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 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 well-known 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. while, imperial enlargement in a foreign country got here to be obvious as a political venture that would support the emergence of good liberal democracies inside of 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 foreign politics. but such moments characterize now not an important characteristic of liberal idea 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 bargains a singular evaluation 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 info for A Turn to Empire: The Rise of Imperial Liberalism in Britain and France
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. How did Smith theorize societal development without making the kinds of moral judgments about the superiority or inferiority of entire peoples that can be found in varying degrees in contemporaneous and, usually in a more pronounced manner, in later theories of progress? Understanding the sources of Smith’s tolerant approach to cross-cultural judgment serves both to correct mistaken assertions that have been made about Scottish conjectural history as a whole, and to indicate the broader intellectual disposition that animates Smith’s political thought, including his hostility toward European colonization.
25) Those involved were not conscious of the factors that led to developments such as the weakening of the clergy and the feudal nobility, and they could not have achieved them through deliberate action. Such developments thus could not be attributed to superior European understanding, for instance to a triumph over superstition or an emerging consciousness of human equality. This account suggests that Europeans could not derive moral authority from such developments, that they could not point to them as evidence that they alone had perceived certain moral and political truths while other societies remained mired in ignorance or error.
It is likely, too, that parts of nineteenth-century India were indeed “backward” compared with what they had been before the spread of British power in India. When nineteenth-century British observers of India claimed that Indian society was marked by economic stagnation, and cultural traditionalism, they described phenomena that were in some measure true thanks to their own exploitative rule. D. A. Washbrook has detailed the ways in which British rule in the early decades of the nineteenth century caused deurbanization and deindustrialization in many parts of India.