With the return of Hong Kong to the Chinese government in 1997, the empire that had lasted three hundred years and upon which the sun never set loosened its hold on the world and slipped into history. But the question of how we understand the British Empireits origins, nature, purpose, and effect on the world it ruledis far from settled.
In this incisive new work, already being hailed as a landmark, David Cannadine looks at the British Empire from a new perspectivethrough the eyes of those who created and ruled itand offers fresh insight into the driving forces behind the Empire. Arguing against the views of Edward Said and others, Cannadine suggests that the British were motivated not by race but by class. The British wanted to domesticate the exotic world of their colonies and to reorder the societies they ruled according to an idealized image of their own class hierarchies. In reestablishing the connections between British society and colonial society, Cannadine shows that Imperialists loathed Indians and Africans no more nor less than they loathed the great majority of Englishmen and were far more willing to work with maharajahs, kings, and chiefs of whatever race than with "sordid" white settlers. Revolted by the triumph of democracy in Britain itself, the Empire's rulers embraced a feudal vision of the colonies which successfully endured until the 1950s.
About the Author:
David Cannadine is Professor of History and Director of the Institute of Historical Research at London University. He is the author of many acclaimed books including The Decline and Fall of the British Aristocracy, Class in Britain, and History in Our Time. He lives in London.
Imperialism, Cannadine argues, was a vehicle that enabled the British to replicate and export their own "hierarchical social structure" to their colonies. This need was especially pressing as industrialism changed the social order in their own country. In some undeveloped nations, such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, the Britons could start to build this stratified society from scratch. In other regions, such as India, Africa, and the Far East, they simply worked to preserve the already established order, such as the "caste-based indigenous Indian society" and the rule of the "Malayan sultans and African Kings." Cannadine stresses that the British system was not about race but about class and status. The British viewed most of their own people as far beneath these foreign chiefs, sultans, and pashas. Inevitably, though, the dominions became increasingly unimpressed by the pomp, ceremony, and British authority, and as nationalism grew stronger, all vestiges of British rule came under attack. Often repetitive and slow, this book reads like a university thesis, but the arguments and ideas are insightful. Appropriate for academic or large public libraries with British collections. Isabel Coates, Brampton, Ontario Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.