132

Alice de Tocqueville 06.26.10 at 5:04 pm

alex 06.26.10 at 2:18 pm:

“…And this is largely because, notwithstanding nice stories about how being nice to each other has been a tenet of this or that political or philosophical system in every corner of the world since the year dot, it was not until the conditions of systemic prosperity and productivity had been created, historically, by European imperialism that a public sphere of sufficient durability, extent and variety developed, such that but endure, thrive, spread and become implicitly part of the global political culture. Maybe, swinging counterfactuals around some more, equivalent ideas could have emerged some other way, but, historically-speaking, they didn’t.”

You’d love this fellow I worked under at a DoD shipyard. He wore a beltbuckle that actually said, “God, Guts and Guns Built This Country” . (It WAS a big beltbuckle.) He would surely have been happy to have added “Germs” on there, too, if he’d been a little better-read.

133

subdoxastic 06.26.10 at 5:11 pm

Any defense of imperialism (regardless of historic age or geographic location) relies on the belief that the ends justify the means.

Of course, this is arguing in bad faith, since it seems fairly obvious that previous historical actors could not have known how their actions contributed to the political awakening and organization of the colonised– in fact their actions sought to prevent this from happening– and usually the colonisers (particularly true of nation-states) were primarily veiwing the situation through an economic lens.

Not to get too Aristotelian here, but let’s do some simple math.

The actions were immoral.
The motivation was primarily economic– there was a thread here about the amorality of business.

Therefore colonialism/imperialsim as demonstrated through historical examples is immoral.

Even this isn’t a problem for colonialism’s defenders since they point to the modern day results of emancipation of former colonies– e.g. war torn and poor but with infrastructure! We can argue how about how much accountability former colonisers have for the results of their work– just as I don’t want to give them credit for predicting the rise in Africa of all those wonderful European inventions of democracy blah, blah, blah,– I don’t want to give them all the blame for the way things turned out, even if I think that they could have likely predicted the fearsome consequences (and some did, and actually tried to encourage those results– see Congo).

Counterfactuals are an interesting tool, and I’ve enjoyed seeing them used on this thread. But let’s not forget, given the motivations/mindset/goal of colonisers– the end of colonial rule is the counterfactual. The colonisers schema left no room for any other alternative than colonialism– not in their actions and not in their intentions.

134

Alice de Tocqueville 06.26.10 at 5:23 pm

Is Goldberg presenting the inverse to the argument that prompted the “Eugenics and Guilt By Association” thread?

135

Alice de Tocqueville 06.26.10 at 5:34 pm

Sorry, that should be Louis Michel, not Goldberg. Forgot who we’re running against again!

136

virgil xenophon 06.26.10 at 6:07 pm

A Supreme Court justice once said: “The essence of democracy is that if the majority of the people are determined to go to hell in a hand-basket, you’ve got to stand back and let ‘em.” Which is why our Founding Fathers created a Constitutional Republic instead of a direct democracy, as they feared the mob in the grip of the passions of the moment. It has always amused me how anyone could think that there was anything “democratic” about a fixed, written document–the core of American government–which limits the ability of “the people” to act, as being interpreted by nine individuals appointed for life. But it seems that Hidari is indeed arguing for direct democracy for places like India; or at least equating “national self-determination” with “democracy.”–else why would she argue to vehemently against colonialism? That is to say, as alex has pointed out, historically “national self-determination” has produced LOTS of unpleasant forms of government far worse for its subjects than Colonial India was for the Indians, so Hidari seems to assume that ANY outcome for those living on the sub-continent of India would have been materially and morally better than the path down history that British Colonial rule established. Thus by this logic Hidari seems to be arguing national self -determination=democracy=better outcome than Imperial Colonial India as being axiomatically pre-determined.

I wonder if the Time Lords decided to give today’s educated,
middle-class Indian professional the choice to remaining living in the moment or that of re-arranging time to erase the presence of the British in India and replace the current conditions in 2010 with what would be the resultant product if that alternate history had played out–with the young Indian of today having to live with the result if he so chose–which choice the young English-speaking middle-class Indian professional would make? To remain a product of “hated” British Colonialism or roll the “national self-determination” dice–trusting that one’s ethnic ancestors and history would have on their own produced a better outcome? (or one could even present the same choice to a present-day member of the “untouchable” caste, for that matter)

137

virgil xenophon 06.26.10 at 6:10 pm

Sorry, didn’t intend the line-out.

138

Henri Vieuxtemps 06.26.10 at 6:21 pm

I think those unpleasant forms of government are necessary evolutionary steps, leading, hopefully, to less and less unpleasant forms; getting rid of foreign control being the prerequisite.

139

Akshay 06.26.10 at 11:57 pm

Henri V @138 is right. I think the problem is that we tend to see all forms of non-democratic government as equally horrendous. However, this is not how it was seen historically. Upthread, I referred to Machiavelli. If I interpret him correctly, he regards Republicanism as the best form of government, and foreign occupation, tyranny, and civil war/anarchy as the very worst. Monarchy is a lot better than foreign occupation because the monarch has an interest in responding to the interests of his citizens: he prefers keeping them happy. Of course, a monarchy can go bad and descend into tyranny, but not all monarchies are by definition so unresponsive to their population. A foreign occupier, however, has a power base outside the region. To keep that power base happy he will inevitably try to exploit his colonies. Listing the crimes of colonialism is important in order to understand how horrific this exploitation will ultimately get. The only exceptions are empires which give equal citizenship rights to their colonies. These are not the ones we are discussing here.

Anyway no, not all local regimes are better than all colonies. The hierarchy we are making is: (civil) war < occupation/colonialism = tyranny < competent monarchy or authoritarian rule (The Prince) < constitutional monarchy < Republicanism < modern Liberal Democracy. The anti-colonial point is that local political institutions have at least some chance of responding somewhat to the local population, while foreign ones have absolutely none, unless they give equal rights to the occupied territory, or unless they are fought.

The notion that great European ideas could only have spread through occupation and exploitation was criticized even during the 18th century. See Jonathan Israel's massive work 'Enlightenment Contested' on the development of systematic democratic (and anti-colonial) arguments during the 'Radical Enlightenment'. Apart from arguments based on human equality, the radicals also argued for respect for what other cultures would ultimately achieve on their own – helped intellectually by European insights, but not subjected to European exploitation.

And colonialism is not ancient history: people talk about WWI, the Great Depression and WWII as if they have contemporary relevance all the time, yet imperialism, which went on until more recently, is somehow comparable to the Romans and Djenghis Khan. Apart from which, even the 18th century intellectual arguments are relevant now.

140

Hidari 06.27.10 at 12:59 am

‘And colonialism is not ancient history: people talk about WWI, the Great Depression and WWII as if they have contemporary relevance all the time, yet imperialism, which went on until more recently, is somehow comparable to the Romans and Djenghis Khan. Apart from which, even the 18th century intellectual arguments are relevant now.’

Indeed. ‘The Rise and Fall of the British Empire’ by Lawrence James identifies the Falklands War (1982) as the last war fought by the British Empire (on its own), although some might say that the more recent re-invasion and re-colonisation of Sierra Leone is an even more recent example (Operation Palliser: 2000). The Portugese Empire, the earliest of the European Empires, was also the longest lived, lasting from the capture of Ceuta in 1415 to the handover of Macau in 1999. Almost all of the European Empires still have colonies dotted throughout the wold (Britain the Falklands, Gibralter, the Pitcain Islands, etc.). The French have French Guiana . The Spanish have (some would say) the Canary Islands and a few others. And so on.

We are not talking ancient history here.

141

noen 06.27.10 at 1:42 am

That is to say, as alex has pointed out, historically “national self-determination” has produced LOTS of unpleasant forms of government far worse for its subjects than Colonial India was for the Indians, so Hidari seems to assume that ANY outcome for those living on the sub-continent of India would have been materially and morally better than the path down history that British Colonial rule established.

No, engels referenced “self determination” which means a representative government of some kind. Uganda did not enjoy self determination when it was ruled by a monstrous cannibalistic dictator. Moreover, many dictatorships throughout the third world were directly installed by the US counter to the democratically expressed will of the people. They did not arise “naturally”. The same is also true of the middle east whose undemocratic regimes are propped up by the west out of fear and greed. Fear of a united Islamic state and greed for obvious reasons.

If you are a small nation anywhere and you have something the West needs you are pretty much fucked.

142

Tim Worstall 06.27.10 at 8:58 am

“The Spanish have (some would say) the Canary Islands and a few others.”

Ceuta for example…..

143

Alex 06.27.10 at 10:42 am

We’ve recolonised Sierra Leone? Citation needed.

144

Hidari 06.27.10 at 10:49 am

OK if you want to be pedantic, ‘alleged’ recolonisation or ‘de facto’ recolonisation or ‘quasi’ recolonisation or what have you. But there is no doubt that Britain holds the whip hand in Sierra Leone nowadays, not the Sierra Leone Government.

‘Britain sent troops to Sierra Leone in mid-2000, ostensibly to evacuate British nationals when rebels responsible for appalling atrocities against civilians threatened to overthrow the elected government.

The rebels finally began disarming late last year

But it quickly became apparent that there was a long-term plan, and Brigadier Davidson Housten now heads the team that has re-trained and re-armed an 8,000-strong government army.

Britain and other Commonwealth countries had been fulfilling a similar role for the police force for several years.

“The people actually want to be recolonised”, said Zainab Bangura, a political activist and publisher of the first serious political opinion poll in Sierra Leone.

“Now 70% of the respondents to our survey, all of whom were in Freetown, said they would like Britain to assume trusteeship of Sierra Leone until a new political dispensation can be worked out.”

Recolonisation is of course out of the question, however President Kabbah has, in effect, gone halfway to doing this by appointing British advisers to top positions and welcoming the largest United Nations peacekeeping force in the world.’

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/1811731.stm

‘British political influence in Sierra Leone is far greater now than it has been since the end of the Empire.

British government officials sit in the main offices of state here – monitoring what the ministers do, supervising, scrutinising, guiding the country toward European-style good governance.

Critics might call this level of direct, hands-on intervention neo-colonialism, others say Britain is simply helping its former colony for future generations.

Valnora Jones of the non-governmental organisation, Campaign for Good Governance, said that to some extent, the British have been pretty much running the country.’

http://papernews.info/2010/06/25/is-uk-recolonising-sierra-leone/

145

dsquared 06.27.10 at 10:58 am

144: “Alleged”, “de facto”, “quasi” all look like decent synonyms for “not” in that context.

146

sg 06.27.10 at 12:45 pm

I like how this thread turned from a critique of Belgian denialism into British denialism.

147

ejh 06.27.10 at 1:06 pm

Oh do change the record, you appalling bore.

148

Earnest O'Nest 06.27.10 at 1:08 pm

What about some Flemish denialism? Two Flemish writers have gone on record saying that if we just make sure to say colonialism is wrong, we can move on from the moral cramp we are having to acknowledging the many good things that colonialist have done in the past (the oldest of the 2 was a colonialist). We see: you can both condemn your Louis Michel & eat your colonialism too.

(for the people knowing Flanders: Jef Geeraerts and Erwin Mortier, the latter is the boyfriend of the ‘art journalist’ that accompanied the former in his come-back tour to the Congo featuring an enormous amount of great insights on the nature of black men and women (one of whom he had made pregnant just before he left her))

149

sg 06.27.10 at 1:25 pm

Orwell had some things to say about the legacy of British colonialism in Burmese Days which were quite interesting.

I find the claim that Britain left the Indians with trains and a civil service quite underwhelming. Japan was a backward rural nation in the 1850s, with no resources, and they were selling trains to Britain by the 1920s. They managed to get their own railroads and civil service without experiencing the singular pleasure of British colonialism. It seems entirely possible to me that, as Orwell observes, the British set Indian progress back 50 years rather than “giving” them anything.

150

noen 06.27.10 at 3:17 pm

The fact that after years of therapy I have recovered from your abuse does not make your abuse morally praise worthy. Yes my history made me who I am and I am happy and have made peace with myself but I really wish you hadn’t beaten and raped me when I was a developing infant.

I know I know, you feel ashamed and guilty about what you did and so you’ve constructed a delusion that your abuse was really good for me. That I could never have achieved the things in my life I have without your cruel tutelage so really I should just get on my knees and thank you. Yeah well fuck you. The truth is I would have been much better off if you cared about someone other than yourself and didn’t just take what you wanted from my body politic by brute force. If you had just allowed me some self dignity I would have given you everything you wanted anyway.

But don’t worry, one day you’ll be weak and I’ll be strong. You’d better pray that in the meantime I learn to be a better nation than you ever were.

Sincerely:
Your former Colony.

151

engels 06.27.10 at 8:31 pm

which choice the young English-speaking middle-class Indian professional would make?

Because naturally ‘English-speaking middle-class Indian professionals’ speak for the whole of India…

152

Akshay 06.27.10 at 9:04 pm

sg @146: I Suppose the OP said all that could be said about the original subject. That Michel’s attitudes are apparently quite common in Belgium is one of those disappointing facts about human beings. And British denialism seems alive and kicking too. Hidari’s link @ 80 taught me that the current British education secretary has just asked pro-imperial historians to rewrite the curriculum and present the Empire in a more favourable light. Seumas Milne in the Guardian gives a critique. Will British schoolchildren soon be taught by those who wish to “celebrate” Empire and believe it “is more necessary in the 21st century than ever before?”

But it’s not just the Brits. From European to Japanese imperialism, from the Armenian genocide to the Cold War to Hindu Nationalist curricula, there seems to be this global agreement that rewriting ones own history in a more positive light is highly desirable. Enjoy George Orwell’s Notes on Nationalism on the causes. See especially the passage on “Indifference to Reality”.

153

yeliabmit 06.27.10 at 10:38 pm

Ashkay @152: Thanks for posting that Orwell essay. I’d never read that one before. It’s interesting at the end how he highlights that honest self-awareness is necessary, and… well, that’s the big challenge isn’t it?

154

JJ 06.27.10 at 11:00 pm

When the British ruled their empire they established monarchies among the regions or nations which they occupied. When the Americans ruled their empire they established democratic republics. When the Soviets ruled their empire they established socialist republics. Hell, the French established Napoleonic “empires”, ruled by local “emperors”. Failing these (monarchies – constitutional or otherwise, democratic republics, socialist republics or “empires”) they established fascist dictatorships. Typically, the form of government is irrelevant, or less relevant than the ability of the occupiers to subordinate the occupied to their ruling elites, who were themselves subordinate the the ruling elites of the occupiers.

155

virgil xenophon 06.28.10 at 12:59 am

sg@159/

Could the fact that Japan was/is a highly homogenized society with a single language, a dominant religion followed by most and an over-arching shared culture and history have had anything to do with it? Unlike fractured, balkanized , Tower-of-Babel India?

engels@151: I said ask the untouchables also..

I would suggest to noen, Akshay, and others that while I certainly acknowledge the truth of much of what you say, your views do not explain the rise of miserable places like the former Rhodesia where Mugabbe has turned a nation that in “colonial” times exported food to the rest of Africa due to productive white farmers, but is now starving and importing what little food it does have since the expropriation of white lands. The problem in post-colonial sub-Saharan Africa is that all the leftist intellectuals/politicians in both Africa and the West thought the African people “not ready” for multi-party democracy and believed the socialist “single-party” state to be a much needed pre-requisite stepping-stone to such–if not a satisfactory viable alternative to multi-party democracy in its own right. And we’ve all seen how well THAT leftist vision of societal nirvana turned out for all too many of the newly independent former colonial African nations, haven’t we?

BTW, has anyone here REALLY answered the points alex makes here @124 and #128? The blithe assumptions, contra alex, of straight-line progress by India and the emergence of it as a viable modern nation seem to totally fail to account for the alternate scenarios he outlines while also studiously ignoring the miserable historical record of alternate developments in porcine husbandry to which he also alludes.

And Akshay@139. Why do you indicate in your coda that “modern Liberal Democracy” is better than Republicanism? The United States was founded as a Republic, after all, so do you consider that an inferior arrangement? Or do you hold the view that America has since its founding morphed/evolved into a more satisfactory “modern Liberal Democracy?” (which I truly wish you would define, btw.)

156

ajay 06.28.10 at 10:35 am

When the British ruled their empire they established monarchies among the regions or nations which they occupied
I suspect the monarchies were generally there already. Maharajah is not an English loan word.
When the Americans ruled their empire they established democratic republics.
Yep, if there’s one thing the CIA is famous for it’s establishing democratic republics. That’s why it’s so well-liked in Latin America. And Iran.

But there is no doubt that Britain holds the whip hand in Sierra Leone nowadays, not the Sierra Leone Government.

In other words, there are a lot of British advisors in SL, and if the SL government said “OK, we want you to leave now”, the British would say “No, we’re staying, as these Marines will remind you forcibly if necessary.”
You actually think that’s what’s happening in SL?

157

John Harvey 06.28.10 at 3:25 pm

Another book on King Leopold and the Congo is Mark Twain’s 1905 book King Leopold’s Soliloquy. The book is hard to find but it is on-line at http://chss.montclair.edu/english/furr/i2l/kls.html.

158

Hidari 06.28.10 at 3:41 pm

‘In other words, there are a lot of British advisors in SL, and if the SL government said “OK, we want you to leave now”, the British would say “No, we’re staying, as these Marines will remind you forcibly if necessary.”’

Oh I’m sure if push came to shove and that that eventuality happened then the British would leave. But my point is (or rather, the point of the BBC, in the first article I quoted from) is that that eventuality is highly unlikely to happen, as the SL government relies on the British for…well…everything. In any case, if it looked likely that the SL govt. was on the point of asking the Brits to leave I’m damn sure that the Brits would put a huge amount of ‘soft’ ‘backroom’ pressure on the SL Govt not to make any such statement.

Look for example at the Japanese Government’s attempts to kick the Americans out of Okinawa. It’s already brought down one PM. These attempts of course can be succesful (look at France). But that occurred only because France was a major (imperial) power with a lot of money and a political tradition of and independent foreign policy (and even then it wasn’t that independent: France remained part of NATO: cf also the Lemnitzer-Ailleret Agreements).

It is vanishingly unlikely that the SL govt will be able to make such a decision at any point in the immediate future. To quote from the second article: ‘Valnora Jones of the non-governmental organisation, Campaign for Good Governance, said that to some extent, the British have been pretty much running the country.”

159

Kaveh 06.28.10 at 10:55 pm

#155 has a bit of a straw man problem. A leftist vision of single-party rule in African post-colonial states? “straight-line progress by India and the emergence of it as a viable modern nation”? Nobody here predicted that!

Such talk about the benefits of India’s political/administrative unity bequeathed by the British is especially silly, given that the former British India/Mughal Empire DID break up into three separate nation states, along religious lines, resulting in great loss of life and property in the process of population transfer, and ongoing conflict between two of the three states, with the other state remaining one of the world’s poorest. Nor is wealth evenly distributed within India. The alternative scenario of the breakup of the Mughal Empire (which was underway already when the British took over) probably would have been a lot smoother and less bloody, even accounting for the inevitable transfer of power from Muslim ruling elites to majority-non-Muslim populations in much of the former Mughal Empire.

It’s funny that people telling the story of “the rise of the West” often cite Europe’s lack of political unity as a reason for its rapid progress in the 1600s-1700s, compared to South Asia, China + Inner Asia, or the Ottoman Empire (because competition between different states spurred progress). And yet British rule as a unifying factor is somehow supposed to have been a good thing for India!

And of course the argument that knowledge of English is a great asset to India is circular–English is important as a global language today in part because Britain ruled India. Before British conquest, India already had a universal imperial/administrative language–Persian. Had there been a need for this, Persian could equally well have continued to serve that purpose (and remained more important as a language of international communication, at the expense of English). Urdu written with Arabic script has the advantage of borrowing easily from Persian, Ottoman/Turkish, and Arabic. But more likely, had India remained split up into smaller post-Mughal states, Hindi/Urdu along with Tamil and other languages would have taken its place, with Hindi/Urdu possibly serving as the lingua franca, which I think Hindi kind of is now in India anyway.

One could go on in this vein: are Thailand and Vietnam wallowing in misery because they speak Thai and Vietnamese, and don’t have English (or Chinese) to unite them and nearby countries? It should be obvious how silly this is.

Really, there’s nothing special about the English language and British rule that make them uniquely suited to unifying and “organizing” India or any other large region with a lot of shared history. Ignorance of other political traditions and imperial traditions may make it seem so.

If you really wanted to make a case for colonialism-wasn’t-as-bad-as-people-think, a much more clever way to do it would be to point out that, in general, while post-colonial states tend to be poorer and less politically stable/cohesive, wealth and political cohesion were also the very things that enabled a state to resist imperial takeover in the first place. So, just from a very cursory examination, it could be argued that it’s hard to separate cause from effect. But I don’t think this objection would stand up to a detailed comparison.

The other argument worth making, contra the emphasis on colonialism as A Bad Thing, is that the most catastrophic famines of the early 19th century were due to changing global economic conditions. Colonialism/imperialism were not unique in encouraging the global economic conditions that made these happen. Cash-cropping was already the norm in the Pearl River delta in China by (iirc) the 1500s (a system which, incidentally, evolved without reliance on coerced labor). Colonial governments were apparently often uninterested in doing anything about these economic/political famines, but non-colonial governments also often failed to respond adequately, maybe because they didn’t really understand the problem, or were unable to act.

China had such a crisis in the 1820s-30s, which the Qing dynasty did not respond to all that effectively (I think, also, there was such a crisis in the 1640s, which led to the collapse of the Ming). I don’t think writing off the Qing dynasty, or the Mughals in India, as foreign invaders really makes sense as an explanation (and obviously it fails for the Ming). Even if both dynasties entertained (or advertised) a somewhat romantic attachment to distant Central Asian homelands (Manchuria and modern-day Uzbekistan, respectively) and the nomadic lifestyle of their ancestors there, their capitals and courts were still in Beijing/Delhi, which was their base of power. Persian had been the language of Muslim courts in India before the Mughals, going back hundreds of years. Wealthy Mughal India attracted educated Persian-speakers from the Safavid Empire (what is now Iran) causing a kind of brain drain. Both the Safavids and Mughals were Turks (by ancestry and language), and “Turk” in the Persianate world carried a connotation of being lower-class (not entirely unlike how being a Manchurian or Mongolian nomad did, in China).

While they were both foreign and conquerors, I don’t think calling the Mughals “foreign conquerors” is a good way to simplify things. There are some parallels one could draw between 19th c. European imperial systems and those that had developed in South Asia or China around the same time as (or in the Chinese case, a good bit earlier than) the first European naval empires, but there are also pretty big differences that justify using the term “imperialism” especially for the European and Japanese empires during the “Long 19th Century”.

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Akshay 06.28.10 at 11:12 pm

Virgil @ 158:
I think attacking the issue through counter-factual history, like Alex, is intellectually weak. The argument seems to be that one should adopt a morally more neutral attitude towards imperialism because in spite of its horrible crimes, if it hadn’t occurred, someone else would (counterfactually) have managed to make an even bigger mess of things. Now, this is not how we usually reason about culpability. A counter-factual history is simply a fantasy. For any fantasy about an independent third world ravaged by war and oppression one can substitute a fantasy where it develops and prospers. We don’t usually excuse crimes if the criminal can develop a fantasy where things would have been worse if the crime had not been committed. And what fantasy is being developed? It is a weaker version of the imperial fantasy that we imperialists are saving them from their horrible rulers. Now we have counterfactually saved them from rulers as bad as us. Oh, and we left them good ideas they were allowed to use once we were thrown out.

Apart from the philosophical weirdness of it all, is this even plausible? Many, many imperialists have ended up in the innermost circles of tyrant hell. The death tolls of imperial famines are comparable to those of communist collectivization. Would the counterfactual Maharaja of independent Punjab (surely an SOB) have exported his people into famine in bounty years? Would the king of independent Eire (another SOB) have caused the potato famine? The relative death toll in the Belgian and French colonies in central Africa would give Pol Pot a run for his money. They turned the region into a slave labor death camp. The inmates were motivated by special whips made of hippopotamus skin, which cut to the bone. To punish parents, they cut off the hands of their children to condemn them to a life of beggary and starvation. Millions died. Even if we play the counterfactual game, why do you think the onus is on me to prove that the alternative would not have been equally bad?

Secondly, the comment about ‘leftist intellectuals in the West and Africa’. You are conflating anti-imperialism with ‘leftist intellectualism’ with ‘Stalinist fellow-travelerhood’. As you admit, the vast majority of anti-imperialists are democrats. If they are on the left they are social democrats. The idea that people X are not ready for democracy is not a ‘leftist intellectual’ argument, it is an imperial excuse to rule over X or to install your preferred ‘strongman’. I am sure defenders of the Soviet empire used it as well as Europeans or Americans. But anyway, the argument that ‘leftist intellectuals’ are responsible for the fate of sub-saharan Africa is extremely implausible. The place was ravaged by colonialism and endless wars, colonial wars, cold wars, independence wars, ethnic wars. It is not, and can not be, a demonstration of what a non-colonial counterfactual history would have been like.

Shorter points: I am *not* committed to the claim that all local tyrants are better than imperialists. I am committed to the claim that no imperialists are better than tyrants, while some forms of self-rule are better than tyranny. I think non-counter-factual history bears this out. I also think the current US democracy is a better place than the old US Republic, since it has universal suffrage, has abolished slavery, etc.

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john b 06.29.10 at 12:21 am

I am committed to the claim that no imperialists are better than tyrants

Are you sure that’s what you meant to say? It seems odd to suggest that postwar British imperialist rule in Hong Kong was no better than Khmer Rouge rule in Cambodia. Yes, I know that’s an extreme example, but you’re making an extreme assertion.

The weak version of your theory – that the incentive structure will tend to mean imperialist rule is worse than domestic tyranny, even if the imperial government is relatively enlightened/liberal at home – is a good one, and worth tattooing on Niall Ferguson’s eyelids.

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sg 06.29.10 at 3:13 am

virgil @155, obviously India and Japan are completely different societies, but to argue that heterogeneity and lack of a single language are somehow more important than (or equally as important as) being invaded and occupied by a foreign power seems to be already implicitly assuming that the colonialism applied by that foreign power was “good.” Orwell’s account of British economic wrecking in India suggests otherwise, and their behaviour around the time of partition was not exactly a model of responsible governance.

There is the possibility, for example, that multi-cultural pre-British India would have formed a series of separate, solid modern states, trading with each other and developing/importing technology, until they decided ultimately to federate/form a cooperation forum/whatever. There’s no reason to suppose that British occupation was the only way that India could have developed; if just one state of (at that time) 60 million people with one language and two religions (Japan has two religions) could develop so far in 60 years, why couldn’t the multiple states of India?

Again, it’s interesting that in an English-language thread that started on Belgian colonialist denialism, the topic so quickly has managed to turn so thoroughly to arguing that British colonialism probably-wasn’t-so-bad-and-maybe-even-helped. It seems to undermine the moral case for the OP.

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Akshay 06.29.10 at 9:52 pm

John @ 161: well, fair enough, i’ll retreat to probabilism. But I can’t resist mentioning that even most tyrants are better than Pol Pot, so (as you are aware) being better than him is little evidence of non-tyranny. Post-War Hong Kong, though, looks like an actual example of a colonial power saving a population from a local tyrant (Mao). We also should see Hong Kong, though, in the context of the broader imperialist project in China, which was well advanced but cut short by WWI. Sadly, I don’t know anything about that subject. Perhaps Kaveh?

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Kaveh 06.30.10 at 2:36 am

@163 I wish I could add something, but I don’t think I know enough about that for it to be helpful. What you said re Hong Kong and imperialism sounds about right.

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virgil xenophon 06.30.10 at 9:11 pm

Sorry I couldn’t have gotten back sooner to fully participate. All I’ll say is that I’m much appreciative of the thoughtful commentary and good takes on history/cultural geography provided by the likes of Kaveh, Akhsay, sg, et al. I WILL say that “y’all” seem incorrigible optimists given the experiences of most of post-Colonial sub-Saharan Africa, Burma, and the fact of present-day Turkey retrogressing before our eyes into an Islamist-movement dominated government/society which cannot bode well for the the future economic prospects of its people or their personal freedoms–especially for the more secularized cosmopolitan western part surrounding Istanbul–disputations by types like Hidari notwithstanding. Although I will admit and aver that of any fractured society, the Indian sun-continent perhaps stood the best chance of positive outcomes. Some would say that Indonesia is/has been “muddling through” half-way passably no thanks to the Dutch despite religious and racial tensions, so there’s that.

But yes, back to the original, the Belgiques were ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE colonial masters–perhaps the worst on record. EVER. No argument there, none.

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Kaveh 07.01.10 at 3:36 am

@165 present-day Turkey retrogressing before our eyes into an Islamist-movement dominated government/society

Serious question: where did you hear this? This is complete news to me. Not a single one of my many (largely non-religious/secularist) Turkish acquaintances and friends seems to see things this way. Some of them talk a good bit about Turkish politics. I’ve not once heard anyone characterize the situation in Turkey as anything remotely like this anytime in the past year, or five years.

I have heard of a few people in the American media saying this immediately after the flotilla incident, for reasons that I think are transparent and transparently disingenuous.

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Hidari 07.01.10 at 10:04 am

The use of the word ‘retrogressing’ in that sentence is highly revealing. Turkey, of course (by which I mean the nation state Turkey) was never an Islamist state. It has always been secular.

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ajay 07.01.10 at 10:43 am

167: well, no, but it was part of a fairly Islamic one (literally, a Caliphate) before the war, so I think that’s fair enough. Whether it’s actually happening or not is a different question. Cutting Virgil as much leeway as possible, it’s true that there is an avowedly Islamic party in power in Ankara, of course, and there wasn’t ten years ago. (Though there was 15 years ago, and my very sketchy impression is that Refah was if anything more Islamic than AK is.) And there’s a bit more pressure for women to be allowed to put bags on their heads. But it’s quite a leap from that to “retrogressing before our eyes into an Islamist-movement dominated government/society” which raises images of the Muslim Brotherhood, etc.

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ajay 07.01.10 at 10:45 am

In any case, if it looked likely that the SL govt. was on the point of asking the Brits to leave I’m damn sure that the Brits would put a huge amount of ‘soft’ ‘backroom’ pressure on the SL Govt not to make any such statement.

Oh, well, if you’re damn sure then it must be true I suppose.

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Hidari 07.01.10 at 11:41 am

‘Oh, well, if you’re damn sure then it must be true I suppose.’

Yup that’s about the size of it.

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Hektor Bim 07.01.10 at 8:27 pm

“BTW, has anyone here REALLY answered the points alex makes here @124 and #128? The blithe assumptions, contra alex, of straight-line progress by India and the emergence of it as a viable modern nation seem to totally fail to account for the alternate scenarios he outlines while also studiously ignoring the miserable historical record of alternate developments in porcine husbandry to which he also alludes.”

Actually, the most reasonable result absent British colonialism was the rise of alternative power centers in India to combat the Mughal empire. The Marathis were already quasi-independent and raiding all the way across the subcontinent. I’m very skeptical that the Russian army would somehow magically transport a huge army across Afghanistan and then defeat Indian armies. I tend to think the Great Game ended the way it did for very clear economic and geographical reasons. Afghanistan was a natural buffer, and the Indian armies weren’t pushovers. Amartya Sen has a discussion of precisely this issue in an article in the New Republic “Imperial Illusions”.

I’m also pretty sure that average life expectancy in a counterfactual India would go up and that it wouldn’t suffer calamitous famines, like it did under the British.

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Hidari 07.01.10 at 9:51 pm

#171

One should note that the counter-factual argument is very carefully played by the ‘oh but British imperialism wasn’t that bad really’ school. They are pretty keen to play it (however tendentiously) in the case of the Indians .

In the case of the Tasmanians, not so much.

(And if we are talking about European imperialism generally there are many other examples to be used, not least that of the Belgian occupied Congo which was, after all, the subject of the original post).

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virgil xenophon 07.02.10 at 12:53 am

KAVEN@166/
Turkey began to change when radicals (under the guise of the Red Crescent) entered the rural areas in the wake of the Izmit earthquake in 1999. When those elements began rebuilding mosques and schools they did so in order to install radical Wahabist Imams and teachers in rural areas that were previously not affected by Islamic radicalism.

Even more poured in after the 2003 quake, with an even more aggressive agenda. The ground for that agenda being fairly fertile then. After 2003 the movement went so far as to tear down mosques not sufficiently fundamentalist and replace them with more “acceptable” architecture, and, of course, more anti-western, anti-secular radical Wahabist Imams.

The ruling Islamist party has used all its powers to reduce secular authorities to the fullest extent possible as exemplified in the current Eregenekon hysteria used to justify mass arrests of military leaders and influential Kemalists. The followers of Fethullah Gulen know that the military must have its hands tied before the really serious Islamization of Turkey can take place. Getting the military to inject itself into the “peace blockade” runners confrontation with Israel was a win-win situation for the Islamists as if the military backed down they looked feckless and unsupportive of Muslim “brothers” while if successful, would help the Islamic radical faction weaken their arch enemy Israel.

“Modern Turkey is an artificial construct rather than a nation-state in the western sense” writes “Spengler” in the June 9th Asia times and quotes Rachel Sharon-Krespin writing in The Middle-East Quarterly (winter 2009) as stating: “As Turkey’s ruling Justice and Devlopment party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi AKP) in its seventh year, Turkey is no longer the secular and democratic country that it was when ther party took over. The AKP has conquored the bureaucracy and changed the country’s fundamental identity…”

I don’t know who you talk to Kaveh, but I would point out America still maintains a sizable military presence in Turkey at Incirlik Air Base and other installations. As an ex-USAF officer once stationed in Turkey, all my contacts on active duty stationed there now or recently only confirm this view quoted above. It would seem your contacts are doing something regarding current Turkish Islamization trends heretofore I thought physically impossible: simultaneously burying their head in the sand while whistling past the graveyard.

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john b 07.02.10 at 2:55 am

@173, either you are actually, certifiably, insane; or you’re writing from some kind of counterfactual history universe; or you’ve been conned by some nasty people.

In the hope that it’s the latter: MEQ is the rag in which Daniel Pipes publishes neocon conspiracy theories. It is not a serious academic journal; it has no credibility outside of neocon circles. Krespin is a member of MEMRI, an institution whose sole function is to lie to Americans about the Muslim world in order to keep US public opinion behind Israel.

Also, your point about earthquakes and Wahabis tearing down mosques seems to be taken from someone’s comments box last week, rather than from anyone credible, or even someone incredible-but-not-an-anonymous-nutter-on-a-blog.

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Hidari 07.02.10 at 9:50 am

176

sg 07.02.10 at 10:40 am

My God, that review is worrying me! Imagine if a modern secular democracy were run by “men who pray”… it boggles the mind doesn’t it, how backward these middle easterns are!!?

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ajay 07.02.10 at 10:58 am

I tend to think the Great Game ended the way it did for very clear economic and geographical reasons. Afghanistan was a natural buffer

Invading India from the north-west isn’t a very difficult thing to do, witness the number of people who’ve done it successfully over the last few millennia. And the Russians didn’t have much of a problem conquering and subduing Muslim Central Asia. I’m not sure why they would have had more trouble with Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul and Kandahar than they had with Bukhara and Kokand and Samarkand and Khiva.

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sg 07.02.10 at 11:05 am

ajay: because Flashman was there. Don’t you know anything about history?

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Bunbury 07.02.10 at 11:48 am

I’m not sure that VX’s take is all that mad but but is one eyed and low resolution.

The same events that seem to constitute retrogression to Islamist dominated government can also be described as progression from military dictatorship to modern Abrahamic religion based democracy.

In fact there is an awful lot going on within the country and progress in any direction tends to be of the two steps forward one step back variety. There are mainstream Islamic movements but even there the two biggest players, the AKP and the sometimes underground religious movement lead from a secret retreat in the mountains of Pennsylvania(!) do not see eye to eye. In any case you won’t get far understanding it if you ignore the aspect of the political split that is basically a red-state-blue-state thing (i.e. what sg said). Of course the manifestation of Islam that Attaturk objected to having a role in the state had more in common with the current Chinese communist party than it did with Al Qaeda so I’m not sure retrogression is strictly speaking on the table here except to the extent that the AKP works like the Rotary club or the Masons in Konya.

You also won’t get far if you ignore the extent to which a friend in need is a friend indeed. There were many legitimate complaints about the secular governments before the AKP and the AKP does offer to address some of them. That offers an explanation for its support that doesn’t rely on conspiracy. Not that Turkey is short of real conspiracies. Of course oil pipelines, drug smugglers, communist Kurdish separatists, Islamist Kurdish separatists, Cypriots, possible military coups, the Black Sea, EU accession and many other issues make such sweeping generalisations suspect. Still, don’t let that get in the way of a nice clean world view.

Hidari, in your terms was the Ottoman Empire an example of European Imperialism?

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Bunbury 07.02.10 at 11:55 am

Wasn’t Britain’s presence in India all about the French anyway?

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Hidari 07.02.10 at 12:23 pm

‘Hidari, in your terms was the Ottoman Empire an example of European Imperialism?’

Eh? Where did that one come from? ‘No’ is the answer, although don’t neglect the extent to which the Ottomans were propped up by the European powers in the 19th century.

Unless you are talking in a highly abstract sense in which the answer is probably ‘yes’ but it’s not what I was talking about in my earlier posts.

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alex 07.02.10 at 12:38 pm

Nice to see this is still going. Not sure where it’s going, but there it is. One does well to separate a view on how Western Imperialism should be seen as an historical phenomenon from questions of how one thinks the world ought to be run today [unless one is Niall Ferguson, of course]. Compared to the general run of human history, Western Imperialism was pretty meh when it comes to unpleasantness. [Roman amphitheatre, anyone? Aztec blood-sacrifice? Iroquois torture-stake?]

Compared to what came immediately after it, at least in terms of global ideals [I refer you to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, on the drafting-panel of which were several ‘imperialist’ representatives] it looks jolly unpleasant. But then so does everything else that ever happened in history, with the exception of a few rare and possibly semi-mythical golden ages such as that of Ashoka.

Therefore the question is, does the globalised and industrialised economy achieved under imperialism, and the wide and diverse public sphere of intellectuals and critics that was allowed to flourish by its masters [oh yes they were!] have anything to do with the sudden repudiation of the previous millennia of human dedication to defining some of us as ‘other’, inferior and ripe for exploitation? Or is the whole thing just a miraculous coincidence? You could try, I suppose, to make the argument that the ‘goodies’ were so repelled by Imperialism’s excesses that they summoned up their opposition out of thin air, but, gosh, is there a lot of ‘othering’ involved in that idea.

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ajay 07.02.10 at 1:05 pm

181: why not?

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Hidari 07.02.10 at 1:43 pm

#Because it’s not generally thought of as being part the European Imperialist ‘project’, which had a mainly Christian ideology, and was more orientated towards conquest via sea (European Empires after the 16th century tended to be sea empires, whereas before this time period, empires tended to be land empires, although, as with all generalisations, there were exceptions). The Ottoman Empire was more of a land empire (although it had an efficient navy, and it was based round the mediterranean).

OTOH, the fact that the Ottomans were known in the 19th century as ‘the sick man of Europe‘ shows that at least some people saw them as being part of Europe, and the extent to which the Turks are, or are not, part of Europe is still a live issue (cf Turkey’s bid to join the EU). As I pointed out earlier, the other European powers spent much of the 19th century attempting to keep the Ottoman Empire from collapsing, so they certainly didn’t view it as being wholly ‘other’.

But I don’t really understand why you are asking me, or what you think would have been proved if the answer was ‘no’ (or ‘yes’ for that matter).

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Kaveh 07.02.10 at 1:51 pm

@179 The same events that seem to constitute retrogression to Islamist dominated government can also be described as progression from military dictatorship to modern Abrahamic religion based democracy.

Even the term “religion-based” seems misleading to me. Has the basis of government changed? It’s one thing for the ruling party’s ideology to elevate a certain Abrahamic religion, but the constitution hasn’t changed, the laws mostly haven’t changed. Surely there is more talk of religion in Turkish politics now, and attempt to improve ties with neighboring countries, including Muslim countries, but then also including Armenia and Greece. It’s hard not to see the cries of “Islamist government!” as some combination of overly credulous acceptance of sob stories from sore losers in the secularist military elite that used to dominate Turkish politics, and Islam derangement syndrome–if Turkey isn’t at loggerheads with ALL its Muslim neighbors (as any reasonable country MUST be, because those countries are all full of FANATICS!–and Turkey is even more suspect because it’s predominantly Muslim itself!), then it must be because Turkey is becoming part of the Great Islamofascist Conspiracy! If Turkey isn’t solidly allied with Israel and forbidding its citizens to wear their hair the way they want, then it’s not really secular. That’s not a standard of secularism that any non-Muslim, non-Middle Eastern country would be held to–even the stricter French understanding of laicité doesn’t require such things.

@177 The Russians in the late 1700s or early 1800s might, of course, have benefited from a state of immediate-post-Imperial chaos just like the British did. But the Muslim parts of Central Asia that Russia conquered, combined, have only a small fraction (10-20%?) of the population of India. India is also much farther away from Russia. They would have to have supply lines from Russia all the way through Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, &c., over an extra mountain range or two, and relatively few if any of the needed supplies could be found within Central Asia itself. Also, I think the armies that conquered India from the west (under Alexander the Great, Mahmud of Ghazna, Babur, &c.) only conquered some territory in the northwest–around the Indus River, in what is now Pakistan–which is overall only a very small part of what is now (and what was, by the end of the Mughal Empire) India. Also they did so at a time when the available technology afforded large forces of light cavalry (or highly trained, mobile infantry) a much greater advantage relative to armies that could be mustered by bureaucratic agrarian states than was the case in the 1700s.

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Hektor Bim 07.02.10 at 2:01 pm

ajay @177:

Yes, invading from the Northwest has been done successfully by people who were native to the area and controlled it. Russia never controlled Afghanistan successfully (and failed spectacularly to do so in more modern times), and most of Soviet Central Asia was fundamentally different from Afghanistan, being much more flat, for instance.

The British had a huge manpower advantage and all the wealth of India and never managed to conquer Afghanistan. I’m surprised that you think the Russians would have magically done so with the insanely long supply lines they would have needed.

And this would be after the Indians or whatever successor states were extremely well-versed in modern tactics and armaments.

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Hektor Bim 07.02.10 at 2:03 pm

Sorry Kaveh, I see you are already on the case.

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Hidari 07.02.10 at 2:08 pm

Following on from my last post, I should have pointed out that when Mehmed II conquered Constantinople he took the title ‘Caeser’, and he argued that, if only by virtue of conquest, he was now the ‘next in line’ (so to speak) of the Byzantine (ie. Eastern Roman Empire) line of Emperors: he was also related to various Byzantine nobility by blood, so this claim wasn’t that outlandish.

If one accepts this line of reasoning then the Ottomans were absolutely part of the European imperialist project (which took much of its inspiration from Rome). This argument also depends on how similar one considers Islam to be to Christianity.

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ajay 07.02.10 at 2:56 pm

This argument also depends on how similar one considers Islam to be to Christianity

Some contemporary Christians thought that Islam was basically a Christian heresy. See the very good William Dalrymple, “From the Holy Mountain”. (Who I think also points out that an early Christian walking into a modern mosque would feel quite at home, but would feel completely puzzled by a modern cathedral.) There were other heresies which denied the divinity of Christ, after all.

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Kaveh 07.02.10 at 3:22 pm

@ Hidari, ajay, and others, re the Ottoman Empire being imperialist, doesn’t it basically boil down to a somewhat arbitrary choice to use the word “imperialism” for certain modalities of empire, but not for empires in general? Do we even generally use “imperialism” for the Spanish Empire? There’s nothing about the Ottoman or Spanish Empires that makes them less *imperial* than the British Empire, and we don’t call their imperial ideologies “imperialist”, afaik, because “imperialist” refers to the more hierarchical form sometimes taken by a set of diffuse commercial and diplomatic relationships whose primary purpose was commercial. Had imperial China, sometime between 1400 and 1800, tried to exercise direct governing authority over Southeast Asia, where there was already a large Chinese diaspora doing business, that would be “imperialist” in this sense. Chinese in Southeast Asia were not agents of the Ming or Qing governments, they didn’t try to rule over local populations. The presence of Muslim traders led to conversion of local rulers to Islam, and/or attempts by Muslim elites in Indonesia to conquer territory and bring it under their own rule, but they were doing so as independent local rulers who happened to be Muslim, not as agents of any other political entity that was to govern parts of Indonesia, even indirectly, from abroad. The Portuguese in S E Asia made a lot (most?) of their money from local shipping routes, not from shipping raw materials or spices to Portugal.

@182 Were the famines in which millions died in India, much less the atrocities committed in the Congo, really “pretty meh” compared to the Roman amphitheater and Aztec sacrifices? In terms of overall numbers of people involved, the latter two things were at least a few orders of magnitude smaller in scale. And relative to the sizes of the populations, did the Aztec sacrifices or Roman amphitheater kill off half, or all of any large population?

As for the Declaration of Human Rights and other responses, any kind of “excess” can provoke a more or less effective response intended to prevent that excess from being committed in the future. Just like the struggle against industrial-scale racially-based slavery (as was practiced by Europeans, in the Americas) and segregation in the US led to a stronger discourse of civil rights in the US and Europe, which is then broadened to other social struggles. And the Holocaust helped give anti-Semitism a bad name, and greatly reduced its importance, although it hasn’t even completely disappeared in Europe. The response is part of the legacy. But another part of the legacy is that the damage was done. In the case of colonialism, part of that damage is the continuation of those same exploitative relationships between local “native” elites and foreign corporations or governments that were produced by colonialism.

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Keir 07.02.10 at 3:27 pm

Er, notable and reasonably complete invasions of India from the north-west: the Aryans*; the Mughals (severally times over on that one.)

* yes a bit dodgy but.

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Kaveh 07.02.10 at 3:44 pm

Doing a quick google search, I see people do talk about “Spanish imperialism”, but “British imperialism” gets many times more hits (~900k to 40k). It does seem to me that there is a convention of using “imperialist” in a narrower sense than “imperial”, but I don’t know if or when anyone has spelled out the difference.

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Bunbury 07.02.10 at 4:26 pm

@Kaveh,
It might have to do with the proclamation of Queen Victoria as Empress of India, an occasion of conscious and literal imperialism as opposed to greedy merchants, missionaries, proto cold warriors or aid workers taking care of business.

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Hidari 07.02.10 at 4:36 pm

#189

Indeed. ‘The Ebionites were a Jewish-Christian sect that insisted on the necessity of following Jewish religious law and rites. They regarded Jesus as the Messiah but not as divine. The Ebionites used only the Jewish Gospels, revered James the Just as the head of the Jerusalem Church and rejected Paul of Tarsus as an apostate towards the Law….Some scholars argue that they contributed to the development of the Islamic view of Jesus due to exchanges of Ebionite remnants with the first Muslims.’

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebionites

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Hektor Bim 07.02.10 at 5:25 pm

Early Christians did consider Islam a Christian heresy, and there was ample evidence for them to do so. Early Muslims prayed to Jerusalem and used the Old Testament along with the Koran. The absolute emphasis on Arabic and the oneness of God and the conflict with Christianity developed later. See also the harshness of early Muslim rulers against Jews who refused to become Muslims. It exactly parallels the response of the early Christians.

It is possible to consider Islam a highly developed Arabic fusion of Arianism with other Christian “heretic” cults of the time.

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