By Jennifer Pitts
A dramatic shift in British and French rules approximately empire opened up within the sixty years straddling the flip of the 19th century. As Jennifer Pitts exhibits in A flip to Empire, Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, and Jeremy Bentham have been between many at the beginning of this era to criticize eu empires as unjust in addition to politically and economically disastrous for the conquering international locations. by way of the mid-nineteenth century, although, the main favourite 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 not more tolerant of cultural distinction. whilst, imperial enlargement out of the country got here to be visible as a political undertaking that may help the emergence of strong liberal democracies inside of Europe. Pitts indicates that liberal thinkers often celebrated for respecting not just human equality and liberty but in addition pluralism supported an inegalitarian and decidedly nonhumanitarian overseas politics. but such moments symbolize now not an important function of liberal notion yet a awesome departure from perspectives shared via accurately these late-eighteenth-century thinkers whom Mill and Tocqueville observed as their forebears. Fluently written, A flip to Empire bargains a unique evaluation of contemporary political proposal and overseas justice, and an illuminating viewpoint 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
While he approves of all these events, his partly material or physical explanations enable Smith to avoid the self-congratulatory note common in discussions attributing such developments to Europeans’ special understanding of the values of freedom or political equality. Instead, Smith ascribes the Roman people’s acquisition of political power to “the improvements of arts and manufactures,” which enabled Roman nobles to spend their wealth on “domestic luxury” rather than using it to support dependents.
53 I have not found another such instance, and it seems possible that Smith thought better of this analogy and chose not to use it in later works, whether publications or lectures. Notably, when Smith mentions a child who beats a stone in the Theory of Moral Sentiments, he compares him to a dog and a choleric man, but abandons the reference to the savage. The equation of savages with children, common among other developmental thinkers, tends to suggest an explanation for the simplicity or “rudeness” of savage society at the level of the individual cognitive incapacities.
In the universalist vision informing the imperial liberalism that arose in the ﬁrst half of the nineteenth century, Europe stood at the pinnacle of a universal history, a vantage point that was thought to grant Europeans the knowledge and moral authority necessary to impose progress on less advanced societies, using violence and coercion when these were deemed necessary by appropriately informed and well-intentioned colonial authorities. This progressivist universalism justiﬁed European imperial rule as a beneﬁt to backward subjects, authorized the abrogation of sovereignty of many indigenous states, and licensed increasingly interventionist policies in colonized societies’ systems of education, law, property, and religion.