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 first and foremost 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, even though, the main famous 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 grew to become extra triumphalist, much less nuanced, and no more tolerant of cultural distinction. whilst, imperial growth overseas got here to be obvious as a political venture that will help the emergence of sturdy liberal democracies inside Europe. Pitts exhibits that liberal thinkers frequently celebrated for respecting not just human equality and liberty but additionally pluralism supported an inegalitarian and decidedly nonhumanitarian overseas politics. but such moments characterize no longer an important characteristic of liberal suggestion yet a extraordinary 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 review of recent political suggestion and foreign justice, and an illuminating viewpoint on carrying on with debates over empire, intervention, and liberal political commitments.

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

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John Stuart Mill, more reconciled to the prevailing political order in Britain than his father, was all the more confident that a British despotism was the best government to which backward societies could aspire, and also that such a despotism could be exercised knowledgeably and benignly to induce progress in such societies. Critics of empire in the eighteenth century regarded European imperial expansion as bound up with, and to some extent analogous to, the horrors of the slave trade and slavery.

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). Pomeranz has argued that it was not until the last decades of the eighteenth century that some western European economies became decisively more productive than those in parts of China, Japan, or India.

As we will see, he considered Bentham’s neglect of such categories and hierarchies one of the most important failings of Bentham’s thought. 49 As a result of these features of nineteenth-century philosophies of history and theories of progress, the very idea of linear development or progress has been described as imperialist in character. And yet Adam Smith’s theory of history and his broader moral and political theory show that there were eighteenth-century understandings of historical progress that could be developmental while resisting any implication that non-Europeans ought to be excluded from ordinary standards of political respect, inclusion, or reciprocity.

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