Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Apologists for the British Empire: where did they crawl out from under?

Short answer: Post WWII American exceptionalism

Long answer:

In the previous decade or so , I had been pre occupied with U.S, Indian and Middle Eastern politics and history so I had sort of missed the boat on the revival of Empire apologists

We see respectable scholars like Niall Fergusson, Robert Kaplan, Andrew Roberts and William Dalrymple waxing nostalgic about the lost glory of Britannia and her dominions.

Is this a last gasp reaction to the ongoing Londonistanizing of Britain?  Is it because the native Brits are unable to stand up to third world thugs in their backyard that they have to resort to such lionizing of what was a very dubious past?

Or were they always closet imperialists(albeit increasingly emasculated post 1945)but their impulses received a shot in the arm from the U.S neocon and neocolonial(but then I repeat myself) adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It most likely is a combination of both.The neocon role though is very interesting. Prominent neocons such as Jonah Goldberg,Victor Davis Hanson and Thomas Sowell to name just a few have swallowed hook line and sinker the cheap propaganda that the British Empire was the good Empire with its values of liberty, democracy, freedom of expression and so on

The Right admires it for instituting in India

  • Rule of law
  • Women's empowerment(banning sati)
  • Religious freedom
  • Forceful display of Western civilization(ie power for its own sake)
  • Economic liberty
The Left sees merit in the British Raj for

  • Womens empowerment
  • Success of keynesian economics
  • Upending a traditional society with modernist secular values

I think others such as Varnam, Sandeepweb,Koenraad Elst and Jambudvipa have successfuly disproven the above tired tropes and exposed them hollow. Notable mention should also be given to Ms Lila Rajiva, and though I disagree with her on many many issues(she suffers from an Ajit Vadakayil type disease of blaming all the worlds ills on the Jews) she has done yeoman's work on disproving that the British Raj stood for economic or any other type of liberty but was a crass exploitative monster which was overwhelmingly a net destructive force

I would also like to bring to your attention the excellent work done by Arun who noted the sharp objections of William Jennings Bryan to the British presence in India

Somehow these sneaky cretins have crept into American media, universities, think tanks and even Hollywood. They have been doing this I suspect long before 9/11 but really it is that horrific event which empowered this lot as they were more than willing to play the Chanakya to the American Chandragupta  Maurya or the Kissinger to their Nixon if you prefer.

And why not? Americans who were once were admirably wary of the British Empire and its "experiment" in India have in the process of fighting the Cold War and administering the peace following their victory become susceptible to pro Empire platitudes. And what better role model than the "mother country". There is interesting parallel is that this notion of "mother country" : Any lingering familial connection pretty much dissolved in the bitterness of 1776-1789 and the War of 1812 where the "mother country" along with the Canadians literally burned the White House to the ground.Not to mention Britains role in stoking the flames of the Civil War and all sorts of dirty tricks and propaganda to get the U.S involved in WWI and to a lesser extant WWII. But no, insist the pundits at National Review- it is France which is the real enemy across the pond!

So the Americans discovered this faux affection for the "mother country" about the same time the British imperial apologists healed their wounds and started strutting again on the world stage bragging about Pax Britannica. Something that Eisenhower didn't much care for.

Its hard to pinpoint exactly when this odd synergy but most likely it  commenced shortly after WWII where Americans were somewhat unwittingly thrust the responsibility of "ruling the world" but probably it acquired considerable strength during the Reagan Thatcher era especially the latter who was quite nostalgic for the Empire while the Irish Catholic born Reagan was understandably somewhat suspicious but tolerated such anachronistic Anglophilia among his chief Allies as well as the heavily Waspish CIA to get the Soviet Union out of commission. Of course it didn't help that India leaned heavily towards the Soviets during the Cold War.

It is during this time Churchill worship which was somewhat subdued really picks up steam. Hitchens though an empire apologist was no fan of Churchill notes that his popularity and stature in U.S grew since WWII. This implies that Churchill wasn't really the bees knees in U.S during WWII itself. Apparently he was viewed as a considerably more desirable and stalwart ally than Stalin but that's about it. And even that is really due to the admittedly rather effective government propaganda under FDR who privately thought Churchill was a drunken prima donna and considered it perverse that the English had a "400 years old acquisitive instinct" and that the English would even wish to covet a sandbar. Upon his insistence that Churchill liberate India , the blowhard British premier behaved like in a characteristically infantile manner by asking if FDR would like if it if a group a international inspectors would investigate the plight of blacks in the American South.

When it comes to blacks and slavery, the British are also glorified in ending slavery as lot earlier than them cruel Americans who had to fight a civil war amongst themselves to settle the issue. Or so the myth goes. To this end various American commentators and historians irrespective of ideological persuasion self flagellate themselves in such a manner that one would imagine would compel Shias to sue for copyright infringement.

What they don't realize is that British very reasonably(to their minds) saw the writing on the wall that enslaving blacks was bad PR and it was just more prudent and convenient logistically to enslave Indians by rebranding them as indentured servants.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan may have been a catalyst in reviving Empire nostalgia as it mustve been rather cathartic for the Brits to return to this "graveyard of empires" as liberators even as more than a hundred years ago their dreams of Central Asian addition to their Indian holdings were squashed by the much romanticized Pathans.

My particular concern however with their view of the British role in India so I will restrict myself to this. The other regions which suffered from British are outside my area of expertise so apologies to them.

Of course the argument is often that the U.S.A is a outgrowth of "mother" England. Best expressed in The Seeds of Albion. Not to mention common language and a core ethnic group even if not the majority still projects in presence in politics,military, universities and popular culture

All too often the American Revolutionary is dismissed by Anglophiles on both sides of the "pond" as scuffle between brothers or cousins. It is also insisted that the Continental Army were simply fighting for their rights as Englishmen. Oddly the analogy of an English Civil War found greater ground among historians with another war in the Eastern seaboard a 100 years later where the Yankees and Confederates were said to be filling for the Roundheads and Cavaliers respectively.

In a similar manner initially the upper class and Anglicized Indian Congress party member wanted the appropriate respect and representation from British government which sang all the right notes about its civilizing mission of bringing the "natives" upto the level of an Anglo Saxon through immersion in English language, culture, clothing, habits and education but in practice the racial hierarchy of the time did not conform to this lofty standard.

One interesting aspect to the independence movements both in India and the United States is the dynamic of rebellion forming not so much due to the oppression of many but the slight of a privileged few. Even in this case they find an example in England.

Since 1066, England was beholden to France and no self respecting aristocrat for next two hundred years would be caught dead speaking English. However when these semi Anglicized elite would attend the University of Paris for their education they would be mocked mercilessly for their sub par French. This compelled Henry II to ban "English" students from attending Paris and was the catalyst for establishing Oxford University and sowed the seeds of English nationalism and provincialism even if the latter were filtered through a Francophone and Francophilic lens until the 100 year war.

When Loyalists to the Crown pointed out that the rebels should stay ,well, loyal to the British government because they themselves were British, it was the English born Thomas Paine who acridly pointed out the British populace and rulers were usually of Germanic and French stock respectively. So therefore by the Loyalist logic ,they should be beholden to those nations.

Curiously while the search for Indian spices and gold was the genesis for the discovery and establishment of America , there was relatively little interest in that particular region. A habit that has persisted to this very day, much to the chagrin of Indian nationalists of all stripes. This along with the understandable misperception that the U.S was a successor to the British colonial project contributed to Indian distrust for the United States throughout the Cold War.

On both right wing (paleocon,neocon and libertarian) as well as left wing blogs most notably Christopher Hichens, we see an admiration for the Empire and what it had accomplished in India.

Particularly curious is the libertarian support for the British "project" in India. Otherwise eloquent and astute individuals like Michael Moynihan. and Hans von Spakovsky.

Not to mention the more extreme individuals like Glenn Beck and the usually sensible Dinesh D Souza. On the eve of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq,Dinesh D Souza went so far as to joke about getting Jodhpur breeches and other regalia associated with a colonial officer in India.(This quote has since been scrubbed from the internet).

Glenn Beck in particular is an incredibly confused , perhaps deranged individual. On one hand he praises Churchill, then turns around and lists Gandhi as an inspiration(going so far to include his image in the intro to his Fox News show) and then again mocks Hinduism and India in general.

Unfortunately there are many such ideologically confused and historically illiterate folks not on the Right and of course the Left. But since my sympathies are with the Right, I hope to fix what ails them rather than deal with the Left who are wrong in just too many ways for me to even bother with them.

As a supporter of the Iraq war at the time, I found neo colonial commentary such as D'Souza's utterly distasteful and disturbing. Surely, I thought , this is a one off crude comment mention in the heat and exhilaration of being on (what seemed to be at the time) the winning side. How wrong I was on all counts

Rajiv Chandrashekharan perfectly captured the colonial mentality in his book The Green Zone where he accurately portrayed esconsed diplomats, beureaucrats and senior military personnel's behavior resembled that of senior colonial officials of the British Raj. Now to be sure Chandrashekharan's political instincts are more towards the left than I prefer but then that is more of the problem with the American Right and their myopia.

The retributive invasion of Afghanistan and strategic removal of Saddam from power didn't "morph"
into monstrous neocolonial nation building projects as apologists claim. That seemed to be the plan from the get go.

George W. Bush may have been inclined to pursue a more sensible and possibly more effective version of Obama's foreign policy of non interference as promised in 2000 campaign but 9/11 changed it and it brought a lot of these people with their anachronistic views of the world back into power.

It is worth mentioning that Bush upon taking office had returned an FDR bust and replaced it with Churchills and on his 2006 trip to India, he had audacity to mention the U.S commitment to India's independence by bringing up FDR

Like all right wingers , I am not enchanted with FDR and the fairytale about how he single handedly brought the economy out of the great depression. But let us give credit where it is due, his foreign policy instincts were sound.

The entire neocon crew of Bill Krystol, John McCain, Joe Lieberman, Robert Kaplan were all enchanted by the British empire and what it represented to their mind and so quickly went to work remoulding American foreign policy and military establishment even further in the "mother country's" image. One should've been very wary of Kaplan's support for the Iraq project. He was the author of "Balkan Ghosts" which was decisive in the U.S needlessly getting involved in the Balkans and this turn squandered whatever good will U.S had among the Slavic peoples and strongly contributed in the rise to Vladimir Putin who continues to use Iran and Syria as a cat's paw against U.S interests.

While Kaplan has recanted and expressed remorse for his support for the Iraq War, he doesn't seem to have learnt the fundamental lesson in the process- be wary of the allure of British imperialism. Indeed in his last book Revenge of Geography , he actually doubles down and praises Victorian era geopolitical thinkers whose nakedly racist and discredited views he unwittingly promotes all the while claiming not to

As one can see the "democracy" projects went as well as they did. And thank god! I often wonder about conservatives who rightly claim that human beings aren't infinitely malleable suddenly drop this ancient wisdom and cheer for American troops bringing "democracy" to a tribal ,religious and cruel region as Mesopotamia and Afghanistan.

And as expected these neo imperialists prove to be fair weather friends to conservative ,most of them jumping on Obama wagon once the Bush star turned into a blackhole.

And again propagating war for the sake of war. After all how else will they as well as the new establishment class majoring in Transgendered Fijian poetry from Harvard,Georgetown, Yale earn their six figure incomes as colonial officials sorry administrators in far flung regions such as Libya, Yemen and Iran.

Indian Americans who voted overwhelmingly for Obama are as politically dim witted as Asian, Jewish and Arab Americans.

They don't see him for who he is- a willing blank slate for the powers that be as long as he can feed from the trough.

Do they not see any similarity between the casus belli for the British Crown in India with Sati and the recent PR psy ops against India with the heavy breathing coverage of frequent rapes? As if India is the only country which has a high rape rate.

Ditto the American evangelical missionaries who in rhetoric if not in action are laying foundations for a potential fifth column which would undermine Indian sovereignity thereby providing a rich resource pool for these pseudo American globalists. In this American evangelicals are richly hypocritical in that they are suspicious of globalists as they believe the Anti Christ to be one and encourage nationalism amongst their followers but undermine patriotism of those foreigners who are not Christians.

It is interesting to note if Americans praise Indians for any merit only in the context of British influence be it the English language, educational qualifications or work ethic. All of which are attributed to British institutions rather than traditional Hindu emphasis on learning.

After all the sclerotic economies implemented by the Fabian inspired Nehru were described as the Hindu rate of growth. Now suddenly 70 years after independence, Indians are supposed to thank their British overlords for the notions of free markets and entrepreneurship for their rapidly improving GDP

This would be alien to the godfathers of Anglo American conservatism- Adam Smith and Edmund Burke. Adam Smith though the East India was not just anti capitalistic but amoral. Edmund Burke went as far as to impeach the Governer General of India Warren Hastings for his hand in looting the country of wealth and resources but also to squander its native's blood in wars and genocide.

Thankfully the American populace is wary of its neocolonial puppet masters and is resistant to any more counter productive liberal interventions elsewhere.

What does often frustrate the pro Raj lot is that anti colonialism is very much in the British DNA and there are very astute Indians ,especially among forums such as pro free market and traditionalist Centre Right such as Sandeep and Kaal Chiron who bring these two strands together to help Americans further their own interests rather than those of imperial enthusiasts.

There is still hope for the last best hope of mankind. In 2016 hope and change will be hopefully more than just a campaign catch phrase.

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