A Turn to Empire: The Rise of Imperial Liberalism in Britain and France

A Turn to Empire: The Rise of Imperial Liberalism in Britain and France

By: Jennifer Pitts (author)Paperback

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A dramatic shift in British and French ideas about empire unfolded in the sixty years straddling the turn of the nineteenth century. As Jennifer Pitts shows in A Turn to Empire, Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, and Jeremy Bentham were among many at the start of this period to criticize European empires as unjust as well as politically and economically disastrous for the conquering nations. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, the most prominent British and French liberal thinkers, including John Stuart Mill and Alexis de Tocqueville, vigorously supported the conquest of non-European peoples. Pitts explains that this reflected a rise in civilizational self-confidence, as theories of human progress became more triumphalist, less nuanced, and less tolerant of cultural difference. At the same time, imperial expansion abroad came to be seen as a political project that might assist the emergence of stable liberal democracies within Europe. Pitts shows that liberal thinkers usually celebrated for respecting not only human equality and liberty but also pluralism supported an inegalitarian and decidedly nonhumanitarian international politics. Yet such moments represent not a necessary feature of liberal thought but a striking departure from views shared by precisely those late-eighteenth-century thinkers whom Mill and Tocqueville saw as their forebears. Fluently written, A Turn to Empire offers a novel assessment of modern political thought and international justice, and an illuminating perspective on continuing debates over empire, intervention, and liberal political commitments.

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About Author

Jennifer Pitts is Assistant Professor of Politics at Princeton University. She is the editor and translator of "Alexis de Tocqueville: Writings on Empire and Slavery".


Acknowledgments ix Abbreviations xiii Chapter 1: Introduction 1 Liberalism, Pluralism, and Empire 3 Scope and Summary 7 Historical Contexts 11 PART 1: CRITICS OF EMPIRE 23 Chapter 2: Adam Smith on Societal Development and Colonial Rule 25 The Causes and Complexity of Development in Smith's Thought 27 Progress, Rationality, and the Early Social Stages 34 Moral Progress and Commercial Society 41 Moral Philosophy and Cross-Cultural Judgments 43 Smith's Critique of Colonies 52 Chapter 3: Edmund Burke's Peculiar Universalism 59 The Exclusions of Empire 59 Systematic Oppression in India 63 Moral Imagination: Empire and Social Criticism 71 Geographical Morality and Burke's Universalism 77 The Politics of Exclusion in Ireland 85 Burke as a Theorist of Nationality 96 PART 2: UTILITARIANS AND THE TURN TO EMPIRE IN BRITAIN 101 Chapter 4: Jeremy Bentham: Legislator of the World? 103 Utilitarians and the British Empire 103 Bentham's Critique of Colonial Rule 107 A Rereading of Bentham's Work on India 115 Chapter 5: James and John Stuart Mill: The Development of Imperial Liberalism in Britain 123 James Mill: An Uneasy Alliance of Utilitarianism and Conjectural History 123 J.S. Mill: Character and the Revision of the Benthamite Tradition 133 Nationality and Progressive Despotism 138 Civilizing Backward Societies: India and Ireland 146 Colonial Reform and the Governor Eyre Episode 150 Conclusion 160 PART 3: LIBERALS AND THE TURN TO EMPIRE IN FRANCE 163 Chapter 6: The Liberal Volte-Face in France 165 Shifting Political Contexts: Britain, France, and Imperial Projects 165 Condorcet: Progress and the Roots of the Mission Civilisatrice 168 Constant and the Distrust of Empire 173 Desjobert and the Marginalization of Anti-imperialism 185 Tocqueville's Sociology of Democracy and the Question of European Expansion 189 Expansion and Exclusion in America 196 Chapter 7: Tocqueville and the Algeria Question 204 Tocqueville as an Architect of French Algeria 204 From Assimilation to Domination: Tocqueville's Early Colonial Vision 207 The British Empire as Rival and Model 219 Slavery in the French Empire 226 Universal Rights, Nation Building, and Progress 230 Chapter 8: Conclusion 240 Eighteenth-Century Criticism of Empire 242 Democracy and Liberal Anxieties in the Nineteenth Century 247 Late Liberal Misgivings about Imperial Injustice 254 Notes 259 Bibliography 343 Index 363

Product Details

  • publication date: 10/07/2006
  • ISBN13: 9780691127910
  • Format: Paperback
  • Number Of Pages: 400
  • ID: 9780691127910
  • weight: 599
  • ISBN10: 0691127913

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