Continuing the discussion: Power & Imperialism

February 4, 2009 § Leave a comment

My apologies, Janet Ajzenstat replied to me nearly two weeks ago, but I have been insanely busy.  Most notably, I have finished and submitted my doctoral dissertation.  Finally.  So, without further ado:

In response to my initial post “Power & Colonialism,” (which itself was inspired by the Professor’s blog)you can find the Professor’s comments.  I’m not so sure that I’m entirely ready to accept her argument that “even humanitarian aid can have a depressing effect on democratic development.”  All sorts of things can have a depressing effect on democratic development, including democracy itself.  Exhibit A would be the actions of the late, unlamented Bush Administration in the United States.  During Bush’s tenure in office, many anti-democratic measures were taken and/or insituted by the American government, from wire taps, to the Patriot Act, and beyond. 

However, the Professor is very correct to note the ambivalence and contradiction of the British colonial project.  British democracy is founded upon the Lockean principle that populations cannot be governed without their consent.  Indeed, this is exactly what the Americans were on about at the time of their War of Independence in the 1770s and 1870s.  However, a major portion of the British colonial project involed governing over subordinate peoples, ostensibly to teach them how to goven themselves, but just as often to enrich Britain (case in point: India).  Not that this did not have some positive benefits, though I think imperial apologists like Niall Ferguson go too far.  In his Empire, Ferguson almost completely lets the British off the hook because they brought democracy around the world and essentially civilised the natives.  I’m sorry, but that is not a good enough defence to justify the brutality of the colonial experience in Asia, Africa, and Ireland. 

But then the Professor turns back to Israel and notes that its democratic institutions are also founded on Lockean principles.  And yet, here is Israel acting as imperialist in the Gaza Strip and beyond.  The recent move by the Israeli Central Election Committee to ban Arab parties from running in the upcoming elections there is more than slightly disturbing.  This enforces a form of apartheid.  I am not entirely prepared to accuse Israel of apartheid in its relations with the Palestinians, but decisions such as this are frigthtening, anti-democratic, and have the appearances of apartheid.


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