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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Free enterprise empire, 16 Oct 2012
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This review is from: Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain (Hardcover)
Most empires have been built by conquering armies. They had to grow or die--rulers were judged by how much new territory they annexed. This was the way things happened when political power was concentrated in the hands of a monarch or emperor.

As Darwin argues, the British empire was created mostly by entrepreneurs in search of profit. Although the Royal Navy enabled ventures to succeed and governments were generally supportive of colonies that increased trade (and hence taxable imports), they weighed up the cost of sending gunboats and soldiers against the strategic and commercial value of a given colonial enterprise.

Darwin writes well, but the thematic format entails jumping around in time from one sentence to the next. As a historian, I could cope well enough, but I suspect that it would prove confusing for readers who can't instinctively place Pitt the Elder with the Seven Years' War, Plassey and Quebec.

Darwin covers a huge subject, and he makes a few questionable judgments. Now, most historians accept Jonathan Israel's contention that the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688 was in fact a hostile Dutch invasion. William's fleet was far bigger than the Spanish Armada, and the 'invitations' sent to him by Whig grandees were simply a precautionary measure indulged in by any nobleman who wanted to hedge his bets. One can be sure that these self-same grandees also wrote letters to James II pledging their undying loyalty to the Stuart cause.

Darwin perhaps gives too much weight to the dark side of the Empire. Slavery, killing and exploitation were pretty much the norm throughout the world before and during the Empire. We cannot understand history if we view it through modern sensibilities. We should never forget that the Empire was based upon collaboration with native elites, and respect for native culture and religion. Nor should we forget that the Empire could never have been so successful if our colonies could see no benefit to the arrangements. Our modern obsession with race obscures the fact that outside of the lands settled by white colonists, most colonised people never saw a white face.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 14 Jan 2014 14:53:42 GMT
Mr B writes, "Darwin perhaps gives too much weight to the dark side of the Empire. Slavery, killing and exploitation were pretty much the norm throughout the world before and during the Empire. We cannot understand history if we view it through modern sensibilities. We should never forget that the Empire was based upon collaboration with native elites, and respect for native culture and religion. Nor should we forget that the Empire could never have been so successful if our colonies could see no benefit to the arrangements."
Five sentences - five absurdities. Mr B, why don't you join the League of Empire Loyalists? Oh dear, it's been wound up, due to its lack of support and its intellectual inadequacy.
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