Last Fall This Scholar Defended Colonialism. Now He’s Defending Himself.Historians in the News
tags: colonialism, Bruce Gilley, Portland State University
Q. How did you, a political scientist, end up writing about colonialism?
A. State building is an absolutely core concern for political scientists. I’m a comparativist, and I work on foreign-government systems. I kept coming back to this idea of why this period of colonial governance, particularly after World War I, was the most successful period for many of these countries, however you measure it: life expectancy, food production, population, public health, education, wage growth, rule of law, human rights, all of these things.
Q. A journal editor in an email to me made the comparison between colonialism and genocide — that journals have an ethical responsibility to reject an article defending colonialism just as they do one defending genocide. This journal editor’s position seems to be that pointing out the pros and cons of genocide is beyond acceptable debate. And so it should be with colonialism as well.
A. It’s an absurd analogy. Genocide, I think everyone would agree, is a moral wrong. There’s absolutely no plausible philosophical argument that one group of people establishing authority over another is an inherent moral wrong. Human history is all about alien rule. The Crees ruled most people in the Midwest. The Muganda controlled most of the people in central Africa. Alien rule is how history has always worked, and it’s how it’s continued to work in postcolonial periods.
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