Saturday, November 5, 2011

Julian Go's "Patterns of Empire"

Julian Go is Associate Professor of Sociology at Boston University, where is also a Faculty Affiliate in Asian Studies and the American Studies and New England Studies program.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Patterns of Empire: The British and American Empires, 1688 to the Present, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Patterns of Empire refers to the rising class of educated political activists in late nineteenth century India. That class made demands upon their colonial rulers – the British – for political reforms that would give them more participation in political affairs. But the book is not just about India. Nor is it even about British colonialism. It is about how the US empire has repeated the patterns and forms of the British empire. It is about how the US empire has not been different from other empires, despite our persistent idea that the US empire is somehow “exceptional.”

British India and the demands for colonial reforms from Indian elites as discussed on p. 99 is in fact exemplary of this larger point. The page begins: “The emergence and proliferation of these groups [educated Indians’ political groups] was important. It meant that British officials faced a flurry of political activity and mobilization from educated professionals, urban elites, and powerful rural landowners who spoke their language, deployed their political concepts, and demanded the sorts of privileges and political institutions that rich Englishmen were afforded. ‘One hears a great deal at home about the immobility of the East,” Lord Ripon wrote to Gladstone in 1881, “but I have, on the contrary, been much struck by the changes which are evidently being effected in India by ... the spread of English legal ideas and methods, and by the increasing knowledge on the part of the people of their legal rights.’ Equally imposing was the fact that, beginning in the 1870s, Indian political leaders took inspiration from the Home Rule movement in Ireland and found allies in Parliament. Lord Dufferin was especially worried about this. ‘[E]vents at home in regard to Ireland,’ he noted, ‘[have] produced a very considerable effect upon the minds of the intelligent and educated sections of our own native community.’”

Page 99 thus discloses one of the critical similarities between the US and British empires. While some scholars continually insist that the US empire has been “exceptional” because it enacts benevolent colonialism aimed at promoting democracy, the examination of British colonialism in India in this chapter shows that the British empire already did this. The British responded to the educated elites’ demands by making a more liberal colonial state, open to Indian participation and even to elections. The chapter in which p. 99 occurs (“Colonial Rules”) argues that the US colonial state in the Philippines (and also Puerto Rico) did the exact same thing. The chapter also shows another similarity: while the British colonial state was seemingly “liberal” in India, just like the US colonial state in the Philippines, it was more despotic in colonies like Fiji, just as the US colonial state was in Guam and Samoa. Page 99 continues: “The post-Mutiny context [in India], the states’ fiscal considerations, and the rising educated classes and their ‘modern democratic agitation’ eventually gave colonial governmentality in India its tutelary and transformative tone, making the regime in India look very different from Fiji and more like the Philippines.”

If the United States empire, like the British empire, was “liberal” at all, it was only because it was forced to be by the agency of the colonized peoples it meant to rule. If we are to understand either the US empire today, or the British empire before it, we need to recognize that agency and respect it. This is one of the lessons of Patterns of Empire.
Learn more about Patterns of Empire: The British and American Empires, 1688 to the Present at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue