Monday, November 28, 2011

The Grand Old British Empire

The British Empire has many detractors these days, at times it can seem like most can be found in Britain itself. However, I have always and will always count myself among those who defend the British Empire and the legacy of that historic entity today. It is quite beyond my powers of comprehension how anyone in the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth or even the English-speaking world could fail to look back on the British Empire without a surge of pride. It was, after all, the largest empire in the history of the world, one of the longest lasting and certainly one of the most influential. Today, the legacy of the British Empire is often attacked as many try to either minimize or ignore it or, when it is acknowledged, regard it as having a purely negative impact on the world. They paint the history of the British Empire in the blackest of terms and do their best to make even modern day Britons suffer or at least feel ashamed of the alleged “crimes” of the British Empire and their colonial or imperialist ancestors. Even the word “empire” or the word “imperialist” is today, virtually everywhere, regarded as purely and inarguably negative. I take a very different view, both of such a context and of the British Empire itself.

First of all, the word “empire” should have no negative connotations. It comes down to us from ancient Rome, predating even the Roman Empire. The word “imperium” was used even by the Roman Republic simply to express legal authority. The Roman Imperium was wherever Roman law held sway. There should be nothing inherently positive or negative about it. Today the word “empire” has become so widespread as simply a negative label to apply to things we don’t like that it has really become a word without a real meaning at all. In the good old days of the British Empire, of course, things were a little more straightforward. The British Empire was that part of the world united by the authority of the British Crown. It started with the plantations in Ireland, put down roots on the east coast of North America, spread to the Caribbean, Africa, India and Asia and Australia. The great figures of history are today often looked upon scornfully as being greedy, cruel and ruthless whereas in the past they were celebrated as ambitious, bold adventurers who accomplished great deeds which benefited not only themselves but almost everyone around them to one degree or another.

Of course, none of these men were perfect from Raleigh to Clive to Rhodes. Neither was every page of British imperial history a proud one. Individuals will always be fallible, some policies were benevolent and some were rather horrible; such is the history of human beings. The eradication of the Thugee cult in India, for example, was a great service to the subcontinent. The Opium Wars, on the other hand, were a terrible injustice (not perpetrated by Britain alone) and quite a shameful episode on the whole. However, the relatively few ugly incidents should not blind us from the immense good that was accomplished by the British Empire nor intimidate proud Britons from defending their exceptional place in history. Were it not for the British Empire the world today would be a very, very different place and, I happen to think, were it still around it would be a better place for a great many people in the world.

The British Empire was so large, so successful and so long-lasting because it worked. Simple as that. It was, generally, well administered, pragmatic, moderate and profitable. The British Empire brought prosperity to many areas of the world, brought the benefits of civilization, modern technology and genuine progress to many corners of the globe that had previously known only darkness, and isolated stagnation. Because of the British Empire, huge masses of people, whole populations which had been living in poverty, unhealthy conditions and ignorance received the benefits of schools, modern medicine, electricity, clean water, modern hygiene and eventually automobiles, trains and all the benefits of modern civilization. The exchange of goods, services, ideas and innovative methods caused areas which had once known only the harshest struggles of survival to improve their livelihoods, produce surpluses and thus a way out of the cycle of poverty. Local people, that is native people and not simply British colonists, gained an education and employment in the colonial administration. Nor is it true that the history of the British Empire is one of an endless succession of cruelty. In fact, the British Empire was one of the most humane in history, they were simply quite adept (though not perfect) at knowing when to be firm or even harsh and when to be compassionate and tolerant.

For example, when the British took over the French territory of Canada, early indications were that British rule would be harsh and intolerant. However, the British won the loyalty of the local population by recognizing French law, granting toleration to Catholicism and removing references to Protestantism in the oath of allegiance. It was a winning policy as in the American Revolution that followed later, not only did Canada remain loyal but French Canadian leaders and bishops zealously supported the royal cause. South Africa was another example. The war against the Dutch settlers had been bitter and ferocious (even seeing the first use of the concentration camp) but once Britain was victorious they did not treat the Boers as a conquered enemy but made them partners in the British Empire, ensuring the staunch support of the South Africans in both World Wars that followed. Ultimately the former enemies worked together to make South Africa the most advanced and prosperous country on the African continent. In India, where Britain has been much criticized, the fact remains that local traditions, customs and religions were maintained under British rule. Intolerance and wars of religion only emerged after independence. The extent to which the British were able to work well in cooperation with the native population is seen in the fact that such a relatively small island, half-way around the world, was able to administer an entire sub-continent with fewer troops than the French republic garrisoned in Indochina alone.

There were times and places, of course, when British rule was much less admirable than it should have been. However, in almost every case these mistakes were, in time, recognized and corrected while still within the British Empire. This would not have happened if the British people had not been a generally moral and upright people. The slave trade and slavery itself was ended in the British Empire, not by brute force or outside intervention but because the British people themselves came to recognize it as an unjust and inhumane practice, abolishing it long before much of the rest of the world. During the early days of the colonization of America and over the course of conflicts with France, Britain had employed quite harsh tactics against the American Indians and yet, they changed and later championed their rights. In the American Revolution, most sided with the British and even over a century later, American Indians who were under threat risked life and limb to reach the Dominion of Canada where they knew they would be better treated and their rights respected. The British Empire, despite mistakes in some areas at some times, was a beacon of civilization, justice and peace for the most part.

However, at the end of the day, the best, most concrete and pragmatic evidence for the British Empire as, overall, a force for good in the world, is a simple look at the world today, decades after the dissolution of it. The fact remains that if you look at the world today, the countries in which people enjoy the most personal freedom, the most stable governments, which are the most prosperous and enjoy the highest standards of living are, for the most part, countries which were once a part of the British Empire. If you look beyond Europe, in almost every corner of the world, the most successful nations are children of the British Empire; whether one considers Canada and the United States in North America, South Africa on the African continent, India, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand in Asia and the Pacific. If you look at the GDP per capita of nations outside Europe, topping the list are the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan along with former Japanese possessions such as Taiwan and South Korea (and observing that one cannot help but note the degree to which Japan had taken the British Empire as its role model early on) it would be hard to downplay the significant and positive impact of the British Empire on world history. Everyone of every nationality who played a part in it should feel a sense of righteous pride about the British Empire.


  1. I agree. The British Empire was a great Force of Good. However, the Demonisation of it is useful for those wanting to press “the new order”. Most people who spoke about a need for a global state or a New Socialism had to demonise the present, and now past situation to justify such changes. A Relatively benign, even good and just British Empire lends to the question of why it must be opposed in favour of a new World State or United Europe? Its sort of there same with King George and America. If Americans admit he was a good man and decent King, the Revolution looses its heroic Impetus. Once he’s seen as a Tyrant and Despot, once he is declared arrogant and uncaring, its easy to hate him and justify the Revolt. Once the British Empire is seen as a great oppressor and bringer of inequality and injustice, its easy to see why it must be torn down and a new, social democracy set in its place.

    I think the British Empire was demonised to simply create a legitimacy for the New thinking that replaced it.

    I also think that you are right, the British were a Moral, Christian Nation whose main society was motivated by a strong sense of Right and Wrong informed by the Bible. Today, Britain is s Amoral and the convictions based on a morality rooted in the same Modernism and Humanism that drove the Jacobins and the Bolsheviks. Britain’s power and prestige in the World today comes from its past, yet its present generation despises. Modern Britain wouldn’t be able to create the power that she enjoys, and is actually seeing that power ebb away like France did; thanks to this “new Humanity” they want to create.

    I agree that if the British Empire had endured the world would be better, as it would be more stable, but only if the Moral Collapse of Britain and switch from Christianity to the new religion of secular Humanism had not occurred. Lets face reality, even the so-called Tories today are Pro-European union and snit-Empire, and would likely get rid of the Empire after forcing gay Rights and Wealth Redistribution down everyone’s throats so that they can be “modern’ and be proper Europeans.

    In the News recently a Tory Lord Heseltine said Britain will joint he Euro to show where the thinking is. Its like they want British Culture to die off and be replaced by “Europe”.

    But this is the world we live in.

  2. That is true, and I try not to let it bother me, but it can be very difficult. I feel it especially where there is no one to defend the royal position. In places like China or Vietnam, the Qing or the Nguyen dynasties must be vilified because each republican faction (whether nationalist or communist) has to justify their existence. What bothers me about the British Empire is the flagrant ingratitude so often on display. I think of Quebec, where republicanism is rampant today, yet which would have been drowned in an American flood had it not been for the British Empire that protected them and gave them a special status. In the same way, Britain lost many of her colonies in Africa because she insisted on equal rights for Blacks when the ruling White governments would have none of it. Yet, once the Blacks gained power none of these governments have shown any appreciation for this but simply jumped on the 'blame every problem on colonialism' bandwagon. I see it in places from Canada to Australia where anything seen as "British" is "colonial" and therefore bad, when none of these glorious countries would exist had it not been for those colonialists of the British Empire. So, keep the monarchy, keep the flag (Australia) as it's the least one can do to show a little gratitude to your own ancestors.

  3. gratitude is a mark of Honour in the old ways, the new is abotu self indulgence, and ingratirude is a way to make yourself feel like yu alone matter and have produced all you have even when living off an inheritance.

  4. An interesting question is whether the same can be said of the other colonial Empires. The Germans really didn't have enough time to leave an impression, for one.
    The French colonies in America generally handled the natives far more appropriately, I think, but less so in Africa, and in my opinion, our attempt to incorporate Algeria into France was a huge mistake considering everything that resulted of it (most of the French right is sympathetic to France-Algeria, but I'm with de Gaulle on that issue to some degree). The Belgians had the whole fiasco with the Congo, and the Italians are like the Germans.
    While France had the second largest colonial Empire of all time, it doesn't seem to have left nearly the same kind of legacy that the British Empire did. I imagine it is mainly due to a more casual non centralized organization, but also perhaps because we've been more focused on Europe than on the World in our expansion.

  5. That would require a whole other post or several to go into. In each, there were circumstances which prevented them reaching the heights of the British Empire (in France it certainly didn't help having so many rapidly changing governments at critical times) but I will say, as I have said before, unpopular though it may be, that in almost every case these countries were better off as part of their respective colonial empires than they have been since independence.

  6. This is very true.

    I also like pointing to our tumultuous recent history as evidence that republicanism is unstable, and that we've been far better off in the periods of monarchy than the numbered Republics. I mean, in the last 200 years, we've had five different republics. Five! I don't think the current one will last much longer either, it's wholly corrupt.

  7. The sun never sets in the British Empire! I've always looked to the British Empire with awe but these PC people all want to say "Empire" is a bad thing and the British colonialism in general ruined the world. But that cannot be right because most of the present day Commonwealth nations seem to do better than many other nations in general. Yeah, there are many parts that did not make me proud, such as the concentration camps in South Africa... I know it was made originally to shelter civilians but it turned out far worse than it was intended to be. The fall of the British Empire signified the coming of another age... not one about the mighty Christian Empire of the little island crowning Europe, but a Britain full of moral relativism, democracy, secularism, etc; Britain lost a lot of the traits that made her once the envy of this world.

    Yeah the French did not make nearly as much of an impact as the British, the Dutch only cared about raising their economy and not their territories, and the rest such as Italian or German overseas colonies are unheard of (though Kaiser Wilhelm II wanted Germany to have her own place under the sun out of respect to the British). I only hear about Algeria, Cochinchina and New Caledonia, the latter used as a penal colony. We all know what happened in Mexico, and I still shudder at what they did to Madagascar. They attacked Joseon at 1866 but left due to the lack of interest in that peninsula overall... I suppose they had many opportunities but many times they just did not go all the way through. Napoleon III was always hesitant because he never wanted to do anything without the British's help... and when he did stuff alone it spelt disaster. He was doing fine domestically so I suppose during that time he was able to turn his interests to the other nations in the world. The Third French Republic was ironically the most imperial France has ever become and that's when it gained its status as the second largest empire at that time, but still paled to the British. Maybe it is because of what you say; their government keeps shifting and internal crises prevented them from achieving as much as the British. Britain had always been an exception and even escaped the 1848 Revolution... maybe they're just special.

    Wow. Word verification is: liess

  8. Unlike most empires in history, the British Empire never really fell, it just sort of gradually evolved (some might say degenerated) into the Commonwealth of Nations.

    I think a real opportunity was lost after WWII to transform the Commonwealth into a stronger economic and military alliance with the monarch as the central unifying figure. Instead, they started admitting republics beginning with India in 1950, and the Commonwealth turned into a more decentralized, looser-knit organization, while Britain cozied up to continental Europe. Why, I have no idea. Can anyone argue with a straight face that the UK has more in common with Poland than it does with Canada, or with Italy than Australia? Britain's proper place was, and remains, in the Commonwealth, not the EU.

    Even today, the 16 Commonwealth realms have a combined GDP of $5.4 trillion, which is larger than Japan, China, or Germany. Taken individually, they might not be major world superpowers, but collectively, they could still be a major force in the world - instead, the HM's dominions are more disunited today than they were 60 years ago. Take all 54 members together, and you've got an even bigger force, but its those 16 that are the "real" Commonwealth.

    Still, just the fact that 52 former British colonies (plus 2 others) have opted to voluntarily remain a part of an international organization nominally headed by the Queen rather than all go their totally separate ways shows that at some level, they still recognize that they were/are better off working together with each other and with Britain.

  9. As to Britain loosing all that made it great, I agree. This was however by design. The same story passed by the Jacobins too, only modified for the modern world. The idea that religion is primitive and rejects Science, and promotes hatred and ignorance, and the wonders of Secularism as the way to advance forward in Science and discovery and create peace is a powerful one, even if false. So is the claim of Universal peace via the embrace of Modernist ideas.

    Britain embraced the Humanist Religion, and be assured it is a Religion, when its educated elites decided that this was “the new way’. You can trace its origins in the 19th century by simply reading H. G. Wells and his blather about new Morals and a World sate, or Bertrand Russell saying much the same thing. Britain’s leading intellects wanted to embrace this so jumped on the bandwagon of demonising Christianity and the Empire and promoting the dissolution of British Culture for the much better alternative they proposed. They seem to have succeeded in changing the society but the promised better world never came, as it never does. It never came for the Jacobins either, or for the Bolsheviks, or even for Eve when the Serpent told her basically the same thing.

    In other words, Britain tossed away its Heritage for a bowl of lentils soup ,made in Brussels, and it seems that unless the Children of this generation fight to take it back, they will forever be dependant on Brussels for their daily Gruel.

  10. Rob, the problem is Religious, as I said. I am often in trouble when I say everyone is religious, but I mean it. When you boil it down Religion is just our beliefs about our world and how we should Live.

    Starting in the 18th century the Revolutionary model based on Locke’s Global Republic has basically taken over, though it has evolved over Time. In the 19th century in Britain and America, as well as Europe, the idea of a World State, based around Republican and Egalitarian principals was crafted and has become the Civic Religion that we follow, much like in America how Americans follow a Civic Religion based on the Constitution and American founding Principles.

    The Global Civic Religion is inexorably tied to Secular Humanism, itself a religion like Christianity, though not called one.

    Men like H. G. Wells and Bertrand Russell in the late 19th and early 20th century both were influenced by, and influenced the Academic Elites in Britain and convinced them of the New Order to come, in which the world should stand as a United mankind (Now Humankind) under a global, united Authority.

    Part of this Narrative was rooted in a Brotherhood of Man ( Listen to John lemons Imagine, its based on the same idea) and in the need to relinquish the old Ways of Life we have that divide us. A Strong component of this is the belief that in order for a new Civilisation to be Born, the Old Civilisation has to die.

    Besides, as Prince has stated, the old order was dominated by Christianity and a moral Code that was very different from what the Humanists push.

    Ripping apart the British Empire, as well as abolishing the Class system and eventually the Monarchy, have always been central to the belief in Eternal progress and the development of the higher and more enlightened Humanity. You can’t build the New till you tear down the Old.

    This is why all things traditional, all things Christian, and all things British come under Heavy Fire, for it has to be abolished so the New man can come.

    The general hope in the short term is that British people start thinking of themselves first as European with European values and beliefs, not as British. The hope is that all European nations will unite under a common Philosophy ( that’s is not called Religion but is in all but name the same hing0 and common Political unity, which should be easy if you follow Rousseau and think of us as blank slates at birth.

    The idea is to see everyone as the same and break down those Cultural boarders that have been erected over Time. To do this they imply recondition everyone so they become the same, and toss aside the old ways, which will be forgotten.

    This Myth has been around a long time. John Locke wrote of it, as did Robert Bellamy, and in a way it’s the Vision that Animated Star Trek.

    If you read Marx, then read “The Shape Of things To Come’ by H. G. Wells, you will see what I mean. The intention is to intentionally abolish the existing cultures and replace them with the new Civilisation based on the “Rational” and “Scientific” principals that enable progress. The story really has not changed all that much either.

    The hope is to integral Europe into a single bloc that has moved beyond its regional cultures and into a new Civilisation, overcoming the cultural differences by simply removing the cultures and replacing them with a new one they all share.

    The Empire and the links to the Commonwealth have to be demonised and cast down as horrible in order to make this work. It’s the same reason why King George the Third is seen as a godless awful tyrant whose personal disposition was Arrogant and petty and vindictive by Americans. Its needed to Justify the Revolution.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...