A "revisionist" view of the British empire

Though still a fairly mainstream view among Britons themselves

[One] might see in the experience of the British Empire some prescriptive remedies for what ails Western Civilization. How about, for instance, the idea of limited government? By my back-of-the-envelope calculations, in the 1920s the British government and its vast empire operated on a budget about 40 percent less, in constant dollars, than the state of California’s budget for 2012. Perhaps that’s not surprising when you consider that Britain ran the Sudan with a civil service of 140 men, and governed India’s then-300 million people with about 100,000 British soldiers and civil servants. (California has more than twice as many full-time state employees.)

The British Empire certainly did not go in for “nation-building” in the “let’s export the democratic welfare state” sense. The British believed they governed well, and did well for the people they governed, but they always had to ensure that the sum of benefits minus costs was in the black. The British had tremendous national interests, for instance, in Afghanistan (a potential Russian invasion route to India) and Iraq (oil), but they would never have spent a trillion dollars occupying these countries, as we have done. For the most part, they kept them in line with occasional punitive expeditions (Afghanistan) and the RAF supporting a British-imposed pro-Western monarch (Iraq).

The British Empire set a beneficial example in another sense too. It was tolerant. On issues that truly mattered — an independent judiciary, limited government, abolishing slavery and widow-burning — they enforced British standards of fair play, ordered liberty, and decency. But they were also quite content to let Arabs be Arabs, Masai be Masai, and so on. They did not politicize society or, another way of putting it, nationalize it.

They ruled with the lightest of authority, often through local elites, and had a famous affection for the “warrior races” (which they were keen to defeat and then bring on their side). As a Frenchman once marveled, “Wherever the British have penetrated we meet British officers who believe the Bedouins, the Kurds, the Ghurkhas, the Sikhs or the Sudanese, whichever they happen to command, to be the most splendid fellows on earth. The French do not share this passionate interest in other races — they only praise individuals or communities insofar as they have become Gallicized.”

George Santayana’s famous observation bears repeating: “Instinctively the Englishman is no missionary, no conqueror . . . he travels and conquers without a settled design, because he has the instinct of exploration. His adventures are all external; they change him so little that he is not afraid of them. He carries his English weather in his heart wherever he goes, and it becomes a cool spot in the desert, and a steady and sane oracle amongst all the deliriums of mankind.

Never since the heroic days of Greece has the world had such a sweet, just, boyish master. It will be a black day for the human race when scientific blackguards, conspirators, churls, and fanatics manage to supplant him.” How true. And between the British Empire and its enemies among the Bolsheviks, the National Socialists, the scientific blackguards, conspirators, churls, and fanatics, I know which side any true conservative should plant his colors.

SOURCE. See also: Politically Incorrect Guide to the British Empire

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