Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Empire = Evil - a pious equation?

Throughout human history whenever a tribe, a race, a culture or a nation has been filled with a certain vigour, initiative or inventiveness it has been almost irresistible that it expand and overflow. This has been an almost evolutionary imperative. The means may be hard power, soft power, cultural, military or commercial but it happens as it did with the Mongol, Aztec, Inca, Greek, Roman, Spanish, British (In 1883, the British historian J.R. Seeley wrote that “We seem to have conquered and peopled half the world in a fit of absence of mind.”) Russian and American Empires. There is always a jostling for position as nature abhors a vacuum. There cannot NOT be a biggest cat in the jungle. Of course evil is done under empires but so is good and evil and good would have been done in human societies had everyone remained within polite and notionally perfect boundaries. This is just to say that humans do evil and good under whatever dispensation they find themselves. It is too easy to hate the British Empire (especially when it represents one's own culture, identity and parenthood) because to do so provides one with a facile way of setting one's moral compass to simplistic black and white and an outlet for adolescent pique. As usual it's more complicated than that. To demand an empire-free history is tantamount to demanding a human-free history unless you believe humans are fastidiously 'perfect' creatures whose main concern is not to hurt anyone's feelings and to play by a schoolmarmy rule book of correct behaviour. Nothing is correct - in this world at least.

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