A recent article in the Daily Telegraph on England (though they’re being generous and saying Britain) being world invasion champs.
Bonus curmudgeonly point of the day: a nation’s present-day success has an almost-linear relationship with its acceptance of 19th century British mores and customs, even if it was not a 19th century British colony (e.g., the United States). That should hopefully rile up our resident historian…
5 thoughts on “The Benefits Of English Imperialism”
Consider me semi-riled.
1. Great Britain by no means had one single set of mores and customs, in the 19th century or any century. Do you mean “Victorianism?” British liberalism? The fact that less than 25% of the British population could vote for most of the 19th century?
2. What are your criteria for success? If it’s “not being invaded”, do you REALLY want people looking at Belarus as a model country for anything other than “how to become a dictatorship without the rest of the world caring”?
I await your response/clarification/capitulation to my awesomeness.
I was going to say “Victorian” in there, but many of them pre-date Victorianism. I’d call Victorian mores the high point. You’re right in that there wasn’t one single set, but there was still a mainline set of beliefs.
My primary criteria for success are economic success, political stability, (relative, at least) popular sovereignty, and (relatively, at least) good government. Economic freedom indicators are nice because they tend to track reasonably well with most of those criteria. Looking at the Heritage top 10, 7 were heavily influenced by the British.
Assuming the three you’re excluding are Switzerland, Mauritius, and Chile, here’s a riddle for you: by definition, the country most heavily influenced by the British would be the United Kingdom — where is it in the top 10? What about India? South Africa? Hong Kong isn’t even legally separate from the rest of China any more, so I question its inclusion in this list. (It’s autonomous, but then again, all of the republics of the USSR were theoretically autonomous too.)
I would counter your argument with the following: in most cases, the British interfered relatively little in their colonies (India post Sepoy Mutiny would be an exception, as well as Ireland at various points), preferring to establish some measure of self-government. This wasn’t true for France (who cared fuck-all for their colonies) or Spain (who attempted to directly administer their colonies from Spain, with predictably terrible results). If we include “long tradition of self-government” as the main criteria, all ten countries would qualify. It has nothing to do with British cultural or political mores, except that those cultural or political mores tended to lead towards self-government.
The UK is #14. Not in the top 10, but not substantially off (and that’s even with their 40 years of outright battiness).
Hong Kong isn’t legally separate from China, but its economic freedom was established by British policy and the Chinese have left well enough alone on that front. Like Macau, it’s in kind of a weird, semi-autonomous state economically. They do determine their own economic policy and China treats it as an autonomous zone (they do the same with Shanghai and a couple of other cities), so it’s not quite the vassal state situation that the Warsaw Pact forced.
South Africa is #70, one of the top countries in its region. India is the second-strongest counter-example because it is a major, formerly-British colony which is not leading its region. The strongest counter-examples would be countries like Zimbabwe and Myanmar, but they outright rejected British influence after independence and purposefully screwed themselves over by going red. Incidentally, a fairly strong point (though I’m not quite sure which side it would support more) would probably be the one that Peter Bauer made: British colonialism became actively harmful by about 1950 because colonial rule had changed in form, emphasizing autonomy and “economic independence” over local upper-class rule and decentralized interdependence.
I think in a roundabout way, your last paragraph actually makes my point. Relative non-interference—which was had a long history in English colonialism—was a part of the Scottish enlightenment and a huge influence on quite a bit of 19th-century practice. In comparison to the alternatives (being a colony of France, Spain, the Netherlands, or some other power; or retaining autonomy), outcomes tended to be better for former British colonies, and we still see many of those effects today despite having a century of opportunity for convergence. In other words, there are other paths to national success as I define it, but the direct British path is the most consistently successful.
We’re mostly tracking, I think. The only thing I want to emphasize is that these are the results of British choices, not some inherent superiority in British culture or mores. France, Spain, the Netherlands, even Portugal could have made the same choices, and I would wager the results would have been similar. I don’t think that was likely for Spain, who was every bit as interested in converting the natives to Catholicism as getting as much stuff as possible, but the Netherlands or France certainly could have, maybe even Portugal.