A Turn to Empire: The Rise of Imperial Liberalism in Britain by Jennifer Pitts

By Jennifer Pitts

A dramatic shift in British and French rules approximately empire spread out within the sixty years straddling the flip of the 19th century. As Jennifer Pitts indicates in A flip to Empire, Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, and Jeremy Bentham have been between many initially of this era to criticize ecu empires as unjust in addition to politically and economically disastrous for the conquering countries. through the mid-nineteenth century, despite the fact that, the main popular British and French liberal thinkers, together with John Stuart Mill and Alexis de Tocqueville, vigorously supported the conquest of non-European peoples. Pitts explains that this mirrored an increase in civilizational self-confidence, as theories of human development turned extra triumphalist, much less nuanced, and no more tolerant of cultural distinction. even as, imperial growth in another country got here to be visible as a political venture that will support the emergence of reliable liberal democracies inside Europe. Pitts exhibits that liberal thinkers often celebrated for respecting not just human equality and liberty but additionally pluralism supported an inegalitarian and decidedly nonhumanitarian overseas politics. but such moments characterize now not an important function of liberal idea yet a notable departure from perspectives shared through accurately these late-eighteenth-century thinkers whom Mill and Tocqueville observed as their forebears. Fluently written, A flip to Empire deals a singular overview of recent political notion and foreign justice, and an illuminating viewpoint on carrying on with debates over empire, intervention, and liberal political commitments.

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Additional resources for A Turn to Empire: The Rise of Imperial Liberalism in Britain and France

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Conversely, the stagnation attributed to the Indian economy by nineteenth-century Britons was due in part to the effects of British rule itself. Thus when nineteenth-century Britons contrasted their own progressive society with backward India, they were observing, on both sides of the comparison, phenomena that had not existed before 1790 and that were partly the consequences of colonial rule. 40 Kenneth Pomeranz’s painstaking comparisons of economic data in the eighteenth century suggest that standards of living, mortality and fertility rates, quality of manufactures, and technological innovativeness were comparable in the most economically advanced areas of Asia (the Yangzi valley, parts of Japan, and Bengal) and Europe (England and the Netherlands).

Since at least the late seventeenth century Europeans had sought explanations for the emergence of modern states and commercial activity, for the diversity of societies about which ethnographic information was increasingly prolific, and for the apparent similarities between Europe’s own past and some contemporary societies (such as indigenous Americans or nomadic Arabs). 2 In many other hands, developmental theories undergirded a European chauvinism very unlike Smith’s tolerant impartiality, and were used to justify the colonial conquests he abhorred.

While Smith regarded commercial society as an improvement over earlier forms, he was at the same time conscious that such a view could be an all too easy self-deception. “The over-weening conceit which the greater part of men have of their own abilities, is an antient evil remarked by the philosophers and moralists of all ages. Their absurd presumption in their own good fortune, has been less taken notice of. ”4 Smith’s attention to the temptations of civilizational self-satisfaction was shared by several of his Scottish contemporaries, notably Adam Ferguson, William Robertson, and James Dunbar, all of whom were in fact more explicit than Smith about the attendant dangers for the victims of European imperial expansion.

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