Empire Notes

Topics: British Empire, Imperialism, Empire Pages: 11 (3812 words) Published: January 5, 2013
Niall Ferguson

* To the British, as to people in the rest of the world, imperialism's golden age is now considered a stain on human history, an era of slavery and racism and the plunder of native lands and peoples. The notion that imperialism is inherently evil, and that no empire can be a good empire, is an axiom in today's geopolitics. * Examines the British Empire from an economic perspective, controversially concluding that the British Empire was, on balance, a good thing * Globalisation is the biggest thing that Ferguson thanks the British for * English language and ties to London made it possible

* The Leftist opponents of globalisation naturally regard it as no more than the latest manifestation of a damnably resilient international capitalism. By contrast, the modern consensus among liberal economists is that increasing economic openness raises living standards, even if there will always be some net losers as hitherto privileged or protected social groups are exposed to international competition. * But economists and economic historians alike prefer to focus their attention on flows of commodities, capital and labour. They say less about flows of knowledge, culture and institutions. They also tend to pay more attention to the ways government can facilitate globalisation by various kinds of deregulation than to the ways it can actively promote and, indeed, impose it. * Ferguson concedes that slavery, racial discrimination and brutal response to insurrection were abhorrent but the free movement of goods, capital and labour, as well as the imposition of law, order and governance across the world were unparalleled triumphs * No one would claim that the piratical empire of the 17th century or the mercantilist one of the 18th century were forces for much more than expropriation, expulsion and enslavement. But by the early 19th century, the British Empire had mutated into the world's first liberal empire. * Book seeks to explain how an ‘archipelago of rainy islands… came to rule the world’ and examines the costs and consequences, both good and bad * Ferguson argues convincingly that between about 1750 and 1945, and especially so in the 1800s, this unique institution which brought together a quarter of the world's population and spanned every continent was 'the nearest thing Planet Earth has ever had to a global government.' * This he sees, overall, as A Good Thing, so firmly places himself amongst modern thinkers in the 'controversial' camp. * Why was the British Empire ‘A Good Thing’?

* Emphasis on free trade (ended with WWI as tariffs went up since other countries had not industrialised) * Sent raw materials, manufactured it and then send it back for profit (one-way free trade!!!) * Ruled are also gaining power – no country is able to rule another country without the support of its people (e.g. The Indian Civil Service – Indians benefitted from it)

Why Britain?
* Ferguson suggests that the Empire was not planned but rather came about initially from the activities of pirates in the Caribbean, leading to traders and adventures, and the mass emigration of white settlers to America, Australia and New Zealand * Did not want to be marginalised into a second-rate power by the Spanish, the Portuguese and the Dutch who at the time were striding the globe and claiming vast areas of land in the Caribbean, the Americas and the East Indies * British almost got left behind – resorting to piracy on the Spanish to try and claim a small piece of the action * The Empire was not acquired, as apologists used to pretend, 'in a fit of absence of mind'; its earliest trophies were the result of piratical plunder, stolen by Elizabethan buccaneers from the Spanish (who’s El Dorado the British so rancorously envied). * Later, a more concerted campaign of expropriation set out to satisfy the modish cravings of a new consumer economy. *...
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