National Review is the best source of intelligent thought on major issues available today. Agree or disagree with its contributors, you will be challenged and enlightened. The conservative viewpoint tends toward a belief that change for its own sake is a bad idea, that institutions that work ought to be maintained. Fair enough and something I tend to agree with. A common liberal attack on conservatism is that it is not about preserving the good, but a reactionary return to colonial patriarchy.
Usually this is BS, or a serious stretch, but today at NRO Conrad Black gives throat to a hearty call for a return to those glorious days when the sun never set on the British (or Dutch, or French or German) Empire. A time when the natives, or aboriginals, or primitives or whichever backward, benighted brown people who had happened to camp on a spot rich with resources received the full measure of Euro benevolence. Usually in the form of treasure extraction, serious oppression and as the bonus Mr. Black recalls, some form of civilizing influence. WOW. He even manages a shot at our own little Revolutionary Independence.
It is verging on secular heresy to make the point, especially in the week of July 4, but the American colonists didn’t have much to complain about, either.
But let's get back to his main point, the savages need a steady hand to guide them.
It is an ever-growing matter of suspense how long it will take before there is general recognition of the fact that, although the spread of democracy is — next to its irreplaceable contribution to victory in World War II and the Cold War — America’s greatest bequest to the world, most of the world worked better in colonial times. No one could seriously dispute that almost all of sub-Saharan Africa, all of North Africa except Morocco, all of the Middle East except Israel and Jordan and most of the oil-rich states, and the entire former British Indian Empire were better governed by Europeans. The Philippines and Cuba and, during the piping days of the U.S. Marines’ occupations (even if they were deployed at times by the United Fruit Company), Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic were all better off under the Americans.
He says "no one could seriously dispute" this, but that is merely one of many things he is embarrassingly and offensively wrong about. Political correctness is an abomination that is often used to suppress the voicing of painful truths. I abhor it and fight against it constantly. But Black is not fighting a PC censorship, he is, rather nakedly, saying that the rest of the world is incapable of self-rule and better off under the yoke of a benevolent imperial hand, well fist really. He goes on to note the horrors committed in former colonies since the loss of their patrons who kept the peace. He seems to be blissfully forgetful of the banal regularity of massacres meted out to keep the natives from getting restless.
I get the feeling he looks back and sees the likes of Charles Napier in India.
"You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours."
A lovely episode and one that is quite informative, but the idea that this is a sufficient counterweight to slaughtering 1,000 peaceful demonstrators is absurd. Not to mention the fact that the peaceful shangri-las that Black fantasizes about were kept so by brutal repression, torture, and judicial and extra-judicial killings not well-covered in the history books written by the colonial masters. I think a better look at the benevolent British Empire is offered by Eddie Izzard.
You can make a case that empirically life under Empire was better and even preferable for those lucky enough to be so governed, and Black does so. I think quite unconvincingly. But you cannot make a moral one, and so he ought rightly to be shamed, although not silenced, and sent off to commiserate about loss of order from the good old days with like-minded folks such as the Major from Fawlty Towers (Do not click if you cannot hear un-PC talk for effect i.e. the N word used by a non-rapper).
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