Forget ideology—listen to the voices of those who were ruledby Kwasi Kwarteng / August 22, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
French cartoon from 1898: China is being carved up by (left to right) Queen Victoria, Kaiser Wilhelm II, Tsar Nicolas II, the French Marianne, and the Meiji Emperor of Japan as, behind them, a Qing official protests in vain
The relationship between Islam and the west, the rise of tiger economies in Asia, and the modern-day role of the United States as world leader can all be illuminated by reference to the history of empire. Yet modern accounts of empire—or the British empire, at least—often focus too narrowly on whether it was a force for good or evil. Two major books last year proved the stubborn endurance of this ideological pursuit. Whereas Richard Gott’s Resistance, Repression and Revolt described the British empire as an exercise in brutal repression and violence, Niall Ferguson’s Civilization: The West and the Rest presented western imperialism as a somewhat benign force, promoting democracy, medicine and liberal economics.