By Jennifer Pitts
A dramatic shift in British and French principles approximately empire spread out 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 at first of this era to criticize ecu empires as unjust in addition to politically and economically disastrous for the conquering international locations. via the mid-nineteenth century, even though, the main favorite 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 no more tolerant of cultural distinction. while, imperial enlargement out of the country got here to be obvious as a political undertaking that may support the emergence of solid liberal democracies inside of Europe. Pitts exhibits that liberal thinkers often celebrated for respecting not just human equality and liberty but additionally pluralism supported an inegalitarian and decidedly nonhumanitarian overseas politics. but such moments characterize no longer an important characteristic of liberal suggestion yet a awesome departure from perspectives shared by way of accurately these late-eighteenth-century thinkers whom Mill and Tocqueville observed as their forebears. Fluently written, A flip to Empire bargains a unique evaluation of contemporary political idea and foreign justice, and an illuminating point of view on carrying on with debates over empire, intervention, and liberal political commitments.
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Extra info for A Turn to Empire: The Rise of Imperial Liberalism in Britain and France
34 First, as we have seen, Smith believed that many beneﬁcial developments, such as the extension of civic and political freedoms, resulted from actions taken for quite other reasons. Moreover, Smith reminds us, to live under a good system is not necessarily to understand how it evolved, or even exactly how it works: even if Europeans beneﬁted from a fortunate set of circumstances to produce relatively free and effective governments, they might not be in a position to export those institutions.
Whereas the opposition to slavery spread in the early decades of the next century beyond the coterie of reformers and intellectuals that had ﬁrst led the movement, to be taken up by much wider circles, evangelical and otherwise, such unqualiﬁed criticism of British actions in India faded by the late 1790s. Marshall argues that while both “slavery and the East India company appeared to have won reprieves in the 1790s,” when Britain was preoccupied with Jacobinism and then Napoleon in France, opposition to slavery soon regained its former vigor, while “many sections of British opinion .
54 Yet according to Smith this is not because of their limited imagination but because, like members of other societies, hunters employ a spectator method to determine rightful possession. This method, applied to the goods valued in hunting societies— namely wild game—produces an idea of legitimate possession as being direct possession only. Smith’s narrative of the “progress” by which this notion of property, natural to hunting societies, gradually gave way to one that recognized ownership even when an owner was absent did not rely on changes in the very mental structures and capacities of the people involved, but rather in the emergence of new kinds of valuable possessions thanks to the natural development of a new mode of subsistence.