Skip to comments.The British Empire -- Vindicated
Posted on 11/04/2011 6:50:09 AM PDT by Kaslin
As many Americans no longer believe in American exceptionalism and others believe America's greatness is guaranteed to extend perpetually, we could all benefit by reviewing the history of the British Empire, the realm from which we sprung and acquired so much.
By the time most baby boomers were born, the British Empire had declined. The Nazis and Japanese had been defeated in World War II, and two major military powers -- the United States and the Soviet Union -- were faced off at the beginning of a nearly half-century-long struggle we call the Cold War.
The great British Empire, which dominated the world mere decades before, was rarely in our current events radar, and it got little better treatment in our history courses, except as the villain we had to defeat in two wars to attain our independence and as the waning world power whose chestnuts we had saved from Adolf Hitler's fire. Oh, how much we missed, not just of British history but of our own, because we can't fully appreciate our greatness without understanding much more about our immediate ancestor.
But there's an easy way to make up for all that lost time, a way to fill in the gaps and much more. My friend Harry Crocker's "Politically Incorrect Guide to the British Empire" has just been released, and it's a one-stop shop for telling us all we should have learned about that empire and precisely how much we owe it.
We remain in awe of the enormity and dominance of the Roman Empire -- and rightly so -- but did you realize that at its height, the British Empire was the largest empire ever, covering a quarter of the world -- even half, if you consider its control of the oceans -- and governing a quarter of the people on the planet?
Though it is de rigueur today to condemn British colonialism, Harry not only defends the Brits' colonial achievements but also unashamedly champions them. "The empire," he writes, "was incontestably a good thing. The fact that it is controversial to say so is why this book had to be written. In the groves of academe, colonialism and imperialism are dirty words, the fons et origo of Western expansion with all its alleged sins of racism, capitalism, and ignorant, judgmental, hypocritical Christian moralism."
In keeping with the book's title, Harry rejects this politically correct view. To him, "to hate the British Empire is to hate ourselves, for the United States would not exist if not for the British Empire." Harry means that the British not only established our chartered colonies but also largely populated those settlements and gave us our language, culture, government and, most importantly, our ideas of liberty and the rule of law, including our critically important common law heritage.
The empire has far from a perfect record, and Harry doesn't hide the blemishes, but he also gives us the other side -- finally -- and that other side is impressive.
Long before continental Europe went through its turbulent revolutionary period, which ultimately led to republican government, the British had firmly established the roots of free institutions, limited government and impartial justice. And if not for the British command of the high seas and its fierce resistance to French imperialism -- a wholly different kind of imperialism from the British variety -- Napoleon Bonaparte might have completed his world conquest and we could be speaking French today -- a circumstance that many of our liberal elites would undoubtedly welcome.
Moreover, despite America's essential intervention in World War II, there was a point in that war in which Britain, led by the extraordinary statesman Winston Churchill, stood alone against Hitler's Third Reich, which was backed by the Soviet Union, Benito Mussolini's Italy and Imperial Japan. Had Britain lacked just a little bit of resolve, the war might have been over before we entered. I shudder to think what might have happened, how different our own history would have been.
There is also no question that Britain did more to abolish the slave trade (1807) and slavery itself (1833) than any other nation or empire. It also led the pack in the Industrial Revolution, which did more to accelerate the advance to modernity than the advent of democracy in continental Europe.
We read a lot about the evils of British colonialism, but it's time to look at the other side of the coin. There's no doubt that in their colonial expansion, the British were partially (and justifiably) guided by their self-interest -- pride, profit and patriotism -- but the ultimate justification for retaining the empire was the benefits it brought to the governed.
This book is thorough -- covering all periods and all territories of the empire -- and it's refreshing. And, as is the case with all of Harry's books, it is eminently fascinating and highly readable.
What were the key changes? I'd guess it was the defeat of the Dutch and then the French that put England on it's 180 year run at the top of the leagues (and it was THE superpower for 103 years from the defeat of Napoleon until the end of WWI.
Actually, my impression has been that the most radical, socialist types were likely to be in the forefront of domestic politics when the colonial powers left, so they would be the rulers of the new regime...and we all know what happens when liberals run a government.
The original post claimed that countries never colonised by the west were better off than those that had been. To whatever greater of lesser degree of influence the "colonial" western power exertedm, the balance of evidence favours the postulate that those countries that were colonised/occupied by western countries are better off economically as a result.
The constitution of post war Japan was essentially written by two senior US army officers over the objections of the post war Japanese politicians. The Japanese politicians wanted to amend the Meji constitution but were over-ruled by the US " Shogun". The rights of women in Japan would have been trampled on had it not been for the US imposing a western democratic model on the Japanese. Japan did not regain its soverignty until 1952. It may not have been a colony in the 19C sense of the word but it was in fact a protectorate of the US, which continues to a limited extent to this day. South Korea likewise owes its existence to the UN (read US and allies) and has been pushed and prodded into a Western Democratic model when it was flirting with authoritarian rule.
The British did not set out to build an Empire. Their interest was in trade, and much of their acquisition of empire was an attempt to protect their source of spices, etc. and their trade routes. In some cases, it was the result of protecting their citizens who had settled in foreign lands for their own reasons, as in N. America.
There were radical socialist types and then there were radical socialist types. The first kind left the colonial administrators in place to run things as they had before, only there was a new boss to rake in the profits. Those former colonies tended to keep some semblance of order and prosperity and the slide into the miasma of socialism was gradual. The other kind kicked out the colonial administrators, and then pancaked the country fairly quickly. Rhodesia/Zimbabwe is a very good recent case study on how that works.
The British did not invent the concentration camp.
The very word is an Anglicisation of the Spanish word ‘recontrados’. It was the Spanish who invented them, in Cuba.
It was unintentional, and when the full horror of the camps became known in Britain, there was a huge press, political and public outcry. The camps were immediately handed over to civilian control, and hundreds of doctors and nurses and thousands of tons of equipment headed to South Africa.
The deaths happened because the military made a terrible balls-up of running the camps, aliied to the Boers having a genetic suseptibility to certain diseases due to interbreeding (the Boers did not breed with the other European groups).
And your point about responsibility can be made just as much by me about YOUR treatment of the Native American (which makes the British treatment of the Boers look benevolent). Or are the Limeys only sinners?.
Again, the British did not invent the concentration camp.
That is a myth.
And in the process they brought a superior civilization to savages and other unsavory nations/tribes which was a moral good.
The Boers stole the country from the blacks, so lets not get teary eyed about it being ‘their’ country. And you are rather nieve about the Boers, who were just as ruthless and rapacious as the others.
Yawn. Dont you get bored with your Anglophobia?.
I know everyone else does.
It ceased to be England in 1707. And if any part of the UK punched above its weight, it was the Scots. From the mid 18th C to the end of Empire, it was a British Empire essentially run by the Scots.
England and Britain are not the same.
Your error is worse, because you mention Hong Kong, a British colony famously founded by two legendary Scotsman, Jardine and Mathieson.
Britain was THE superpower from 1763 to 1940.
I would therefore argue 177 years, not 103.
The former year was the end of the Seven Years War, which cemented British superiority in North America and the Atlantic, and weakened the French at sea and on land.
Britain had more territory in 1919 than ever before, had been the major Western country in the victory of WW1, and retained its preeminent military, political and economic power until that summer of 1940.
‘We remain in awe of the enormity and dominance of the Roman Empire — and rightly so — but did you realize that at its height, the British Empire was the largest empire ever, covering a quarter of the world — even half, if you consider its control of the oceans — and governing a quarter of the people on the planet?’
Dear me. I thought everyone knew this.
Most of the places that were British colonies were better off structurally, economically, and socially when they were colonies than they are now.
One of the greatest men of world history was William Wilberforce. Now sadly forgotten, he persuaded Parliament to abolish the slave trade and about thirty years later to abolish the practice throughout the Empire. Not only this but he was leader of the evangelical movement to reform the manners of the British people. Its lasting effect can be seen in the character of the nation that rallied behind Churchill to resist the takeover by Europe by Hitler and his minions. Compare his accomplishments with those of his contemporary Napoleon. Thank God that we have not entirely forgotten a man to whom we owe so much.