By Jennifer Pitts
A dramatic shift in British and French rules 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 in the beginning of this era to criticize ecu empires as unjust in addition to politically and economically disastrous for the conquering countries. via the mid-nineteenth century, notwithstanding, 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 grew to become extra triumphalist, much less nuanced, and not more tolerant of cultural distinction. even as, imperial enlargement in a foreign country got here to be obvious as a political venture that will support the emergence of sturdy liberal democracies inside Europe. Pitts exhibits that liberal thinkers frequently celebrated for respecting not just human equality and liberty but additionally pluralism supported an inegalitarian and decidedly nonhumanitarian overseas politics. but such moments signify no longer an important function of liberal idea yet a awesome departure from perspectives shared through accurately these late-eighteenth-century thinkers whom Mill and Tocqueville observed as their forebears. Fluently written, A flip to Empire deals a singular evaluate of recent political idea and overseas justice, and an illuminating standpoint 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
Civilizational Conﬁdence One of the most striking contrasts between the views of the eighteenthcentury thinkers I consider here, and those of their nineteenth-century successors, might be described as the dramatically increased sense of cultural or civilizational conﬁdence exhibited by thinkers across the spectrum of nineteenth-century political thought, from conservatives to liberals and radicals. 32 Although most European thinkers of this period believed Europe had INTRODUCTION 15 indeed made economic and political progress beyond other societies, many doubted whether Europeans were sufﬁciently responsible for or knowledgeable about the causes of their progress to presume to govern “backward” societies, especially by force.
He held instead that humans beings in different situations apply the same faculties to their particular problems and tend to produce solutions of roughly equivalent rationality: as I suggest below, less rational or natural practices were not, for Smith, closely correlated to a society’s stage of development. 50 Even so, theories of development such as those of Robertson, Millar, and at times Ferguson, emphasized savages’ weakness of understanding or inability to think abstractly. ”52 If Smith’s occasional use of terms such as ignorance might suggest as much, however, his analysis of societies in early stages repeatedly undercuts the idea that societal development is characterized by increased cognitive capacity.
43 Hunting societies, Smith argues, do not extend property beyond immediate possession because there is nothing one can own that is worth the trouble of protecting in this way. 44 Still, while such societies might be simpler in their organization, their laws less precise and their manners less reﬁned than those of more advanced societies, they are not, in his account, generically different from the other three stages, or set apart from the course of history. For Smith, progress is a matter of experience—the formation of certain habits, the development of new needs and forms of interaction—which leads to increasingly complex and regularized rules and institutions.