For better or for worse, it is undeniable that the traces of the British empire are still prominent today. British historian Niall Ferguson rightfully claims in his book, Empire, that we owe a big debt to the British empire for pioneering new innovations such as: individual rights, science, technology, free labor, and so on.
The British empire did export the best possible legal, economic and political institutions to its colonies in the 19th Century. Today, we can thank the British empire for the formation of common law —which has proven to be the most effective legal system. The industrial revolution has brought about new technological innovations that have improved our living standards dramatically.
Despite economic and cultural innovations, it is evident that the subjugation of native people by the British empire represents hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance.
Who benefited from the British empire’s constant rhetoric of freedom, autonomy, private property and individual labor? Who exactly benefited from the new capitalist world order? If western civilization taught us that all men were created equal, Why is it that slavery existed? Why were colonial subjects perceived as barbaric?
The British Empire ruled its subjects with brutality and pretentiousness — as if its colonial subjects were little children who had no sense of morality and could not rule themselves. Native religions and traditions were shunned for Christianity and free market capitalism — and these ideologies were often enforced with brutality.
The British empire’s core ethos of freedom and equality seems to be a mere illusion, since it only applied to land owning white men. Obviously, the British empire does not adhere the moral virtues to which it claims. Activist and Methodist minister William Apess theorizes perfectly the British Empire’s hypocrisy towards religion by stating:
“How they could go to work to enslave a free people, and call it religion, is beyond the power of my imagination, and out-strips the revelation of God’s revelation” (Apees, Eulogy on King Philip, Pg. 9).
This rich passage begs the question: How could an empire convert a free people by force and contradict the so-called love of god? Are the imperialists really these moral Christians they claim to be?
It comes as no surprise that the so called “faithful” are once again using religious texts to justify cruelty and barbarism. The British empire seems to be a hodgepodge of dogmas, barbarism and stupidity. The so-called free market capitalist entrepreneurs of the British empire are actually bureaucratic bandits. Apess provides timely commentary when he states:
“The whites robbed the Indian graves, and their corn, about the year 1632, which caused Chicatau but to be displaced, who was chief, and also a son to a woman that was dead” (Apees, Eulogy on King Philip. Pg. 13).
This passage shows us that private property and liberty did not extend to Britain’s colonial subjects. Thomas Paine echoes similar sentiments as William Apess in his work Common Sense. In Common Sense, Paine postulates:
“Even brutes do not devour their young; nor savages make war upon their families; wherefore the assertion, if true, turns to her reproach; but it happens not to be true, or only partly so, and the phrase Parent or mother country hath been jesuitically adopted by the king and his parasites, with a low papistical design of gaining an unfair bias on the credulous weakness of our minds” (Paine, Common Sense, Pg. 2).
In this passage, Paine expresses to the reader that the British empire has become an empire of barbarism, delusion, hypocrisy and propaganda. Paine rightfully advocates for a British empire that detaches itself from the barbaric colonial ideology. It is through this precise ideological transformation that the British empire will function best —since it will lead the empire to embrace free trade, globalist policies and the autonomy of its colonial subjects.
Paine’s analysis is proper — since it proves that Britain’s embrace of multiculturalism is best practiced under free trade and globalist policies. Paine’s analysis obviously infuriated nationalist fanatics such as James Chalmers —who’s nationalist rhetoric is analogous tocurrent day Brexit advocates. Chalmers states:
“I adore my Country. Passionately devoted to true Liberty; I glow with the purest flame of Patriotism” (Chalmers, Plain Truth).
It is this fraudulent idea of Britain being not just a piece of land — but A superior moral and economic ideology —that has led to the subjugation of the empire’s native subjects. Moreover, it is truly ludicrous that the British empire claimed to be moral exemplars as they took slaves. Notably, the British Empire’s so called “free market” was primarily built on a bureaucratic slave trade — and this is best seen in the following passage:
“When British and other European slave traders purchased men and women from West Africa and shipped them into bondage across the seas, they usually listed their victims and filled out ledgers of the monetary costs involved” (Colley, Captives, Pg. 48).
This passage shows us that the British Empire’s free market opportunities did not extend to its colonial subjects. The empire does not truly believe in a free market. It also seems to be the case that the nationalist rhetoric of “true liberty” advocated by James Chalmers was nothing but an illusion — since the dogmas and stupidity of our history were practiced by the British empire.
There is no conceivable way that the British empire believes in a framework of free men, political institutions and reason, if they practiced slavery — and this is best symbolized vis-à-vis the following passage:
“The business of slavery — like the business of making empires — was undoubtedly facilitated in the early modern era by widespread recognition that such practices were ubiquitous and had always existed in some form” (Colley, Captives, Pg. 64).
It would be fairly dishonest to state that only the British empire took slaves. Indeed, the Ottomans and North Africans traded both white and black slaves during the transatlantic slave trade — and the trade was comparable in scale — and far less is known about it (Colley, Captives, Pg. 56).
This shows us that the British empire is not the only unethical empire. Also, the British empire is capable of correcting its heinous crimes — and this is best seen in with the Slavery Abolition act of 1833.
In the final analysis, to discredit the British empire as only a force for atrocities is to be shortsighted — but to deny the atrocities of the empire is to be delusional.
Throughout history, certain ideologies have allowed for hypocrisy. The rhetoric of western civilization being a transcendent moral and economic power did not extend to its colonial subjects.
Ironically, what the colonialists accused native subjects of being is precisely what imperialists were: Barbaric and uncivilized. For current day Britain to flourish, it must confront its ugly past and embrace multiculturalism over fake tales of national identity.