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 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 before everything of this era to criticize ecu empires as unjust in addition to politically and economically disastrous for the conquering international locations. by means of the mid-nineteenth century, although, the main widespread 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. while, imperial growth out of the country got here to be obvious as a political venture that would support the emergence of reliable liberal democracies inside Europe.

Pitts indicates that liberal thinkers frequently 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 proposal yet a awesome departure from perspectives shared through accurately these late-eighteenth-century thinkers whom Mill and Tocqueville observed as their forebears.

Fluently written, A flip to Empire deals a unique evaluate of recent political inspiration and overseas justice, and an illuminating viewpoint on carrying on with debates over empire, intervention, and liberal political commitments.

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15 According to Smith, these forces lead to the emergence of more efficient means of pro- ADAM SMITH ON DEVELOPMENT 29 viding sustenance and comfort, from the domestication of animals, to the development of agriculture and the increasingly complex division of labor. 20 Smith certainly recognizes a complex range of factors as potential causes of development, including accident and better or worse political arrangements. 24 Because Condorcet portrays progress as the discarding of error and ignorance, he tends, unlike Smith, to assume that societies at “earlier” stages of development have less rational laws and practices, and that cultural diversity is something that will, and should, be eradicated by the spread of reason and civilization through (peaceful) colonization.

Smith argues, for instance, that the savage tendency to equate foreigners with enemies results from the absence of trade relations among hunting peoples and a lack of experience with strangers outside war: not from their simplicity or innate ferocity. 92–93) The manners and customs characteristic of hunting society arise from natural and reasonable human responses to circumstance; given different experiences, savages would judge and behave like others. Smith maintains that members of societies of all stages of development make moral judgments by the same process.

Smith’s attention to the unforeseen consequences of human action produces a tempered approach to politics without putting a halt to political action or efforts toward improvement and reform. 36 If, as moral and political agents, we understand the moral order or logic of society to be partly opaque to us, we will be more tempered in our efforts to deploy great power, and especially violence, for distant and uncertain ends. The potentially conservative or traditionalist implications of the idea of unintended consequences have often 34 CHAPTER 2 been remarked; less well noted are its critical implications for colonial enterprises and cross-cultural interactions.

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