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The Benevolent Empire

Walter Russell Mead has a new book God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World in which he argues that United States has become the logical successor of British Empire. According to Mead, these empires are benevolent and people are happy to belong to them. This outrageous statement has been taken to task by the New York Times book reviewer.

Really? Is that how it looked in, say, India? When Clive of India came to Bengal, he described it — in a way all visitors of the time did — as “extensive, populous and as rich as the city of London.” It was a place of such “richness and abundance” that “neither war, pestilence nor oppression could destroy” it. But within a century of British occupation, the population of its largest city, Calcutta, fell from 150,000 to 30,000 as its industries were wrecked in the interests of the mother country. By the time the British left, Calcutta was one of the poorest places in the world. Is this really the baton the United States should pick up?

2 Responses to The Benevolent Empire

  1. Chandra November 28, 2007 at 8:49 am #

    That’s a good one, JK! There is this other historian -Niall Ferguson – transplanted into Harvard from UK few years ago. He espouses the same fantasies in his books on the empire. In someway the history is still being written by British historian and their successors in US- so we shouldn’t expect too much introspection from them.

    But why blame them. Our own current PM said, recently while visiting UK, imperialism was the best thing that happened to Indians!!!

  2. JK November 29, 2007 at 2:40 pm #

    Chandra, The Romans had a huge empire in their time and they had people of different cultures in their land. They never tried to convert people or destroy their culture for their whole focus was on the stability of the empire. Modern empires are driven more by the missionary zeal and destroying religions, cultures and economies is their contribution.

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