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The Benefits Of Colonialism

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Here’s an interesting example of how political correctness – to use the term properly, not just a sneer at those who prefer gay to the phrase shirt lifter – leads to the killing of knowledge.

Colonialism was hardly a new thing. Kent was, post Romano-Britain, a colony of the Jutes from Denmark way. Roman Britain was, clearly, a colony. Both were also settler colonies, as Canada, the US etc later on. Much of central Europe was a Mongol colony for a time, among the benefits being that the Silk Road to China opened up again. True, plague seemed to have travelled along that route too but there we are, there are costs and benefits to everything.

We could slightly stretch the term and argue that the Sioux acquisition of the horse technology led to their colonising varied surrounding areas. Aztecs and Incas colonised geographically contiguous areas and so on and on across human history. The Bantu Expansion is nothing other than colonialism.

But colonialism now is taken to mean only that European carving up of the world in recent centuries. It is also taken to be unique and awful, even uniquely awful. Which is what leads to things like this:

Bruce Gilley’s book The Last Imperialist: Sir Alan Burns’ Epic Defense of the British Empire was due to be the first volume in a planned “Problems of Anti-Colonialism” series. That has now been scrapped after allegations that the avowed “pro-colonial” Professor Gilley endorsed “a white nationalist perspective”.

A petition by Joshua Moufawad-Paul, a Maoist philosopher, urging the withdrawal of the series by the publisher Rowman & Littlefield for allegedly lending “academic credibility” to “settler-colonial propaganda”, has gained almost 1,000 signatures on the petitions website change.org. Professor Moufawad-Paul, of York University in Canada, claimed that Professor Gilley had shown “a pig-headed refusal to deal with the rigorous historical analyses” that debunked his view of European colonialism as beneficial.

For any objective view has to conclude that there were benefits to that European colonialism. Sure, there were costs too, it’s the balance that matters. And answers there will differ dependent upon views on the value of political freedom and so on. Congo was vastly worse under Leopold, did pretty well post-WWII for a bit and now is back to where it was before Leopold, largely enough if we are to talk in simple economic terms. We could even argue that Venezuelan living standards were higher pre-Bolivar than they are now – although while that’s pretty much a stretch at present just wait for a bit more socialism to take place. Certainly Hong Kong as a colony did better than China as a place never colonised. We can go on with the examples, Jamaica is certainly better now than it was as a slave colony etc.

So, what’s the problem here then? Why isn’t there a reasonable back and forth about costs and benefits, instead we get this shrieking that it was all just awful?

According to Professor Gilley, who teaches political science at Portland State University, the “snowballing” of the petition on social media led to the cancellation of the series without explanation. He said it highlighted a grave threat to free speech. Professor Gilley, a self-declared “scourge of the academic left”, achieved notoriety in 2017 when his paper The Case for Colonialism argued that colonial rule was beneficial and legitimate. Independence had led to a “cesspool of human suffering” and western rule should be reintroduced in developing countries, it suggested.

Why doesn’t the academy allow the arguing of that case?

Sure, and I’m not an expert in global history but my answer would be the innate Marxism of that academy these days. Actually, the Leninism. For when he wrote about colonies he argued that Imperialism was the last gasp – as derived I think from Karl? – of the capitalist system. That reaching out to still try to make profits even as the domestic economies saw them vanish. Therefore colonies, colonialism, must be evil because capitalism, see? And anyone coming along and arguing that there might be benefits to such a system must be abjured, even silenced, for not to do so would call into question that bedrock belief in the evils of peeps owning stuff.

Of course, this is a circular argument, the proof of the innate Marxism being the screeching about the very idea that colonies might have brought benefits – even if not on net – to the colonised. But then some arguments simply are circular, logic does join up.

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7 COMMENTS

  1. I would, of course, call Professor Moufawad-Paul a wicked colonialist who should go back home and leave Canada to the white people who rightfully own it.

      • Always an entertaining question as to who rightfully owns anything.

        I do remember pointing out to my friend Leo that, as an Italian, he was a wicked colonialist because the Roman empire conquered England. He certainly wasn’t going to take any bullshit from me, so he pointed out that in that case we were probably cousins.

        Since part of the family came from Sussex, I had to concede his point. While laughing my head off.

  2. One of the problems is everything being called “Colony”, not helped by the name of the “Colonial” Office.

    No way was India a colony. Nobody uprooted their family from the wilds of Yorkshire to go and stake out some land in India and farm it and raise decendants and build a country. You did that in North America, the Antipodes, Kenya and The Cape. India, Hong Kong, Ghana were possessions. Jamaica, etc al were plantations. For the Russians they colonised New Russia, they possesed Siberia. The Romans colonised Gaul and Britannia, they possessed Greece and Judea.

    When is somebody going to decry SciFi such as Star Trek with their Colonevilising the galaxy? The Twelve Colonies of Battlestar Galactic must be forced to see the error of their ways. Andromeda Must Fall!

  3. There’s the old joke about my happy South Africa with God strewing truckloads of gold, diamonds, platinum, coal etc all over the show. Peter goes, “Why are you giving them so much?” God says, “Wait till you see the government I’m giving them.” And since my birth almost seventy years ago, those governments have been hellish. Rule by people of European descent usually has more benefits than costs for the European settlers. Not so much for the indigenes.

    • There’s an analogous joke about France:

      God creates this amazing country, with fantastic food and wine, great rivers, mountains, lakes and seashore. St Peter points out that with all this on hand, nobody will want to go to heaven. “I’ve thought of that,” says God … and creates the French.

  4. Always interesting to wonder if someone else conquering a place would have made it better or worse. For example I’d argue that the Brits were probably the best possible candidates to rule India. Though I’m sure the French and the Indians whole-heartedly disagree.

    One could argue that Zimbabwe might have been better off if the Brits hadn’t conquered it. But quite plainly the Zimbos were much worse off once Mugabe replaced the UK.

    I don’t think it’d have much difference if the Brits hadn’t seized South Africa from the Dutch. As for mainland Tanzania, I’d say German rule might have been better in some ways, worse in other.

    Of course, as for foreign conquerors, I’d definitely say the Spanish and Portuguese were better off not being ruled by the Mahometans. But this might just be because I don’t want the Mahometans to rule me.

    I certainly agree that the UK is definitely better off not being ruled by foreigners. But perhaps that’s just my xenophobia.

    On the whole, I’ d have to say I can’t come to any general conclusion. Except that for me personally, I don’t want anyone else buggering me around. I’m perfectly capable of making a mess of my affairs on my own thankyou.

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