Thursday, May 20, 2010

Grasping the past (3): Western imperialism

This extends a comment I made here.

Something the world has not lacked over the last x decades, is Western intellectuals denouncing Western imperialism.

I have no objection to acknowledging the past, as long as it is acknowledging all the past.

One of which is imperialism is what rulership does: indeed, has done since rulership first began. The West conquered most of the world because it could (though the highpoint of Western imperialism was relatively brief: 1878-1939). Then it decided that was a bad idea and let the colonies go. Sometimes peacefully, sometimes not, leaving behind very mixed legacies. (It is generally much better to have be a former British colony than a former Spanish or Portugese one, for example.)

One of the reasons imperialism got discredited is so much of Europe was subject to the Nazi version.

Imperialism is not even remotely some uniquely Western sin and, as the decades pass, Western imperialism is less and less relevant to talk about it when considering contemporary issues. Afghanistan, for example, suffers all the problems of the Middle East to the nth degree but was never a European colony: at least not prior to being a victim of Soviet imperialism.

The other side of imperialism is that Western imperialism was so successful because Western societies had become dramatically more effective than other societies. So successful that it is, in many ways, more disastrous to acknowledge the failings, but not the strengths, of Western societies than to do the reverse: since if you define virtue against success, you are going to end up promoting a lot of failure.


  1. Can't remember who said "History is a series of invasions" but they were right. Some invasions are more negative, others are more positive.

    Afghanistan is just a crying shame.

  2. And how often have we heard justifications for Islamist terrorism as payback for centuries of western imperialism? Well actually, Europeans were only colonial powers from 1921 to 1947,in Palestine, Egypt, Iraq, and Syria after the Ottoman Empire started a war against the British French (via its decision to ally with Germany, rather than the Allies), and lost!

    I think 26 years compared to the 1,200 years of imperialism of non Europeans before that, says it all really. And if it hadn't been France and the UK, it would have been Germany and/or the Soviet Union.

  3. Quite so. Indeed, why are not the Turks targetted more, since they were the imperial masters for about half a millennium? But, of course, they were Muslim imperial masters, which shows that imperialism is not the issue as such, it is non-Muslim success. (Hence Israel being particularly hated.)