Thursday, 9 December 2010

Penniless thoughts


Just imagine living in Britain in the late sixth century AD. I use the word Britain here in a purely geographical sense because, politically speaking, there was no Britain. Still, you are a cultured person, one of the few who can read and write, an ever diminishing talent in this Dark Age; you have an idea of Britain. For you it is a Dark Age; for you the light went out over a century before, when the last Roman legion left the province of Britannia for ever.

You live in a twilight world, pushed ever further to the west by Germanic invaders from across the North Sea. These are the people who will create a new land; these are the Angles, the people who will, in time, create Angle-Land, but you don’t know that; you are looking to the past, to vanished greatness, to Rome. Come on, be honest; you are a Tory, are you not? You have to be to see anything positive in empire; at least you have to be according to the New Statesman, a repository of the stalest left-wing ideas, as well as a refuge for jolly bad writers!

Forgive me; I’m having a spot of fun here at the expense of the tiresome Laurie Penny, who gives us “pop culture and radical politics with a feminist twist”, at least that’s what the New Statesman says she gives us. Earlier this year she wrote an article berating the terrible Tories for, in her words, wanting children to be proud of Britain’s imperial past. That’s a terrible thing, don’t you agree, just like my hypothetical ancient Briton’s nostalgia for the order and security of Rome?

The occasion for Penny’s penniless thoughts was the decision by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, to invite Niall Ferguson, a ‘right-wing colonial historian’ (he must be; Penny says so), to help revise the school history curriculum to – horror of horrors – say something positive about the British Empire. Do you know anything of Fergusson? You should do if you read The Independent, the most boring newspaper on this planet, where Johann Hari, in his capacity as the “young bloodhound of the liberal left” (Penny again) exposed him as the “court historian for the American hard right.” In other words he’s a decent historian and a jolly good writer!

Gove’s sins get worse. He’s decided it’s time – please sit down if you are of a nervous disposition – to celebrate Britain’s achievements, including the achievements of empire. Not only has Ferguson been invited to offer a contribution so, too, has Andrew Roberts, another right-wing monster, who has “dined with South African white supremacists, defended the Amritsar Massacre and suggested that the Boers murdered in British concentration camps were killed by their own stupidity.” I expect he likes to drown puppies for a spot of relaxation.

I’m a Tory but I’m no apologist for empire. More than that, in some ways I think that we might have been better off without it, better off without its heavy legacy, better off without the expense. But it happened and in so many ways it’s a good thing that it happened. The United States of America is the greatest legacy of the British Empire, the power house of the English-speaking world, created by English constitutional principles. And then there is modern India which, though some may like to deny this, owes its political existence and its present prosperity to the fact that it also forms part of that same English-speaking world.

I so tired of the Pennies of this world, tired of small intellectual change. It’s just so typical of the left, this perpetual negativity. Bad things happened, bad things happened in the course of British expansion across the globe, just as they happened in the course of Roman expansion across the ancient world, but so many positive things emerged, so much that contributed to the advance of civilization. It’s a story worth knowing and a story worth repeating. Not so, says Penny, it’s all about ‘social control.’ What a pity she wasn’t around to offer her fatuous opinions to my ancient Briton.

41 comments:

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  6. Without English, without Empire, there would be no India and no Pakistan - just a hotch-potch of squabbling petty domains ruled by princes and sultans - most of them unable even to understand one another. Worse, they might have been subject to unification under Portuguese, or French, or German or Chinese rule. As for Africa . . . ha!

    I'm no great fan of Imperial Rome, of dysfunctional family squabbles punctuated by homicide, bloody public spectacles and welfare handouts to buy votes; but I am a great admirer of Republican Rome, of Roman architecture and art, of metallurgy and engineering, of agriculture and trade and law. Roman civilization was an enormous contribution to a better life for people wherever its shadow fell, and we still enjoy much of its influence today, though there are many people too stupid to recognize what they owe to Rome's genius.

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  7. The Empire has gone, Adam; it's best to understand that. It wasn't US policy that helped destroy the Empire; it was participation in the war in the first place. It's what might very well be called Churchill's Paradox, something I've alluded to in the past.

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  14. Has the snow disrupted distribution of Lithium tablets in England?

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  15. Empires dissolved when it became clear that they were more costly to administer than they returned in profits. The same inefficiency applies to owning slaves as opposed to exploiting low-paid workers.

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  16. nice blog... have a view of my blog when free.. http://www.lonelyreload.blogspot.com .. do leave me some comment / guide if can.. if interested can follow my blog...

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  19. How can you have memories of the Empire, Adam, when you are only in your twenties?

    I don’t think I debased it by alluding to the burden it created, which involved more than financial costs. Yes, the US did encourage national self-determination because that was the only logical outcome of a war fought to free subjugated nations. But in practical terms it made little difference, as the movement for self-determination in India owed little or nothing to American encouragement. The empire had to end because Britain was bankrupt in 1945, so short of cash that the country could not even oversee a proper handover of power in the Sub-Continent.

    You are quite right to say that the latter half of the twentieth century was dominated by bloc, but the old imperial bloc was an anachronism. Our exit from empire was hardly tidy but a lot tidier than the Dutch and the French, both of whom suffered serious military defeats in defence of an illusion. It is not up to us to determine the government of others: if they descend into kleptocracy and corruption that is entirely their problem.

    I return to my basic point: in 1945 this country had been bankrupted by the war. Not only that, but we then set off in pursuit of ruinous welfare policies rather than concentrating on economic renewal. Against this background precious few cared about the old empire. In practical terms there were no circumstances in which we could have held on, not without risking the same experience as the French in Indochina and Algeria.

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  20. Suciô, I might have reached that conclusion myself but there is no snow in London. Mind you, maybe these things are manufactured in the north!

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  21. Calvin, on your second point, that's perfectly true. The British Empire was never about glory: it was about profit.

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  22. Mr Lonely, this is the third time you have been here with the same tiresome message, repeated word for word. There are some bloggers who like to attract followers like butterflies; the more they pin on the board the happier they feel. Clearly you are one of those. Well, you won’t be collecting me. :-)

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  29. Adam, thanks for that detailed response and the quotations. You might care to read some of George Orwell’s observations about the Empire in the pre-war period: it was simply irrelevant for most people, who only had the vaguest idea of what it meant. It was even less relevant in 1945. I think you are a little like my ancient Briton. It’s best to accept that the legions are gone forever.

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  33. I'm afraid my crowd are mostly in their twenties!

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  35. No, Adam, the British Legion, for all its undoubted merits, is not for me.

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  37. It's not likely. Still, I have a huge stock of stories, passed on by my grandfather, stories of life in India, in peace and war.

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  38. And those stories haven't made a full blooded Imperialist out of you?

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  39. Obviously not! I may love the past but I live in the present.

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