Imperialism Reclaimed

Fifty years ago, as de-colonization accelerated, no one had a good word to say for imperialism. Nowadays, it is extolled for spreading economic progress, the rule of law, and science and technology to countries that would never have benefited from them otherwise.

LONDON – History has no final verdicts. Major shifts in events and power bring about new subjects for discussion and new interpretations.

Fifty years ago, as de-colonization accelerated, no one had a good word to say for imperialism. It was regarded as unambiguously bad, both by ex-imperialists and by their liberated subjects. Schoolchildren were taught about the horrors of colonialism, how it exploited conquered peoples. There was little mention, if any, of imperialism’s benefits.

Then, in the 1980’s, a revisionist history came along. It wasn’t just that distance lends a certain enchantment to any view. The West – mainly the Anglo-American part of it – had recovered some of its pride and nerve under US President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. And there was the growing evidence of post-colonial regimes’ failure, violence, and corruption, especially in Africa.

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