By Jennifer Pitts
A dramatic shift in British and French rules approximately empire opened up within the sixty years straddling the flip of the 19th century. As Jennifer Pitts indicates in A flip to Empire, Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, and Jeremy Bentham have been between many before everything of this era to criticize ecu empires as unjust in addition to politically and economically disastrous for the conquering countries. by way of the mid-nineteenth century, even if, the main trendy British and French liberal thinkers, together with John Stuart Mill and Alexis de Tocqueville, vigorously supported the conquest of non-European peoples. Pitts explains that this mirrored an increase in civilizational self-confidence, as theories of human development grew to become extra triumphalist, much less nuanced, and no more tolerant of cultural distinction. even as, imperial growth out of the country got here to be visible as a political venture that will support the emergence of sturdy liberal democracies inside of Europe. Pitts exhibits that liberal thinkers often celebrated for respecting not just human equality and liberty but additionally pluralism supported an inegalitarian and decidedly nonhumanitarian foreign politics. but such moments signify no longer an important characteristic of liberal inspiration yet a impressive departure from perspectives shared through accurately these late-eighteenth-century thinkers whom Mill and Tocqueville observed as their forebears. Fluently written, A flip to Empire bargains a unique overview of contemporary political idea and foreign justice, and an illuminating viewpoint on carrying on with debates over empire, intervention, and liberal political commitments.
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Additional info for A Turn to Empire: The Rise of Imperial Liberalism in Britain and France
Indeed, some of the nuances of Smith’s approach may well have been lost on those who heard the lectures and incorporated his approach in their own writings, such as his student and later colleague John Millar. Smith’s theory of history and approach to cross-cultural judgments, informed by his moral philosophy, achieve a degree of subtlety unmatched in other accounts. That his insights were to some degree lost may be due to the absence of a text from which later theorists of societal development could learn.
54 Yet according to Smith this is not because of their limited imagination but because, like members of other societies, hunters employ a spectator method to determine rightful possession. This method, applied to the goods valued in hunting societies— namely wild game—produces an idea of legitimate possession as being direct possession only. Smith’s narrative of the “progress” by which this notion of property, natural to hunting societies, gradually gave way to one that recognized ownership even when an owner was absent did not rely on changes in the very mental structures and capacities of the people involved, but rather in the emergence of new kinds of valuable possessions thanks to the natural development of a new mode of subsistence.
How did Smith theorize societal development without making the kinds of moral judgments about the superiority or inferiority of entire peoples that can be found in varying degrees in contemporaneous and, usually in a more pronounced manner, in later theories of progress? Understanding the sources of Smith’s tolerant approach to cross-cultural judgment serves both to correct mistaken assertions that have been made about Scottish conjectural history as a whole, and to indicate the broader intellectual disposition that animates Smith’s political thought, including his hostility toward European colonization.