Is the British Empire Largely Misunderstood? [Casey Chalk]

Jeremy Black’s “Imperial Legacies: The British Empire Around the World,” argues that the British Empire wasn’t all bad – the nations it conquered were often brutal empires and dictatorships in their own right, worse than anything the British did. And the British brought a lot of good with them.

Casey Chalk reviews the book for the American Conservative.

Black doesn’t seem to be defending the British Empire or imperialism here; rather simply arguing for a nuanced view.

On our trip to Africa, I got the sense that 21st Century Africans – most definitely including black Africans – do not view their own imperial history as a stain that must be expunged. They seem to view their entire culture as a single fabric, with African and European threads woven together, all of it equally valued.

The official, business language of Botswana, a former British protectorate, is English. Tswana is a common language spoken by the black population, and there are also about 20 separate tribal languages. The people we met seemed to move easily between all three languages. One of the people we met there was a young black man who spoke with a proper received British English accent and who was a Matthew McConaughey fan; we said “Alright alright alright” to each other a lot (which maybe he got sick of but he seemed to take it in good spirits).

There are only two pure evils in recent history: American slaveocracy and the Nazis. Everything else is shades of gray. (And even the slaveocracy produced George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, two of the greatest people who ever lived.)

While Black, the book author, does not seem to be defending imperialism or urging America to resume its imperialist ways, Chalker, the book reviewer, does. He notes that the American empire now seems to be receding, and China is moving in, and China is pretty awful. I’m not so sure about that – at the moment at least, the US seems to be run by looters. Trump and the Republican Party look at America the way investors look at a dying business – break it apart and sell everything from the factories to the office furniture for whatever you can get, and get every dime of work you can squeeze from the workers too. The Chinese, for all their horrors, at least seem to be building something for the future.

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