Originally published 05/17/2013
Thomas Meaney is a doctoral candidate in history at Columbia University and an editor of The Utopian.In the fun-house mirror of the present, the contours of the twentieth century have assumed a strange symmetry. It begins and ends with imperialism. The century opens with the West plundering the Rest, until one Asian nation, Japan, joins the action and becomes an empire itself. In the century’s last decade, the pattern repeats: the forces of liberal capitalism are again as dominant as ever, only this time China is the apt pupil of Western rapacity. The way historians speak of the present in terms of “imperialism,” ”anti-imperialism” and “the rise of Asia” makes the burst of decolonization after World War II seem like an interlude in a perpetual age of empire. The temptation to see Western colonials still lording it over hapless subalterns continues to guide our understanding of the relations between the “North” and “South” since the end of formal imperialism in the 1960s. But this perspective passes over the major structural changes in the history of the postwar decades, when the United States reconceived its mission in the world and new nations were no longer willing to support it on the same terms. Without grasping how this new configuration of forces reshaped the world order, we will continue to misidentify ways to change it.
Originally published 05/09/2013
Pankaj Mishra is an Indian author and writer of literary and political essays. His books include Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan and Beyond. His new work, From the Ruins of Empire: The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia, is published in 2012.Scuttling away from India in 1947, after plunging the jewel in the crown into a catastrophic partition, "the British", the novelist Paul Scott famously wrote, "came to the end of themselves as they were". The legacy of British rule, and the manner of their departures – civil wars and impoverished nation states locked expensively into antagonism, whether in the Middle East, Africa or the Malay Peninsula – was clearer by the time Scott completed his Raj Quartet in the early 1970s. No more, he believed, could the British allow themselves any soothing illusions about the basis and consequences of their power.
Originally published 04/14/2013
William Dalrymple is the author, most recently, of “Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42.”...And although few in the West are aware of it, as the United States prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan, history is repeating itself. We may have forgotten the details of the colonial history that did so much to mold Afghans’ hatred of foreign rule, but the Afghans have not.
Originally published 01/16/2013
David A. Bell is Professor of History at Princeton University. Born in New York City in 1961, he received his A.B. from Harvard and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Princeton.It remains to be seen whether France's military intervention in Mali will be considered a military success, but it already seems possible to count it a political one. The war has earned support from across the French political spectrum, President François Hollande has garnered acclaim for his leadership, and the French public broadly supports the country's stated humanitarian mission. The intervention recalls the days when “la grande nation” laid claim to an ambitious international role, particularly within its former colonial empire.But in today's France, this portrait of unity and resolve is actually something of an aberration. Far from expressing a confident sense of mission, the French public has recently been more inclined to a sense of decline, malaise, paralysis and crisis. And it is at least partially justified.
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