Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Empire Day

Yesterday, as Daniel Hannan blogged, was Empire Day, known in Canada as Victoria Day (colloquially, May Two-Four).

For a long time, and especially since reading Niall Ferguson's book on the subject, I have shared Hannan's attitude to Empire:
I’m not sentimental about the British Empire: we’d have been better off running trading posts and informal protectorates than assuming responsibility for vast tracts of land. None the less, we can take some pride in our fathers’ deeds. Britain introduced whole civilizations to the rule of law, to property rights, to open markets, to impartial administration. Yes, we took resources from our dependencies, but we also built infrastructure: schools and clinics, roads and law-courts. And, while we fought some brutal counter-insurgency campaigns, we brought many colonies to independence without a shot being fired in anger.
He goes on to relate a distressing anecdote:
I was almost speechless with sadness when, during a question and answer session with sixth formers in my constituency a couple of weeks ago, I asked what the class associated with the British Empire. Their top answer was “slavery”. Yet the British Empire’s chief association with the slave trade – an institution which had existed in every age and every society – was to wage an unremitting and ultimately successful war against it. The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.
By chance, and in another context, I today received an email with a quote from Herbert Spencer:
Were any one to call me dishonest or untruthful he would touch me to the quick. Were he to say that I am unpatriotic, he would leave me unmoved. "What, then, have you no love of country?" That is a question not to be answered in a breath.

The early abolition of serfdom in England, the early growth of relatively-free institutions, and the greater recognition of popular claims after the decay of feudalism had divorced the masses from the soil, were traits of English life which may be looked back upon with pride. When it was decided that any slave who set foot in England became free; when the importation of slaves into the Colonies was stopped; when twenty millions were paid for the emancipation of slaves in the West Indies; and when, however unadvisedly, a fleet was maintained to stop the slave trade; our countrymen did things worthy to be admired. And when England gave a home to political refugees and took up the causes of small states struggling for freedom, it again exhibited noble traits which excite affection. But there are traits, unhappily of late more frequently displayed, which do the reverse.
He proceeds to denounce British foreign aggression.

How ironic that the New Labour government that so eagerly pursued wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was also responsible for poisoning the Empire in the minds of schoolchildren.

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