A wise young man by the name of Johann Hari once wrote; ‘it seems extraordinary to argue that polite British historians with TV series on Channel Four are apologists for mass murder, as ugly as the Russians who would have us believe Stalin’s crimes were inevitable or justified by the advances in industrialization he wrought. But the evidence shows that it is true.’
Polite British historians such as Niall Ferguson; an internationally respected historian who has achieved much in his academic career yet believes that Empire is ultimately a good thing. His career has been built upon an ability to persuasively argue from an Anglocentric perspective, in that he tends to downplay the crimes against humanity that the British Empire committed during its time as a world power. It is the exportation of European institutions and economic ideology that this man prefers to elaborate on. But what of them?
Like all Empires before it, Britain used brute force and manipulation to conquer and rule. Justification for British dominion over its colonial possessions was founded upon a freakish misinterpretation of Darwin’s theory of evolution, this misinterpretation is known amongst academics as ‘social Darwinism’ and was used to justify the horrors of breaking and entering into societies that inhabited foreign lands. As a British citizen Ferguson tells a story about Britain to Britain that is very similar in nature to those stories told by Victorian anthropologists in the 19th Century, these stories largely concerned themselves with Victorian ideas of progress rather than the idea of non-directional, multilineal cultural development proposed by later anthropologists.
And yet, the Victorian idea of progress was nothing more than commodity fetishism; Ferguson’s idea that ‘Britain created the modern world’ is Newspeak for ‘Britain destroyed other economic and governmental systems and replaced them with another’. Notice that this isn’t progress in the sense that Ferguson suggests, merely the supplanting of one non-directional, multilineal cultural practice with one that better served British economic interests.
The Brits invented ‘Gunboat Diplomacy’. It stands for a truly selfish and arrogant practice whereby the militarily dominant side in an international dispute sends an impressive collection of sea-cannons to their opponent’s shores. The British (who considered themselves enlightened and progressive; shedding light unto the dark corners of the Earth) put its naval power to good and regular use against all those who dared oppose its desire for economic and political hegemon in the 19th and 20th centuries. This archaic practice takes on an even darker shade of audacity when we consider the fact that it is being practiced even today, as I write this blog entry (albeit under the revamped brand name: ‘Shock and Awe’). Examples are countless to the point of being a cliché within the blogging community; type the words ‘American imperialism’ into the Google search bar and you will, as of 11th May 2007, be presented with no less than 1,380,000 results.
Yes friends, the similarities between this archaic monstrosity and the present day bastion of liberty and progress that is US Foreign policy scare me.
“The British are special. The world knows it, we know it. This is the greatest nation on earth” proclaimed Blair during his resignation speech yesterday (“sure, we messed up in the Desert but we invented the train, fools”). It is called Anglocentrism, and was a seemingly unconscious ideal that found itself being shipped out over the Atlantic amongst the more overt Lawful and Orderly ones. It manifests as follows: when under political fire and in doubt, a political figure head will refer his listeners to the flag of his nation and order a commencement of imagined remembrance. The only difference between this practice over here in the UK and over there in the US is one of name. Nowadays it is known as American exceptionalism.
“I sent American troops to Iraq to make its people free, not to make them American.” exclaimed Bush in late May, 2004. The irony present within the context of this statement is plainly obvious, it could very well be mistaken as a direct quote from Orwell’s 1984. When weapons of mass distraction (pun intended) were no longer deemed a viable excuse for breaking the sovereignty of a foreign nation, ‘freedom’ became the name of the game. Which, from the perspective of an American foreign policy advocate, must take on quite an exceptional definition; “Stop blowing up our troops; they’re only pointing guns at you until you decide to choose freedom and democracy…”. The irony of this very real senario is, however, that the more GIs sent into Iraq in order to suppress the freedom haters, the more freedom they actually supress themselves, which only grants the original freedom haters more lovers.
Americans themselves do not enjoy freedom. They are merely granted ‘freedom from’, as in ‘Freedom from tyranny’, freedom from Geneva (“the rules only count when they suit our oil interests”), etc. In this sense they do not enjoy ‘true’ freedom nor should they expect to deliver what Bush suggests they are able to in the Middle East. What the Administration is capable of delivering, however, are puppet governments and client states that are better able to serve American economic interests. Failing that, the Prez may opt to bounce some rubble with expensive explosives, destroy crops and induce famine, and basically chuck bombs, bullets and the lives of its own ‘free’ citizens at the opposing regime until… well, who knows where the goal posts are these days? Ask Uncle Sam for an update on the rules.
Many of us over on the European side of the Pond ask our cynical selves (to borrow a question from Douglas Milburn) ‘is it an Empire yet?’ In my mind, yes. The American Empire is for real, and it measures up in every way against the very high standards set by those indomitable, intrepid culture-crushers from Britania that it fought so successfully to rid itself of a century or two ago.