By Jennifer Pitts
A dramatic shift in British and French principles approximately empire opened up 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 first and foremost of this era to criticize ecu empires as unjust in addition to politically and economically disastrous for the conquering international locations. by means of the mid-nineteenth century, although, the main trendy 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 growth turned extra triumphalist, much less nuanced, and no more tolerant of cultural distinction. whilst, imperial growth in a foreign country got here to be visible as a political undertaking that will support the emergence of sturdy liberal democracies inside Europe. Pitts indicates 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 symbolize no longer an important characteristic of liberal proposal yet a notable departure from perspectives shared by way of accurately these late-eighteenth-century thinkers whom Mill and Tocqueville observed as their forebears. Fluently written, A flip to Empire deals a singular evaluation of recent political notion and overseas justice, and an illuminating standpoint on carrying on with debates over empire, intervention, and liberal political commitments.
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Extra info for A Turn to Empire: The Rise of Imperial Liberalism in Britain and France
17) Efforts to impose radical societal change, Smith suggests, are likely to be ineffective or even dangerous. Smith’s attention to the unforeseen consequences of human action produces a tempered approach to politics without putting a halt to political action or efforts toward improvement and reform. 36 If, as moral and political agents, we understand the moral order or logic of society to be partly opaque to us, we will be more tempered in our efforts to deploy great power, and especially violence, for distant and uncertain ends.
J. 34 Similarly, Hugh Mulligan, the author of a 1788 work entitled Poems Chieﬂy on Slavery and Oppression and dedicated to Wilberforce, linked British oppression of West Indian slaves with British depredations in India, Ireland, and Africa in a series of four dialogues in verse. 35 It is striking that this marriage of “humanitarian” causes had fallen apart by the end of the eighteenth century. Whereas the opposition to slavery spread in the early decades of the next century beyond the coterie of reformers and intellectuals that had ﬁrst led the movement, to be taken up by much wider circles, evangelical and otherwise, such unqualiﬁed criticism of British actions in India faded by the late 1790s.
Despite Smith’s own nonjudgmental approach to non-European societies, it is unsurprising that his theory of development may have left an ambivalent legacy: that the categories and historical arguments he introduced were deployed by others to justify civilizing imperial rule. 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).
A Turn to Empire: The Rise of Imperial Liberalism in Britain and France by Jennifer Pitts