‘What the British Empire proved that empire is a form of international government that can work-and not just for the benefit of the ruling power’ Nial Fergusson
I intend to argue that Ferguson is right, but for the wrong reasons. Empire is about international government political and economic. Empires are also built on coercion no matter how benign the intensions. I will use the British Empire to make most of my points, using the following building blocks of empire, transport and communication, Imperial strategy, politics and the philosophy, religion, technology, culture of imperialism, the legal system of empire, military power, economics and trade policy and mobility of people.
I will show the links between them in Britain’s attempt to form an orderly empire .I will show that the main beneficiaries of empire are elites of the metro pole and those of the periphery. I will also show that any benefits to the colonized masses were often unintended consequences of imperial policies. '
The early part of the British Empire was expansion to acquire territory in competition with other empire builders. Britain being the most advance industrial nation wanted to bring its technical know and capital to convert resources of other lands in to goods and services for European and world markets.Britains approach to obtain consent from local leaders where possible and use force when necessary.
The best way way to describe Britain’s imperial strategy would be pragmatic liberalism. India being the prime example where the Britain deposed the Mughal rulers, with the help and connivance of some princely states but kept the old system in place of local rulers who were willing to be compliant to British rule. Those not willing to comply were either removed by force and or replaced by a more compliant leaders Britain maintained the caste system in India
In other parts of the world the British had to use force to acquire Caribbean islands and in the Americas .Britain’s strategy to link different parts of the world under one political and economic system.
In attempting to bring global order the empire builders often had to displace other existing political and economic order in place. India had trade, economic and political links with many countries including China and the Middle East. These trade ties exited long before the European empire builders arrived on the scene. The Portuguese took over by force existing trade routes of the Chinese, Arab and Indians. So contrary to Ferguson in many parts of the world a global economic and political order existed. The best claim the British can make is they were able to extend this global system encompassing more of the planet than any other empire builder had done in history.
Transport and communication
Having acquired colonies spanning the wolrd, they must be linked by a transportation and communication system. The British sea empire, maintained through advances in metal and wood technology were able to build bigger and better military and commercial ships. This enabled the British to better defend it territories and transport more tonnage in commercial goods.
The sea borne routes under British control were secured by passage of the navigation acts of 1651-1663, ensured safe passage for goods and people, forming the basis of Britain’s overseas trade for nearly two hundred years. Later foreign ships were allowed to use Britain’s water ways, to transport goods as long as they paid a toll, and port fees. The sea routes were linked by ports along the empire, vital in the transportation system. The development of Ports like Hong Kong, Calcutta, Singapore, and Cairo performed vital trade functions for ships, without this development free flow of trade would be difficult, especially overland .Today many of these ports continue to be hubs of in global trade and existing seaborne trade routes are still used today.
Linked to the ports, there must be overland transportation system. The invention of the railway along with the existing system of roads, canals and rivers greatly increased speed and volume of trade. The extensive railway system in India opened the country to penetration of goods, services and people far more than was possible. The Mombasa to Uganda railway system opened up east Africa for exploitation. With the railways system came the telegraph system, making communication in real time to co-ordinate economic, political and social activity across the empire.
Ferguson is right without the innovations in transport and communication many parts of the world would not have changed or be linked into international markets.unfortunatley for the British collecting, taxes and organizing trade became an administrative nightmare. Communication between different parts of the empire, and trying to form consistent policies of linking economic benefits of the periphery to the metropolis became a difficult. The British did build the railways with Indian labour and many Indians benefitted from jobs created and ability move goods and people faster than before did bring benefit those Indians who could afford to pay, but all this was paid for by taxes on Indians!
Economics and trade policy
The rational for empire is to bring economic benefits to all parts of the globe, the intellectual arguments of Adam smith who believed free trade benefits all to be applied across the empire. Now mutual free trade unhindered by tariffs or quotas between countries or regions is proven to be economically beneficial. Under an empire system most of the economic benefits will go to the metropolitans an example then East company India Company was given a royal charter to pursue trade on behalf of the crown. This company controlled substantial amount trade in empire.multi national’s toady perform the same function as the east India Company.
The East Indian Company traded globally in sugar from the Caribbean, opium from India to china, tea from china to Europe and spices from India to Europe and many other products. With factories located across the empire, the company was able to co ordinate the supply of goods to European and world markets. It had its own ships, as demand for goods like for sugar grew in Europe; it created investments in plantations colonies in the Caribbean.
The benefits of the east India Company are they able to bring products or services which are often made or used locally with limited markets, to a wider customer base. With the technical know in sugar refining, sugar became an international product, which it still is today, same with tobacco and cotton manufacture, with the advent of the spinning jenny, increasing production.
Ferguson is right the British Empire created global trade in commodities, by applying free market principles, but by looking closely we see some contradictions. Before the British arrived India was already advanced in cotton manufacture and metals. The British stopped development in these industries so as not to have competitors. The British also forced farmers to grow cash crops for markets, like opium for the Chinese markets,
The consequences of these free market policies was that when famines arrived, the farmers had no food for local consumption, also their unwritten agreements in time of famine for food aid from other farmers was destroyed by British land policies. What we see here is a distortion of free market principles. The other issue how money was made from India around 70% from taxes on land tenure according freed Harrison (the silver bullet 2006), under Britain’s mercantile trading system many people suffered. The main beneficiaries of trade for the British were the crown, the upper class, the business elites, and local rulers in India.
The legal system
Britain’s concept of the rule of law and private property is now universal. Without consistent laws which work with enforcement and punishment if necessary no empire can work. Also the British Empire has to have some legal for legitimacy other wise taking over other peoples land and property is hard to justify. So the legal system served two purposes (1) to secure the empire against others and (2) use laws to control economic and social activity in the empire
As an example the land treaties signed with tribal leaders in New Zealand and Kenya secured fertile land and resources for the british.with India laws introduced to regulate of land tenure to control the output of Indian farmers. My second point laws to regulate economic and social activity can be explained by Britain’s American colony. Within a short period of time acts were passed to control where settlers lived, regulation of banking, taxation policies, local governance, of officials and so on.
Ferguson is right the rule of law at the international must be consistent in empire; otherwise people will not invest if unsure of the outcomes. Also corrupt free government is important in empire, especially the civil service which Britain set, was vital in the running of empire. The administrative system the British left behind is still in operation today in India .the British trained a considerable number of Indians who worked for the British civil service in india,they benefited from training in English law and administration. The majority of Indians came from the high caste of Indian society, a very small number of the Indian population
.A closer inspection shows that laws were often designed to secure the interests of the ruling power. the Kenyan treaty was signed by the tribal leader who had no idea what he was signing or had access to legal advice explaining the implication of the treaty, for instance most of his people became after the treaty squatters on their own land with no rights to the resources. The avalanches of taxation laws on the Americas lead to fight for independence. Land tenure in India benefited the ruling power and local leaders, so laws are important, but if these same laws have different outcomes for different groups then they are bad laws or unjust laws, Indian farmers did not see any direct benefits of British rule
Politics and philosophy of empire
The main figures in this debate were Adam smith with his free market trade theory which brings s prosperity to all and the philosophy of john Stuart mills who believed that it was imperative for the British to bring the benefits of their advanced civilization to the rest of the world. He believed Britain acted selfishly for the benefit of others. These two views were the fundmental bedrocks of the empire
In any international government or empire, the ideology of empire must be maintained otherwise the whole project loses credibility and legitimacy. International politics demands that policies must reflect wider considerations than local politics. As an example the indenisation of the brutish civil service in India, where Indians involved in running their own country. The umbrella of the British imperial power system brings together different parts of the world under a federal system of informal; and formal control. Of markets, private property rights, the rule of law, investor protection, corrupt free government and the provision of public goods to the core and periphery of empire. This Anglo-globalization according to Ferguson is good for all, as it brings prosperity to all even if distributed unevenly. We see parallels of this thing in the present day neo liberal agenda of free labour and capital movements as the solution to international development. According to Ferguson only an imperial power like Britain can embed good governance, the rule of law, the provision of public goods. This is based on the assumption that imperil subjects are incapable of governing themselves
On closer inspection there are obvious problems. The politics of the time justified, slavery, countries forced to trade in goods not wanted, like china forced to buy opium of the British, in forcing colonies to produce agriculture produce for international markets at the expense of local needs. When it suited Britain it abandoned free trade and introduced rtariffs.simply replicating British institutions and formal structure do not they will work.
Culture of imperialism
Britain exported what it regarded as ‘superior’ cultural values to empire; culture can be seen as imperial ideology which the powerful use to bring what can be described as universal values to empire. As an example the British in India banned bride burning and child brides, also attempts were made to give women more rights through a process of emancipation in encouraging girls to to go to school in Kenya female circumcision was also banned.ferguson is right without British intervention these cultural practices would have continued, so the British can be seen pioneers in universal human rights.
How no one can argue fort bride burning, or female circumcision. These universal benefits across empire can be seen to bring protection for the subjects, an international, order based on universal values and human rights can be seen to benefit all. But failure to understand local cultures can lead to wrong conclusions and solution. In Kenya female circumcision was seen safety measure for young girls too stop them getting pregnant. In Indian culture girls are not educated because they are given away on marriage, while sons stay and look after their parents. Applying imperial cultural values in trying to create an international order without local understanding can lead to problems.
Mobility of labour
Linked to economics and trade is the mobility of labour. Under the empire system, labour was needed for trade, investment, social and administrative reasons. Settler communities in New Zealand and Kenya transformed the landscape by introducing new plants and animal species, making the land more productive and the produce to international markets, which never existed before. Slave labour in the Caribbean was vital in the sugar industry. In Indian the British made much use of indentured labour in India such crops as opium. There is know the creation of flexible mobile labour markets does bring benefits for all concerned, as labour moves to where it is most needed. Modern economies simply cannot function with some international labour.
But under the imperial system not all labour was free. Slaves had few rights. Indentured labour also had few rights. The waiting treaty left the Maoris margin zed on their own lands unable to earn a living of the land. In Kenya like the one sided treaty left the Kenyans squatters on their own lands struggling to make a living? So Britain’s policies on creation of a mobile and flexible labour market have had mixed success.
The projection of military power is vital for empire for internal and external security, investment in advanced military technology ensured Britain had superiority in weaponry. A fleet of military naval ships ensured Britain could reach any part of its empire and deploy soldiers. Not all military personnel came from the metroplole.in Indian Britain had many local Indians recruited into the imperial army, known as sepoys,who were give,training,weapons,uniforms, medical help, good wages and pensions.ferguson is right here we see direct benefits for locals. on closer analysis, we find most of the soldiers came from the elite of Indian society .these sepoys were often used to suppress fellow Indians and paid for by taxes on indians.many armed personnel were mercenaries with no fixed loyalties and did not necessarily come from within the empire. The threat of force must be real, used to deter invasion, to suppress civil strife and ensure compliance with in the empire
The role of religion in empire is tied up with the culture of imperialism, of civilizing the savages and turns them into good Christians through conversions. There have been notable success in Japan where a sizable local Christian community exited. The Portuguese in goa married local women and a vibrant Christian community was created. The French likewise, gave locals same rights as French citizens. Even after decolonization there are substantial Christian communities, so the metropole religion has had a beneficial influence. The idea being these converts would become representatives of British interests in india.missonaries can be seen as religious army sent from the metropole, to unite the empire under a common religion.
For Niall Ferguson the Empire system was a good thing and he believes more would have been better. So for Ferguson the Empire was his concept of the good society. Just a few problems. (1) He would not be saying this if he was on the receiving end of Colonialism. (2)He basis his theory that the Indians before British rule had no laws, civil society, no culture, politics or economics of any value. So the arrival of the British to India was a blessing in disguise.
India was on the verge of industrialization before the British arrived. The Indians had learnt metallurgy, and had made a dome shaped object. They were also experts in cloth manufacture. When the British arrived they put a stop to both developments, as they did not want competitors.
The nature of mass poverty is the direct result of British Colonial policies. The British destroyed India’s concept of the Good Society and imposed its own. The system of administration the British left, still affects the lives of millions of Indians today. It is said that the British ruled the rulers of India, if that is true then the majority of Indians today are not a free people.
Kind Regards Tiger Moto