Churchill and Empire: A Portrait of an Imperialist
Critics, on the other hand, denounce him as a racist who embodied and supported the brutal violence inherent in imperial rule. Likewise the argument that he was a racist reactionary ignores both the complexity of his views and their change over time. Even the term imperialist obscures more than it enlightens.
Churchill never, for example, supported imperial tariffs in the way that his contemporary Leo Amery did, and for this he was denounced for weakening the empire. First, its confident and Whiggish belief in human progress, and second its pessimistic view of life as a harsh and evolutionary process. The former permitted him to believe that enlightened rule under a benevolent empire could eventually lead to self-rule and independence for its subject peoples.
Indeed, he frequently used racist and derogatory terms to describe black Africans. Yet even here he was no last ditch reactionary. Similarly, in South Africa, he was content to accept Boer rule despite its obvious racism.
But, as everyone knows, the Second World War fatally loosened its bonds and by the time he died it had virtually disappeared. What emerges from this densely argued book is that his support for the empire was not for its own sake but as a means of keeping Britain itself as a factor on the world stage.
As it declined, his concept of the commonwealth of English-speaking peoples as a major world force took its place.
Churchill fans who applaud his bulldog stance against appeasement and Nazism often struggle with his equally truculent defence of the British empire. The defence that Churchill was essentially a Victorian he was born in and that his imperial views should be judged by standards of the time only goes so far because it ignores the wide range of opinion in Victorian Britain itself about the empire.
Churchill and Empire
He is currently an adjunct instructor in History at Loyola University Chicago and has been teaching seminars at the Newberry since Learn more about our registration procedures. Donate Now Join the Mailing List. Search this site.
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