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The British Empire and Its Liberal Mission Author(s): Andrew Sartori Reviewed work(s): Source: The Journal of Modern

History, Vol. 78, No. 3 (September 2006), pp. 623-642 Published by: The University of Chicago Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/509149 . Accessed: 31/10/2012 20:19
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Review Article The British Empire and Its Liberal Mission*
Andrew Sartori
University of Chicago

Uday Singh Mehta’s Liberalism and Empire has been enthusiastically received by a surprisingly broad range of scholars of empire as a powerful contribution to the postcolonial critique of Eurocentrism. Mehta’s carefully argued and impressively limpid discussion gives articulate voice to themes that have gained significant footing in recent scholarship: a suspicion of abstraction and universalism and a correlative assertion of cultural difference and the power of representations. Yet, viewed from the perspective of a historian, his argument provokes some fundamental questions about how we are to interpret the emergence of modern ideologies that identify “empire”— and, for the purposes of both Mehta’s text and this essay, the British Empire specifically—as a vehicle for both the maintenance and the dissemination of modern “civilization.” In this essay, I shall begin by examining Mehta’s core proposition: that liberal abstraction contains within its basic argumentative structure an immanent propensity for colonial domination. In parts 2 and 3 of this essay, I will draw on some recent interventions in British intellectual history to suggest that this irreducibly his* The books to be discussed in this essay are: David Armitage, The Ideological Origins of the British Empire, Ideas in Context, ed. Quentin Skinner, Lorraine Daston, Dorothy Ross, and James Tully (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. xi‫ם‬239, $60.00 (cloth), $21.99 (paper); C. A. Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World, 1780–1914: Global Connections and Comparisons, Blackwell History of the World, ed. R. I. Moore (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2004), pp. xxiv‫ם‬540, $73.95 (cloth), $34.95 (paper); Eugenio Biagini, Gladstone, British History in Perspective, ed. Jeremy Black (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2000), pp. ix‫ם‬138, $65.00; David Cannadine, Ornamentalism: How the British Saw Their Empire (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. xxiv‫ם‬264, $15.95; E. M. Collingham, Imperial Bodies: The Physical Experience of the Raj, c. 1800– 1947 (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2001), pp. xiii‫ם‬273, $74.95 (cloth), $34.95 (paper); Niall Ferguson, Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power (London: Allen Lane, 2002; New York: Basic Books, 2003), pp. xxvi‫ם‬351, $17.95; Manu Goswami, Producing India: From Colonial Economy to National Space, Chicago Studies in Practices of Meaning, ed. Jean Comaroff, Andreas Glaeser, William Sewell, and Lisa Wedeen (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), pp. xi‫ם‬401, $50.00 (cloth), $20.00 (paper); Catherine Hall, Civilising Subjects: Metropole and Colony in the English Imagination, 1830–1867 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), pp. xviii‫ם‬556, $79.00 (cloth), $29.00 (paper); Bruce L. Kinzer, England’s Disgrace? J. S. Mill and the Irish Question (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), pp. x‫ם‬292, $63.00; Uday Singh Mehta, Liberalism and Empire: A Study in Nineteenth-Century British Liberal Thought (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), pp. xii‫ם‬237, $45.00 (cloth), $17.00 (paper); Anthony Pagden, Peoples and Empires: A Short History of European Migration, Exploration, and Conquest, from Greece to the Present, Modern Library Chronicles (New York: Modern Library, 2001, with new epilogue 2003), pp. xxv‫ם‬216, $10.95; Kathleen Wilson, The Island Race: Englishness, Empire, and Gender in the Eighteenth Century (London: Routledge, 2003), pp. xv‫ם‬282, $80.00 (cloth), $24.95 (paper). I would like to thank the editors of this journal (especially Jan Goldstein), Ralph Austen, David Como, Spencer Leonard, Steve Pincus, and Robert Travers.
The Journal of Modern History 78 (September 2006): 623–642 ᭧ 2006 by The University of Chicago. 0022-2801/2006/7803-0003$10.00 All rights reserved.

. more profound one—a moral flaw residing at the very heart of liberal thought. they were able to foreclose the . More remarkably still. . Yet. I will argue that the dominant historiographical trend toward discourse analysis in the field of British imperial studies has prevented current scholarship from engaging seriously with precisely this problem of the sociohistorical constitution of forms of liberal subjectivity. both the Mills. the father of modern conservatism and a virulent critic of democracy. whose societies were characterized by dense and long-established relations of sentiment. the universal referent of his foundational commitment” (Mehta. and legitimize. constantly tempting it with an “urge to dominate the world” that. 2). The universalism of what Mehta calls the “cosmopolitanism of reason” positions “the unfamiliar” as always already answerable to an abstract schema of thought that had itself been established through the contingencies of the particular cultural configuration of just one part of the world: “Liberalism . But cushioned by the asymmetry of power at the heart of this encounter. hierarchy. Through a careful reading of Locke. 1). British liberals found themselves confronted forcefully by the hidden parochialism and exclusionary logic of their creed. endorse the empire as a legitimate form of political and commercial governance” (Mehta. it turns out on closer examination that it has generally been “liberal and progressive thinkers such as Bentham. even if it does not inevitably lead to imperialistic practical consequences. I suggest that the key to unraveling the shifting ambiguities of liberal attitudes toward empire might lie in a more rigorous attempt to embed the conceptual structure of liberal thought in the sociohistorical contexts of its articulation. on the one hand. In contrast. without explicitly restricting. was self-consciously universal as a political. In colonies like India. is nevertheless internal to its discursive logic (Mehta. in relation to which liberalism can stand only metonymically: namely. Two mutually related factors conditioned the liberal encounter with the nonWestern world. 7). who in the annals of modern political theory most consistently expressed “a sustained and deep reluctance toward the empire” (Mehta. Mehta shows how liberal thought from the beginning had had to manage the gap between the alleged universalism of its conception of human nature and the actual realization of responsible liberal subjects. and Macauley. it had fashioned this creed from an intellectual tradition and experiences that were substantially European. on the other hand. 57). who . . there is “the fact and the awareness of the inequality of power” that gives to liberal thought its confident. and. 2–3). In the fourth and final part of this essay. assertive expansiveness (Mehta. “Locke presumes on a complex constellation of social structures and social conventions to delimit. First of all. I Mehta wrestles with one of the great paradoxes in the history of modern political theory: that a society that already by the end of the eighteenth century was beginning to consider itself a democracy was at the same time coming to govern an enormous empire without consent from or representation of its subject populations (Mehta. it was Edmund Burke. and epistemological creed. abstraction. stabilize.624 Sartori torical claim needs to be qualified and complicated in the face of. and dependence. 11–13). This first condition is itself tied to a second. . Victorian liberalism’s deepening embrace of a historicist-contextualist mode of social analysis and policy advocacy. 20). This deeper flaw is in fact the true villain of Mehta’s work. early-modern liberalism’s deep reluctance to endorse the imperial project. if not almost exclusively national” (Mehta. ethical.

feelings. Mehta is here deeply representative of the wider trend in contemporary historical scholarship. the conceptual terrain of discourse and hence the worlds of meaning inhabited by determinate historical subjects. spheres of familial. . so too in nineteenth-century liberalism the nonwhite colonies had not yet reached their maturity and so required paternal rather than consensual governance. if so. as a psychological mode. their passionate and pained intensity.The British Empire and Its Liberal Mission 625 challenge through an intellectual sleight of hand that used the concepts of “history” and “civilization. Mehta does of course argue that the “psychological aspects of experience. has everything to do with the context of their provenance and reception. from within the bounded. “Political ideas. what has made it so very different from other. also partake of this contextual contingency? And. and the friction they encounter in their engagement with reality” (Mehta. that makes its logic abstract ? Leaving these kinds of questions unaddressed inevitably opens the door to the all too common tendency to position abstraction as a kind of “original sin” of the West—the kind of transhistorical reification whose ideological origins lie in Nietzsche. and attachments through which peoples are. to foreclose the conversation by dismissing those unfamiliar “sentiments. “always derive their meaning. national. even if porous. 9–10). wherein sociohistorical context is most often seen to inflect or orient. 19–20).” he acknowledges. such as Burke’s protohermeneuticism? What is it about liberalism’s meaning-giving context. By recognizing the universal role of “prejudice”—the irreducible embeddedness of individuals in inherited structures of sentiment and attachment that are always local and finite (Mehta. Their meaning. But on a more careful examination it becomes clear that historical “context” enters Mehta’s argument only as either an external variable subsequent to the articulation of the ideological form (the relationship of domination as a precondition for the transformation of liberal ideology into colonial policy) or a consequence of a structure of ideas (empire as a logical extension of liberal exclusionism). “do not just have implications that flow from them with the frictionless ease of a mathematical deduction. or aspire to be.” including reason itself. 21)—Burke challenged teleological rationalism in the name of a “cosmopolitanism of sentiments” that grasped the deep attachments to locality and community that have so bemused liberal thinkers. as ideas. Just as for Locke children were not yet political subjects. or even to be tempted by the mastery implicit in the subsumption of the “singularity” of the unfamiliar into the more familiar intelligibility of the “general” (Mehta.” as social homologies of Locke’s discourse of “education.” to mediate the relationship between the abstract universalisms of liberal thought and the concrete unfamiliarity of other ways of life. . At the core of Mehta’s admiration is Burke’s refusal to plug India into a preestablished category of difference—his refusal to deny the coevality of the West and India. Edward Said’s contention that there is a . The hero of Mehta’s text is Edmund Burke—albeit a Burke refracted through the lens of twentieth-century phenomenologism. . ‘at home’” as evidence of backwardness. in other words. or other narratives” (21). II One inevitable correlate of the textualism of a political theorist like Mehta is—and the irony will presumably not be lost—an abstraction of the logic of the texts from their historical context. But questions remain: Does abstraction. allegedly less aggressive forms of social or political discourse. rather than more fundamentally to constitute.

the two world-conquering monotheisms would have to duke it out for universal supremacy for a millennium or so. one might say. . Western—or perhaps even more specifically.” Peoples and Empires. while simultaneously their compatriots—adventurers. Asia and Europe. until the West was reawoken in the period of early modernity gradually to encompass the globe with its thirst for 1 Edward Said. a final ingredient was added to this Western striving for imperial universality as a pluralistic polytheistic pagan society transformed into a monotheistic Christian one (Pagden.626 Sartori deep civilizational root to the West’s will-to-power over the East would be an influential case in point. Rather. where the primal inclination to abstraction might be as easily celebrated as condemned. 1978). it is more or less a straight shot to Rome. is now a mute [sic] point. if only in their own long-term interests.1 Mehta is careful to elide the issue entirely. liberalism had found the concrete place of its dreams (Mehta. with the decline of Rome and the rise of Islam. Hellene and barbarian. The problem is far from being just Mehta’s. it accounts (adequately or otherwise) for the universalization of liberal discourse. should. is that successive generations of liberal thinkers have endeavored to give more global and concrete expression to this original imaginary. . In the empire.” effacing an old enmity apparently lodged in the primordial collective unconscious of the West given its “origins . and even occasionally the professed liberal theorist himself—succeeded in marking more and more of the globe in the color associated with the Union Jack. 36). From Alexander. In this narrative. perhaps more importantly. The reason for this. in a context where the protocols of political pamphlets and theoretical texts were much the same. 36–37). and showed no desire to become citizens. Of course. which added both new possibilities for prosperity and. With Constantine’s conversion in 312 AD. . evangelicals. If these were mere local metaphors they are by now literally inscribed with a universalistic referent. . 31). be obliged to do so” (Pagden. but still not for its original inclination toward an aggressive mode of abstract thinking. Anthony Pagden has reiterated the story of the Western linkage of empire and universality in his recent popular survey of European expansion “from Greece to the present. a universal system of codified law. 13). And where else should he begin his panorama but with Alexander the Great’s ambitions to build a world empire through which he might act as “the conciliator and arbitrator of the universe” and thus “unite East and West. Orientalism (New York. British—exceptionalism became abstract universalism through the institutional vehicle of empire. . generals. in the myth of the rape of Europa—an Asian princess abducted to western shores—and in the story of the Trojan War—a struggle over a western woman abducted to eastern shores” (Pagden. Whether the phrases that implied this lofty vision [of liberal cosmopolitanism] . were merely strategic terms of art designed to support a noble patron or humble a monarch or two in a local conflict. the immanent aggression Mehta sees in liberalism would really stand in metonymic subordination to a more general tendency toward aggressively universalistic abstraction in the Western tradition. in part. traders. But this does not really resolve the fundamental issue. and an even shorter step to declaring that those who were not citizens. From Caracalla’s declaration of universal citizenship within the Roman world in 212 AD “it was but a brief step to declaring that Rome was the ‘common homeland’ of the entire world. it inheres deeply in conventional narratives of Western civilization.

commercial. 1500 to c. Not all historians would go along with Pagden’s subordination of the historical specificity of the early-modern conception of an “empire of trade” to the overarching continuity of his civilizational narrative. Britain. and classical republicanism struggled with the classical contradiction. 1850 (New Haven. whether by force (Sepulveda) or persuasion (Las Casas). as it most surely is. sidelining both liberalism and universalistic abstraction entirely in his examination of the origins of a peculiarly “British” conception of empire. We are left with a vague sense that Western universalism—the abstraction that is the true object of Mehta’s critique—is at root a “civilizational” affair. Protestantism’s hostility to Catholic universalism led English authors generally to eschew arguments from grace. between liberty and empire. slavery and the deepening racism of Britain’s second empire have effectively converted this very ideology of commercial freedom into a new incarnation of the aspiration to universal empire.2 At the core of this new model of empire was the belief that “commerce and successful capital accumulation can take place only in free societies” (Pagden. 8) to show how each of these elements was the outcome of specific political debates that occurred within the context of a negotiation of the relationships between the three kingdoms of England. that “the modern heirs of Alexander tend to assume that a rule of law that respects individual rights and liberal democratic government (as practiced in the United States) is a universal. Scotland. In The Ideological Origins of the British Empire. . c. part of the West’s constitutive cultural legacy. 168– 69). Armitage shows successively how each of the key discourses that organized these debates fell short of adequately grounding the conception of the British Empire that emerged at the end of his period of study: imperium fails to provide a model of assimilation. it was not solely a historical appropriation serving either interpretive or legitimating functions but more fundamentally the acknowledgment of a real and constitutive historical filiation. [was] the one aspect of the Roman world that the modern imperialist could adopt with pride” (Pagden. glossier version of the Western will to universality embodied by Caracalla’s vision of a universal civitas (Pagden. 86). . Pagden’s own widely read scholarship has served to register the significance of a major historical disjuncture separating the territorial logic of the Iberian empires from the new “empires of trade” that celebrated not the older aspiration to “universal empire” but rather “the civilizing and humanizing power of commerce” (Pagden. and Ireland in the crucial era of early-modern state-formation of the mid-sixteenth to the mid-eighteenth centuries. 1995). of the benevolent rule of the more gifted and more able . David Armitage has turned his attention to the crucial moment of the emergence of a new imperial imagination during Britain’s first empire. Lords of All the World: Ideologies of Empire in Spain. . the creation of GrecoRoman Christendom. Yet. when the British wrapped themselves in togas. posited by Sallust and reinforced by Machiavelli. 98). and France. Armitage carefully disaggregates the mideighteenth-century self-identification of the British Empire as “Protestant. and free” (Armitage. and not. by the end of Peoples and Empires. CT.The British Empire and Its Liberal Mission 627 power and its mission of Christian salvation. The conclusion Pagden arrives at in his final chapter is thus the inevitable outcome of a narrative that began back with Alexander and Caracalla: namely.” and that the modern “law of nations” embodied institutionally in the United Nations is merely a more modern. 89). Armitage is clearly trying to offer a genealogy of the conception 2 Compare Anthony Pagden. In other words. maritime. “The vision of empire as the expansion of civilization.

he has argued compellingly for the rise of a specifically “liberal” form of ideology in the 1650s. 2. not “liberal”) effort to reconcile liberty and empire only finds a way forward once both these terms come to be grounded in commerce as the modern safeguard of the salus publica. Greene. might not really change anything for an analysis of liberalism’s heyday in the nineteenth century—though we might well imagine that a historian as committed to contingency as Armitage seems to be would be nonplussed by the abstract logic of Mehta’s argument.” in The Oxford History of the British Empire. 208– 30. as a language of “political and constitutional argument” through which could be imagined a new form of polity.” Instead. P. in the early modern period” the basis for a new theory that “valued human choice [and] the human capacity to produce wealth” as the most powerful forces that could be harnessed and deployed to underpin both the public good and the strength of a newly emerging state. 1998). Marshall (Oxford. there is no deep logic to that peculiarly British reconciliation of liberty and empire—it was rather an ideology formed out of a peculiar discursive nexus in which liberalism would seem to have had no constitutive role at all. one that drew on the republican language of liberty and public weal to make political-economic arguments that were utterly incompatible in their core postulates and ultimate social aims with the neo-Roman theory of Machiavelli. see Jack P. That. ed. Thus the republican (n. in which colonies and metropole were linked by a common set of interests (Armitage. For Armitage.628 Sartori of a “British Empire” that emphasizes the contingency of its emergence upon a conjunctural configuration of discourse and political interest rather than on some underlying motive-agency such as the Protestant belief in a doctrine of grace.4 By the 1680s. The Eighteenth Century. this radical Whig espousal of human labor as a 3 For a summary of approaches to the study of the formation of a British imperial “identity” (in contrast to the formation of ideological claims about British imperial identity). Most defenders of the Commonwealth in the 1650s did not share the hostility of Harrington and Milton to commercial society—a hostility grounded in the republican claim that “the only proper basis of political power lay in landed wealth. Political economy thus came to serve not just as a technical language of administration but also. a specifically British maritime empire (wherein liberty. J. they saw in the “massive expansion of English trade.3 In contrast to Armitage. “Neither Machiavellian Moment nor Possessive Individualism: Commercial Society . and perhaps more fundamentally. 166). vol. both encourages and is encouraged by commercial activity) could avoid the dangers of territorial empires (wherein the weight of imperial expansion must inevitably crush civic life). a concept still drawn from an enduring republicanism. Steve Pincus seems to agree with Armitage that the emergence of the British conception of an empire of liberty is better understood in terms of an ideological claim rather than as a form of identity. 4 Steve Pincus. “Empire and Identity from the Glorious Revolution to the American Revolution. however.” By grounding empire in this new form of expansion.b. Yet there is also reason to think that a form of liberalism was playing a crucial role in Britain much earlier than Armitage suggests. Armitage is implying that the peculiar British paradox of a freedom-loving empire had already arisen in British thought as a conjunctural curiosity even before liberalism had achieved any real political significance. domestic and foreign.. it was only by taking cognizance of the nondiscursive fact of the expanding trade linking the interests of the three kingdoms and their transatlantic colonies that it became possible to integrate the different discursive elements of these debates into a coherent notion of a “British Empire. In the end. then. of course.

See also on the conceptual problems posed by global commerce and empire for the early economists. Emma Rothschild. according to Pincus. 6 Edmund Burke. First of all. and they supported the endeavors of the “interlopers” who sought to trade in India outside of the Company framework. perhaps. Viewing the disastrous militarization of the English and French mercantile presences in India as undertaken under the “pretence of securing their persons and property from violence” at the hands of what was in reality a “mild and gentle people. and to his (unpublished) paper. The First Modern Revolution. this early liberalism was profoundly critical of the policies of the East India Company. ed. 95).The British Empire and Its Liberal Mission 629 potentially infinite source of wealth underpinned the embrace of the Glorious Revolution and the financial revolution with which it is associated. in contrast. In contrast. saw trade as an encouragement to commercial society and hence wealth creating and eschewed territorial ambition in favor of peaceful exchange. 5 Steve Pincus develops these arguments in greater depth in his forthcoming book. I am also indebted to Spencer Leonard. As a result. depopulation.7 It was only after the fact of the East India Company’s acquisition of and the Defenders of the English Commonwealth. The Tory argument. which through the power and influence of Sir Josiah Childe dominated the policies of the East India Company. and ruination of “millions of innocent peoples by the most infamous oppression and rapacity” (Pagden. 34. it was Jacobites and Tories who took over the republican theory of political economy. Ideology. Pocock (Indianapolis. radical Whigs sought (and very nearly attained) its abolition in the 1690s. Reflections on the Revolution in France. as his antibourgeois rhetoric and his faith in “the noble ancient landed interest” were grounded in the Tory tradition).” Modern Intellectual History 1. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. implied that trade was a zero-sum game in which one nation could only benefit at the expense of another by accruing more of the earth’s finite product for itself. 96. 716. 343–44. and that the new Bank of England could serve only to reinforce the corruptive influence of commercial society. The radical Whig argument. positing that land was the source of all real wealth. 708.5 The implications of Pincus’s argument for the relationship between liberalism and empire are profound in at least two key ways that I think warrant emphasis. at 707. that wealth itself was consequently finite by its very nature. 1987). 1976). 43.” American Historical Review 103 (June 1998): 705–36. G. 254. .” he was clearly drawn to the vision of a free trade in the East Indies carried on by private merchants to the benefit of both parties. The logical sequelae of these two different visions of political economy for the theory and practice of trade were. Indeed. Edwin Cannon (Chicago. part of which he has kindly allowed me to read in manuscript form. plunder. Adam Smith argued that the Company’s interests qua company and its interests qua sovereign were incommensurable and that if a company could not pursue trade in the East Indies without a monopoly. it ought not to trade there at all. J. 1 (2004): 3–25. we have to recognize that it was in fact early-modern liberalism itself that developed an elaborate critique of both territorial imperial expansion and the activities of the East India Company.6 Pagden cites Richard Price (the radical liberal against whom Burke would later fulminate at such length in his Reflections on the Revolution in France) condemning in 1776 the East India Company’s conquest. ed. fundamentally different. “Interest. 2:149–58. From this perspective. and Retroactive Agencies: Formation of Imperial Intent toward India in the Metropole. A central aim of overseas policy would necessarily be territorial acquisition. the idiom of moral outrage expressed by Burke was surely drawn from the anti-Company attacks of Lockean liberals (as much. no. A.” 7 Adam Smith. “Global Commerce and the Question of Sovereignty in the Eighteenth-Century Provinces. 1758–1765. In the same year.

nevertheless maintaining a principled stance against imperial expansion as such. 9 Sudipta Sen. and Modernity in Britain and the Empire. gender.630 Sartori sovereignty that he considered the only possibility for such a mutually beneficial free trade to lie in an intervention by the British government to establish the crucial distinction between commercial and governmental functions. Native Americans would not appear to fare much better in Burke’s hands.” 712. If liberalism had a logically immanent propensity for imperial aggression in this earlier period.”10 In other words. that Smith’s mode of argument would ultimately serve to help transform the Company state’s interventions in Indian society into a form of moral agency. 707. for it was only through political intervention that the ground for a free movement of goods in India could be cleared.” in A New Imperial History: Culture. as Sudipta Sen has highlighted. for it is precisely in contrast to American “gangs of savages” that he sought to establish the political rights of Indians (Mehta. the Company state). etc. Until the end of the eighteenth century. and the realities of their daily social and economic engagements. on the other hand.”11 The logical implication would be that the abstraction that characterizes liberalism’s basic mode of thought is not simply a misleading disavowal of the secretly constitutive role of particular concrete institutions. it was surely toward the nonagricultural native peoples of North America. concrete human relationships of benevolence. Pincus is quite explicit in connecting the emergence of liberalism not merely to the strictly contingent illocutionary dimensions of political debate and the claustrophobic horizons of inherited political discourses from which Armitage proceeds but also to liberals’ “political experiences.. In other words. and therefore it cannot simply be unmasked through disaggregative gestures toward paternal power or pedagogical discipline. sympathy. who had failed to appropriate land through labor. 136–54. and.9 Yet this still leaves an important qualification: Smith’s argument only practically entails a liberal imperialism once sovereignty over India has been acquired. 2004). ed.8 This in turn would allow Smithian political economy to be integrated into the patriotic moral rhetoric that linked liberty and dominion as elements of Georgean state formation (including in the colonial instantiation of that process. Rather. economic. and economically unsavory conditions. 11 Ibid. Kathleen Wilson (Cambridge. and love. on the one hand.) on which they in reality depend but rather in some kind of constitutive relationship to the new social. “Neither Machiavellian Moment nor Possessive Individualism. 10 Pincus. Identity. It was surely just such a form of practical abstraction that Smith elaborated so clearly with the juxtaposition of. that abstraction must have emerged in reflective response to (as much as through political advocacy of) a real abstract logic inherent in the forms of practice characteristic of this new commercial society. The second implication of Pincus’s argument is perhaps the more fundamental. Distant Sovereignty: National Imperialism and the Origins of British India (New York. however. it implies a mode of rule in domains already acquired under morally. and political practices of the first “truly selfconscious commercial society. . 1660–1840. 2002). 186). the abstractness of the categories of liberal thought emerges not in spite of an array of concrete relationships and institutions (parentage. politically. “Liberal Government and Illiberal Trade: The Political Economy of ‘Responsible Government’ in Early British India. the exchange of labor that binds individ8 Sudipta Sen. It is certainly true. liberalism would appear to have remained hostile to the kind of territorial expansionism pursued in India—a historical periodization that the existing literature generally offers us little help in explaining.

19–44. “The Possessive Individualism Thesis: A Reconsideration in the Light of Recent Scholarship.The British Empire and Its Liberal Mission 631 uals in relations of objective social interdependence (regardless of sentiment. ed. for instance. Carens (Albany. present historians with something of a challenge when they try to think historically about liberalism as a Victorian ideological formation. This is not coincidental. 1993). B. [and] social relations” of their subjects precisely because of the opacity of their unfamiliar social and psychological environments.” had ultimately (after the initial abuses of its mercantilist origins) proved a progressive agent of government precisely because it “grew up of itself. for example. He grounds the irreducible modernity of the liberal vision not in cultural particularity. In his understanding of the role of the Mills in India. The English Utilitarians and India. in other words. 14 Eric Stokes. broadly Benthamite approach to the colonial context into one deeply shaped by precisely the kind of conservative.” in Democracy and Possessive Individualism: The Intellectual Legacy of C. 12 13 . however. Joseph H. 176–80. as it were—in the subcontinental laboratory. His defense of East India Company rule against the move to abolish it in favor of direct metropolitan control in 1858. It does. over more recent work by Lynn Zastoupil. Macpherson. personal familiarity. and it works well when applied to the unapologetic brutality and radically optimistic energy of James Mill’s utilitarian conception of rationality. and by the adaptation of machinery originally created for a different purpose. 15 Lynn Zastoupil. but in a new form of social organization whose “Westernness” was neither primordial nor constitutive.14 This. Burkean tradition that we might call romantic historicism. as Stokes not only identified the same sharp juxtaposition of theoretical abstraction and Burkean historicism in the approaches of different colonial policy makers. CA.12 Pincus effectively writes against the attempts of the past several decades to dissolve the novelty of Locke’s arguments into the contingencies of the political moment in which he wrote and the Western intellectual tradition from which he drew. though lacking “theoretical recommendations to render it acceptable. John Stuart Mill and India (Stanford. but he was also interested in seeing how utilitarian ideas were put into action—tested out. not from preconceived design.13 III Mehta’s theoretical juxtaposition of liberal and Burkean positions is surely legitimate at a certain level of abstraction. 1989). For Zastoupil has argued that Mill’s engagement with India transformed his earlier. But Mehta’s sidelining of the implications of Zastoupil’s work effectively allows him to avoid confronting some of the difficulties of his reading of the younger Mill that are posed at a specifically historical level. or even bare physical encounter) that can be grasped through the (abstract) categories of political economy. the rulers of foreign countries needed gradually to acquaint themselves with “the laws. of course. NY. Mehta implicitly privileges Eric Stokes’s masterpiece. 1:18. A convenient summary of such arguments is to be found in James Tully. took the form of an argument that the apparently baroque irrationality of its institutional structure. but by successive expedients.15 Smith. 1994). Wealth of Nations. customs.” Rather than leaping to action on the basis of abstract theoretical criteria. fits well with Mehta’s own sense of liberalism as operating from a fundamental erasure of the landscape of colonial lifeworlds. The English Utilitarians and India (Delhi.

on which we might have inscribed what we pleased” (Kinzer. the younger Mill rejected any notion of a repeal of the Act of Union. 27– 28). Mill increasingly advocated forms of peasant proprietorship as leading to the transformation of an indolent. Like Zastoupil. prudent. Mill’s most trenchant statements of liberal confidence in On Liberty and Considerations on Representative Government were written at the moment of his greatest distance from Irish affairs (Kinzer. In this. Mill would increasingly shy away from advocating the authoritarian exercise of state power in Ireland to leap directly to the liberal values he unquestionably continued to espouse. Mill saw its poverty and oppression through the lens of a classically Benthamite critique of aristocracy (Kinzer. Mill was moving against the grain of more narrow arguments regarding Irish agricultural reform in mid-century English liberalism. E. 47–48). whose aristocracy and established church were the object of the same kind of vehement critique from the standpoint of utilitarian rationality that would be directed at Indian society (Kinzer. how the axiomatic hostility to “custom” that Mill expressed in On Liberty fits with his own contemporary moves toward the embrace of “custom” as a form of colonial governance in India. 18–19). 60–64). Mill espoused in his later writings a deeper commitment to adapting legislation to the specific circumstances in which it was to act. Bruce Kinzer traces broadly the same transition in thought that Zastoupil described in Mill’s thoughts on India. 10). however. In the words of Philip Bull. 213). As Kinzer has underlined. Cairnes’s strident espousal of secularism in the Irish university controversy. increasingly defending both peasant proprietorship and customary tenurial rights from the more conventional criticisms drawn from classical liberalism and political economy. however. 104). ignorant. Mill’s arguments are surprisingly congruent in their basic formal structure with those of Victorian conservatives like Sir Henry Maine. and thrifty peasantry (Kinzer. on the moral grounds that English misgovernment had failed to prepare Ireland for a responsible self-rule (Kinzer. and uneconomical cottiertenantry into an industrious. which sought fundamentally “to make Ireland more like England” by reinforcing forms of contract against customary claims embodied most importantly in the Ulster tenant right (Kinzer. siding with Gladstone’s moderate liberalism over J. however. “subsuming the particular under the general so completely as to make it almost invisible” (Kinzer. 45–48). Ireland’s problems were just an exacerbated version of the problems in England. Kinzer’s reading could in certain respects be seen to reinforce the thesis of immanent aggression in liberal thought: James Mill’s discussions of Irish issues barely spoke of Ireland at all. who similarly matched his espousal of liberal individuality (“contract”) with his seminal recognition that political economy’s flawed attempt to “generalize to the whole world from a part of it” led it to underrate the “great body of custom and inherited idea” manifest in Indian social institutions—institutions that were “equally . Mill thus “contributed substantially to a renewed assertion in Ireland of instinctive and inherited beliefs about land occupancy” (cited in Kinzer. beginning with an increasing interest in the moral and material conditions of the Irish peasantry that was largely absent from his early writings (Kinzer. and even as late as 1848 (well after his engagement with romanticism) he wrote of the Famine as an unparalleled opportunity—a “terrible calamity” that had “quelled all active opposition to our government” so that “Ireland was once more a tabula rasa. 33– 34). Kinzer also shows how John Stuart Mill’s interest in Ireland gradually shifted. supported by his father.632 Sartori In England’s Disgrace? an exhaustive reading of Mill’s lifelong engagement with Irish issues. In other words. It remains a puzzle to be sorted out. In his earliest writings on Ireland from the 1820s. 28. 90– 95).

Surely James Fitzjames Stephens’s rejection of the universality of liberal principles through a reassertion of the authoritarian impulses of utilitarianism is merely the converse of the younger Mill’s retreat from the aggressive confidence of his father’s judgments to a more cautious. Cannadine himself is primarily concerned to show how the British Empire of the high-imperial period operated in terms of interpretive and institutional analogies between British class-formations (by which he means structures of status and deference rather than objective relationships to the means of production) and forms of aristocracy and privilege in its colonies (both white and nonwhite). equally respectable. 195–200).”’ and even (despite his assertive conception of “Christendom”) a profound sense of responsibility for the rights of the colonized. 1822–1888 (London. Eugenio Biagini’s short overview. serves precisely to remind us of a broad-based formal recapitulation of Burkean conservatism in the high colonial period—even if it eschews any serious effort to explain the periodicity of this mode of imperial imagination. 183. a ‘restorative conservatism. “a historicist approach to constitutional conservation through reform. an argument that the full entry into political responsibility is necessarily preceded by a period of parental or political tutelage (Mehta. esp. 57–58).The British Empire and Its Liberal Mission 633 natural. Mill and India. See also George Feaver. . Ornamentalism.16 And just as one might expect. 224. juxtaposing the respectability and rectitude of artisans and working men to both the landed gentry. 91–106. 43. Zastoupil. 119–22. 1989). then Mill’s liberal gradualism comes to look a lot like Burke’s conservative sensibility. Thomas Munro: The Origins of the Colonial State and His Vision of Empire (Delhi. and a common national past. or. 1969). Even his efforts at franchise reform partook of this overall drive for national moral restoration. One might be tempted to see such equivocations merely as forms of gradualism— that is to say. He thus not only portrays the Grand Old Man of nineteenth-century liberalism as deeply motivated throughout his career by the faith of a providentialist High Church man but also portrays his thought and policy as fundamentally grounded in beliefs about the organicism of the state. equally interesting. the importance of historical specificity. who “were unfit to discharge their electoral duty on behalf of the rest of the country” (Biagini. From Status to Contract: A Biography of Sir Henry Maine. who “no longer exercised their privileges with Peelite self-denial. for that matter. 183–91. all inspired by the writings of Burke (Biagini. 16 Sir Henry Maine.” and the middle classes. 17 See Burton Stein. and political traditions through reform (Biagini. like Sir Thomas Munro’s sense that the British role in India was to strengthen an Indian constituency of individuals already forming a nascent civil society that had begun to emerge from an indigenous process of fragmentation of ascriptive communal social bonds. Both point toward a deepening culturalist identification of liberalism with Westernness beginning in the later nineteenth century. 71–72). argues that Gladstone’s turn to liberalism always remained at heart a “conservative radicalism” aimed at renewing the stability of social. Village-Communities in the East and West (New York. equally worthy of scientific observation” as those of modern Europe. religious. One direct implication of this argument would be that liberalism underwent a major retreat in the imperial ideologies of this period. 233. If that is the case. proto–social-scientific historicism. 10–15). Gladstone. David Cannadine’s recent essay.17 Indeed. But Mill was surely arguing that the path to political responsibility in Ireland could travel only through passages demarcated by the logic of Irish agricultural society. 1880). this ambivalence was not confined to the great political theorists of the Victorian era.

Indian Society and the Making of the British Empire. Castle. Marshall (Oxford. ed. It is in the end the clarity of Mehta’s theoretical juxtaposition that is the most appealing aspect of his approach—something that distinguishes the rigor of his analysis from the more conventionally biographical mode of Kinzer’s work. A. 1765–1818. Gordon Johnson. balancing attention to the modernizing or civilizing project with a correlative emphasis on the contradictory. Civilising Subjects. Andrew Porter (Oxford. but rather might help elucidate. J. Gordon Johnson. Bayly. 395–421. But it is only by extending the analysis to include the sociohistorical constitution of liberal ideology that we might reconcile Mehta’s insights into the theoretical logic of nineteenth-century liberal attitudes toward empire with Kinzer’s insights into its attempts to engage with romantic historicism. Bayly. The Eighteenth Century. “Indian Society and the Establishment of British Supremacy. . Lata Mani. 2. C. 4.3. ed. Nicholas B. C. “India. vol. C. and John F. Rajat Kanta Ray. 1988). the formation of India’s “traditional” peasant society through the settling of mobile populations and the destruction of the precolonial indigenous manufacturing sector. Society. 1998). Dirks. In order to understand this antinomy of liberal abstraction and conservative contextualism in a way that does not constantly fight against. 2nd ed. Susan Bayly. 18 Some important contributions on these issues include Arjun Appadurai. 2. and John F. Such a project would necessarily have to begin by locating both these tendencies within a more complex understanding of the historical dynamics of colonialism.” in The Oxford History of the British Empire. David Washbrook. Mehta’s oversimplification of the attitude of the liberal tradition toward empire would seem to stem from a primary reduction of empire itself to the single dimension of the pedagogical project of modernization or civilization. The Hollow Crown: Ethno-History of an Indian Kingdom. the complexities of the ideological formation that was nineteenth-century liberalism. Richards (Cambridge. ed.18 Seen from this perspective. The New Cambridge History of India. Bayly. vol. 508–29. Richards (Cambridge. 1998). IV Catherine Hall’s recent study of abolitionist Baptist missionaries. 1818–1860: The Two Faces of Colonialism. and the rigidification of “traditional” forms of hierarchy and the institutional affirmation of scriptural religious authority. antimodernizing dimensions of colonial rule: the marginalization of regions like South Asia from their relative centrality within the world’s manufacturing economy during the precolonial era. Hall’s narrative first traces the aspirations and implications of radical evangelical liberalism in which universal emancipation through a baptismal purgation of the burden of the past (slavery and ignorance) would produce a society of free petty producers modeling their new life on the English middle class. MI. it is necessary to go beyond the reification of abstract thought and concrete lifeworld to think about how both terms of this antinomy were socially and historically produced in relation to each other. The New Cambridge History of India.634 Sartori I am certainly not suggesting that the way to grasp the historical tendency of liberal abstraction and Burkean romantic historicism to converge partially beginning around the mid-nineteenth century is through a laundry list of conceptual ambiguities. Contentious Traditions: The Debate on Sati in Colonial India (Berkeley. 1999). 1999). (Ann Arbor. Worship and Conflict under Colonial Rule: A South Indian Case (Cambridge. sets out to braid narratives of the refashioning of political and social identities in Jamaica and Birmingham in a way that resituates both locations (colony and metropole) within a single analytical field.” in The Oxford History of the British Empire.1. The Nineteenth Century. 1993). A. 3. P. 1981). and Politics in India from the Eighteenth Century to the Modern Age. ed. A.

masculine or feminine. 3:665–89. Hall argues that this shift also produced.” both the necessity that the freed slave be available for wage labor and the impossibility of granting full rights of citizenship to freed slaves without “threatening an economic system based on inequality” meant that political exigency “required greater constraint” on those same individuals.The British Empire and Its Liberal Mission 635 She then proceeds to show the subsequent declension of this discourse in the face of the new realities of postemancipation Jamaican society. in the culturalist terms of Hall’s account. the missionaries were increasingly led to juxtapose their own (British) manly individuality to the effeminized laziness and mischievousness of the ex-slaves—a process that helped reconstitute a British “manly citizenship” that ultimately fed into the new franchise inaugurated by the Reform Bill of 1867. her use of key terms like “gendered” and “raced”—unexceptionable in themselves as descriptive analytics of subject positionality—presumes the availability 19 Also on Jamaica. 1995). Ideologies of the Raj. Labor and Politics in Jamaica and Britain. For Holt. “Cultural Encounters: Britain and Africa in the Nineteenth Century. and John F.4. Johns Hopkins Studies in Atlantic History and Culture. McCaskie. which set in motion two contradictory movements: while “the economic [conception of liberal freedom] demanded greater scope for individual expression. While she dutifully cites the work of Thomas Holt. Yet her work ultimately falls short of its stated aim to examine the constitution of raced and gendered forms of colonial and metropolitan subjectivity. Moreover. she effectively marginalizes his most important insights. 20 Holt. Gordon Johnson. The New Cambridge History of India. see Thomas Holt. an increasing naturalization and essentialization of the differences between colonizer and colonized as innate characteristics of the races (in sharp contrast to the earlier missionary critique of circumstantial disadvantages belying the reality of a universal brotherhood of man). Problem of Freedom. . how they were contingently positioned as white or black. 6. in relation to other historical subjects. ed. A. C. even within missionary discourse. 1992). Rebecca J. C. transformations in Jamaican racial ideologies were inseparably connected to the dynamics of capitalist society. and Michel-Rolph Trouillot (Baltimore. Richards (Cambridge. For a discussion that links developments in Indian racial discourse with events in Jamaica. rather. 3. Reinforcing a growing body of scholarship that has shown a hardening of racial attitudes from around the middle of the nineteenth century. Scott. see Thomas Metcalf. Sidney W. 1832–1938. realities that included both the resurgence of African traditions in a “distinctive peasant culture” that defined the postemancipation “African-Jamaican way of life” and the correlative unwillingness of many black Jamaicans to remain humbly subservient in perpetuity to the white missionary’s exemplary function as a performer of middle-class domestic and social virtues (Hall. And for a brief discussion of Africa. civilized or savage.” in Porter.19 Hall has certainly produced an engaging. ed. Hall provides us with a sensitive examination of the shifting coordinates and complexities of the “subject-positions” of historical agents—that is to say. As a result. But the basic categories that structure the possibilities of such subject positionality are divorced from the structural dynamics of social context and simply assumed as given. Neither the (Western?) discourse of labor shared by missionaries and planters nor the “African” traditions that reemerged from latency among the emancipated appear. 198). Mintz. Bayly. to have been constituted in the specifically “imperial” context that is the subject of her study. see T.20 In contrast to this dynamic social analysis. they seem to have emerged from what can only be understood by default as a residual yet ultimately foundational “local” historicity. archivally rich narrative. The Oxford History of the British Empire. 137–38. The Problem of Freedom: Race.

Hall can only gesture toward the historically unmotivated. but also being reconstituted in those moments” (Hall. we are left without a clue as to whence might have come the fundamental salience of “race” as a category constitutive of identity across the divide of liberal and postliberal missionary discourses. It is true that she takes great care to argue that racial representation (including the subject positions constituted thereby) is “not a closed system” but rather “operated in relation with historical events. “identity is tentative. while the sociohistorical constitution of the structure itself (assuming that it is just one structure that perdured through the transition she recounts) is never analytically approached. multiple and contingent. prejudicial category of “race” as the historical means to resolve the contradictions between liberalism and colonial rule (Hall. might carry more explanatory power. it is inadequate merely to say that England mastered the seas and ruled an empire. as discursively produced forms of subject position. and its modalities change over time” (3). as far as it goes. If she had been content merely to show the ascendance of a hyperracialized identity in mid-nineteenth-century Britain.” her aim is to show how the “solitary and singular” insularity of the national subject of British history was always engaged in a mutually constitutive relationship with its colonial others and was always internally fractured. of how objective circumstances and subjective orientation are mutually mediating. for “England” itself came into being through 21 On the centrality of “difference” to the new imperial history. on conjunctural contingency and performative ambivalence. From Wilson’s standpoint. then. the approach on which the self-declared “new imperial history” has staked its claim to newness has been a sharper focus on the specifically cultural dimensions of empire. 1–26.” denoting an ideological categorization new to that period. 203). Indeed. the term “raced. And whereas Mehta is able to locate the motivation of liberalism’s discriminatory logic in the disjuncture between abstraction and unfamiliar. Proceeding from a postcolonialist and poststructuralist emphasis on the productive power of “difference. and on the mutually constitutive effects of the connections linking metropole and colony. But since she is broadly in accord with Mehta in seeking to unveil the coevality of liberal universalism and racial consciousness. It is not so surprising. The Island Race. 276). sets out to decenter the historical constitution of eighteenth-century English identity with a deliberate focus on England’s embeddedness within imperial relationships. fundamentally marked by instability and flux. concrete lifeworlds. see especially Wilson’s introduction to Wilson. subject positions can only really be reconfigured and reoriented within the structuring logic it provides. Yet the movement of this mediation begins by taking a structure of representation as given and then showing how it was subsequently impacted by performative contradictions.” Wilson proposes. . a collection of essays by Kathleen Wilson (one of the most prominent advocates of the new imperial history). Since “race” enters the analysis already constituted.636 Sartori of these discursive categories as markers of difference rather than explaining the potency and significance of their role in the (inter-)subjective lives of people on both sides of the colonial divide. that her language comes close to implying at times that missionary radicalism and planter racism were just minor variations on the same fundamental racism (Hall. This is an unexceptionable formulation. Just about everyone working on British imperial history in the American academy at this point seems to accept Hall’s contention that “British” and “Western” identities were. 435– 36). A New Imperial History.21 “As a historical process. playing a part in the constitution of meaning in those events.

” and remained in continuous conceptual flux in response to changes in the dynamics and structure of that wider imperial context. “Networking: Trade and Exchange in the Eighteenth-Century British Empire. class. 5). With her emphasis on the reconstitution of “England” itself as a category of both national identity and civilizational mission. Wilson’s sophisticated emphasis on the complexities of discursive processes leaves surprisingly underexamined the assumption of utilitarian social interests: one is left to guess whether what lurks behind the performance 22 For a more general discussion of the rise of the concept of “networks” in recent historiography on the eighteenth-century British empire. see Natasha Glaisyer.22 England’s essentialist self-conception could thus only be sustained through a profound effort of denial. inversion. 151). . putting sharp emphasis on the importance of practices. as with Hall. exploration. 23 Foucault’s return to the category of “practice” after his earlier structuralism is most pronounced and powerful in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. . and ambivalence in practices of subjective identification. But her ability to pursue this agenda is fundamentally compromised by the framework of her analysis. “Britain” is not. Alan Sheridan (London. produces feedback effects that reconstitute and rearrange the positionality of subjects within the representational order. on closer inspection. leading her into a weaker. But. 1977). then. In fact. travel. Her mode of discourse analysis certainly extends beyond the merely linguistic. it becomes apparent that she interprets “practices” almost exclusively as instances of the “performance” of (discursive) categories of subjective identity. it was “at the precise moment when England was less an island than ever before” that “English people were most eager to stress the ways in which their island was unique.” without Wilson offering any serious explanation of those categories’ general persuasiveness or plausibility (Wilson.) are themselves never disturbed. 93). 24 Emphasis added. and so on that served to link metropole and colony systemically “as interconnected analytical fields” (Wilson.24 On the one hand. communication. 203–4). culturally as well as topographically” (Wilson. It is thus “performativity” that serves as the crucial site for the production of the kind of symptomatic ambivalences that she uses to deconstruct essentialist conceptions of English nationhood (Wilson. . to describe a social reality but to assist in its construction” (Wilson. Wilson shares with Hall the project of intimating an approach to historical processes of subject constitution. . which remains strictly confined to the investigation of subject positionality and the discursive production of contradiction. “National identity . “the product of its own potent and irreducible ties to a larger world. . and the fundamental representational matrices that organize identity (race. but. Practice. 16).” Historical Journal 47 (June 2004): 451–76. a real historical subject perduring through time. 93). gender. provided neither a stable and continuous frame of reference nor a full and final recognition” (Wilson. Wilson’s approach in the end falls short of Foucault’s more stringent analysis of the constitutive effectivity of practices in the production of forms of discourse. in other words. then.23 Discursive categories can thus be “wielded by the guardians of order or reform to fix or refashion the expectations and values of men and women alike.The British Empire and Its Liberal Mission 637 its mastery of the seas and rule of its empire. almost intentionalist form of nominalism according to which the kinds of “difference” encoded in categories like race and gender are “less a verifiable descriptive category than a highly mobile signifier for power relations” that serves “not . but rather a discursive effect produced within a decentered “network” of imperial institutions of commodity exchange. the representational order always takes precedence in the analytical sequence. trans. etc.

185). 6). sexual. Elias argues that these ‘blind’ structures have a dynamic of their own” (Collingham. and national identifications” to mark the distinctiveness of this performed self (2). She thus points toward social dynamics that originate not in the functionalistic domain of strategies of control but in transformations in the sociohistorical context that constituted the bodily experience of the British in India. while she acknowledges that “on first reading. It is precisely this gap that E. Collingham’s text fits broadly within the Foucauldian investigation of how particular discursive regimes serve to define and control bodies. Moreover. Collingham has attempted to supplement through her invocation of Norbert Elias in her recent monograph. But Collingham also seeks to supplement this emphasis on the effectivity of discourses of the body with an analysis of what Elias would call the “sociogenesis” of bodily practices. meanwhile. Furthermore. and the result is a rich and inventive archival history of how British bodily practices operated both as a site of internal social control and as “an instrument of authority”—a signifier of social prestige—“within a specifically Anglo-Indian ruling strategy” (Collingham. Yet now we are back to Hall: what explains the salience. M. 53). as an external variable acting on representational orders that are simply posited as given. in contrast to Mehta. As Collingham herself notes. then. and in the end it primarily serves only to lay a general groundwork for subsequent discussions that focus primarily on the Anglo-Indian body as “a category of discourse” (Collingham. the prioritization. sociohistorical context enters the analysis too late. Collingham’s invocation of Elias’s theory seems often only vaguely elaborated. the eighteenth-century “technologies of the self” that Wilson uses to elucidate the performative dimensions of identity “also required class. 79). Imperial Bodies. So in dealing with the de-Indianization of the British body in early nineteenth-century India and its reconstitution in accord with a more individuated. “The behaviour of individuals takes place within a structure which is created by the actions of individuals but which has implications and effects which are greater than those individual acts.” there is little in her identification of a mere common object of study (“the body as the locus of power struggles”) to reassure us that their approaches are in fact theoretically commensurable (Collingham. Once again. Wilson’s approach matches its inattention to the instrumentalism at the heart of its model of subjectivity with a correlative inattention to those very categories of difference that are at the heart of her analytic apparatus and that form the most basic coordinates of the matrices of eighteenth-century imperial identity formation.638 Sartori of categories of identity is in the end anything more than the rather conventional notion of a self-interested (individual or collective) bearer of instrumental reason. Collingham sets out to ground the constitution of an individuated AngloIndian subjectivity in the South Asian context itself. as with both Hall and Mehta. 5). On the other hand. Yet the very fact that she invokes a specifically “social” (rather than discursive) theory of the constitution of subjective experience seems to press at the limits of the discourse-centered analyses of Hall and Wilson. gender. Collingham emphasizes not only “increased communication with Britain” but also “changes in the structure of Anglo-Indian society itself” stemming from the consolidation of British power and the correlative growth in density of the British presence (63–65. it is the sociogenetic dimension of her approach that could (at least in . and the specific mode of apprehension of these particular markers of difference? In the end. bourgeois model of subjectivity. affirming both its similarity to its metropolitan model and the colonial difference that resulted from the displacement of such individuation into a form of other-directed social prestige. Foucault and Elias appear to be incompatible.

and the modern public sphere (Bayly. To say more would require that the emergence of liberalism be treated in quite different terms—terms that cannot be contained within the narrower.The British Empire and Its Liberal Mission 639 principle) allow her to grasp transformations in British bodily practices in their relationship with contemporary transformations in Indian bodily practices (64). economic transformation. Bayly draws on the concept of “networks” to show how decentered global developments helped to constitute “the West” as the dominant player on the global stage. and equality before the law) of one major trajectory of modern political and economic discourse—ethical categories that. is that in the face of all his efforts to demonstrate the broad parallels between different locations within global networks at the level of state formation. “liberalism” alone retains its status as an undisputed moment of “Western exceptionalism” whose development he traces by gesturing to a narrowly intellectual genealogy (Bayly. the emergence of public spheres. At a descriptive level. 478–86). from the perspective of this essay. modern state formation. not even Mehta is willing to give up. if the analytical framework within which one locates the emergence of liberal discourse is identified from the beginning as a distinct ideological domain (intellectual history). A. Yet in some ways Bayly is more committed to challenging narratives of Western exceptionalism than are practitioners of historical deconstruction like Wilson: he consistently tries to make connections between tendencies and events in the West and the non-West to highlight how tight the linkages that bound together an increasingly networked world were becoming in the course of the last three centuries. complemented by the development of a capitalist economy. But what is really striking in his work. It would have meant treating the development of an intellectual form as part and parcel of wider sociohistorical processes—and correlatively recognizing that both the modernity and the transmissibility of the practices born of those processes render their ethnicization as “Western” or “British” fundamentally problematic. the ideological domain of religious and national consciousness becomes just one of several major “prime movers” of the dynamic tendency toward uniformity in the modern world. and the renewal of religious discourses. Skinnerian model of intellectual history that has achieved such prominence in the British academy. Bayly is quite right. articulating as it has the ethical categories (property. in the end. political. to compensate for the narrowness of the focus on representations by multiplying the planes of analysis. Bayly’s approach in his magisterial synthesis The Birth of the Modern World. even as it works hard to show the mutual impact of economic. and informational “networks. then the indisputable absence of any major parallel development anywhere else renders liberalism a cultural peculiarity of Western civilization. and so it soon ceased to be a form of exceptionalism (Bayly. Yet this reassertion of Western exceptionalism must inevitably be the conclusion of an approach that. Bayly’s answer is that “the rapid expansion of the international market and of European empires required people across the world to adapt these new intellectual tools for their own . 290– 93). freedom. That is to say. One might be tempted. identity formation. rights. For Bayly. But that still leaves open the larger question of why it was taken up by non-Westerners if its intrinsic coherence was grounded in a parochial intellectual tradition. following C. All Bayly can do to soften the blow of the recognition of this ultimate horizon to the plausibility of his parallelisms is to add hastily that liberalism was in fact quickly taken up in the non-West by intellectuals like Rammohun Roy. Like the new imperial historians. 293–94). Liberalism is hardly an insignificant exception.” proceeds from a primary reification of those networks as fundamentally distinct causal domains. ideological.

that their subjectivity can be conceived as an external variable to sociohistorical structures. in the end. the other. 1994). This does not mean. and Wilson argue) and as a historically determinate form of thought that is not ultimately reducible to this dimension of its performative deployment. social field” (Goswami. On the other hand. however. if asymmetrically structured. 25). On the one hand. each serving to reconstitute. and Eric Hobsbawm. it achieved universality through colonial imposition. through the pedagogical imposition of a new cultural norm—though it remains to be shown how this approach. suggesting that “ideological. “Rethinking the Modular Nation Form: Towards a Sociohistorical Conception of Nationalism. But if we follow the impulse of Pincus’s work and grasp liberal discourse as a set of subjective categories embedded within certain constitutive social practices.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 44. 1999). P. . The only way to grasp the global availability of its categories is. is disputing that liberalism did in fact find its earliest articulation in the West. Bayly can be understood to be endorsing Mehta’s argument that. If historical agents act. 1688– 1914 (London. and analytically quite distinct. Hall. G. Producing India —a text that goes beyond both the focus on subject position that is characteristic of the new imperial history and the pluralism of Bayly’s reified causal domains to show how both colonial and nationalist forms of consciousness were “coproduced within a common. much rides on how we interpret the significance of this “origination. analyses that all highlight the institutional centrality of the British Empire to the operation and stabilization of the global economy in this period. since.26 I take courage from Manu Goswami’s recent analysis of colonial nationalist and nativist discourses. No one. no. 26 See Manu Goswami. The Long Twentieth Century: Money. as the new imperial history itself intuits. Industry and Empire: The Birth of the Industrial Revolution (New York. then we have a much broader canvas of social transformation and imperial practice on which to paint the history of liberalism’s global dissemination.g. J. just the West’s original sin. sociohistorical context and subjective propensity are mutually mediating moments. then. it is probably precisely as a result of the history that Hall relates—that of the increasing identification of “liberalism” as an essentially “Western” set of ultimately nontransmissible values—that this deeper dimension of the constitution of liberal discourse has been so difficult to grasp. and the Origins of Our Times (London. Power. That would leave us once again to wonder if liberal abstraction is. without having to give up the crucial role played by the British Empire as an (ambivalent) institutional vehicle of the global dissemination of liberal discourse precisely in its capacity as the institutional linchpin of the nineteenthcentury global political and economic order. Hopkins. see Giovanni Arrighi.” and “economic” developments must be understood as intrinsically connected from the beginning. Cain and A.640 Sartori use” (290). British Imperialism: Innovation and Expansion. would work in places where direct colonial domination was not a significant factor (e. and potentially also to problematize. Ironically. Japan or Russia). Bayly might be read as impugning his own schematic separation of causal domains.” “political. But that word “required” can be read in two quite different ways.25 Liberalism could be grasped as both a language of power and legitimacy (as Mehta. However.. 1993). if liberalism emerged from a peculiarity of the Western intellect. 4 (2002): 770–99.” As a product of a civilizational impulse. it is because they are subjects who apprehend the world in particular ways and pursue particular ends. to the best of my knowledge. Goswami argues that a “territorialization of colonial state power” (33) through the post-Mutiny development 25 For three influential. so easily pursued in the Indian context. liberalism is irreducibly consigned to cultural particularity.

however. Mehta’s work provides no answer to Ferguson because in the end Ferguson’s argument largely replicates. “the concrete place of its dreams. Ferguson. What is the real challenge that Ferguson’s argument presents historians. The resultant disjuncture in turn constituted the practical premise from which the conception of “national space” at the heart of the new indigenist critique of imperialism proceeded. and leading to “the optimal allocation of labour. The result is an analysis of the formation of both objective processes of spatialization and the subjective apprehension of spatial categories that are neither radically contingent nor civilizationally rooted. Her work aspires to grasp how the very conceptual terrain of Indian nationalist discourse—the basic categorical structure within which subject position operated—was “sociohistorically” generated in the later nineteenth century through the contradictory logic of India’s embeddedness within Britain’s imperial economy. that for all its failings the British Empire should be celebrated for its role in spreading liberal modernity around the globe.The British Empire and Its Liberal Mission 641 of communication and transportation infrastructures was a crucial element in the consolidation of a Britain-centered global economy in the second half of the nineteenth century.g. xx–xxi).” This. we are still left with his stark claim that the empire served to assimilate most of the world into a single global system of economic interdependency. It is in the end the failure to address this dimension of liberalism’s historicity that has made it so difficult to counter at a theoretical level the core proposition of Niall Ferguson’s blockbuster tract. It is clear. based on the liberal practice of commercial exchange. and social space within which the imperial liberal imagination was at home. In Goswami’s analysis.. we must move to fill in the hiatus that separates Pincus’s suggestive analysis of the emergence of seventeenth-century liberalism from Goswami’s analysis of an anti-imperial counterdiscourse itself produced from within the very same dynamic imperial political-economic structures that provided liberalism with. regardless of its patently ideological temper? It is the fact that it offers an account that links liberalism to the socioeconomic transformation of the modern world. “civilizing” subjectivity of the colonizer. what purchase does the new imperial history’s insistence on the flux and instability of forms . of course. From the perspective of an argument that locates the most fundamental and enduring achievement of the empire’s liberalism in objective structures of institutional and economic practice rather than in a civilizing pedagogy. would mean challenging Mehta’s too-easy separation of abstract logic and concrete lifeworld by insisting on the necessity of embedding both within the complex structures of Britain’s imperial social formation. that if we want to understand how liberal ideas of imperial responsibility and civilizational duty were constituted. We have little idea of what Britain’s civilizing mission would look like if we followed Goswami’s approach in locating its discursive logic more systematically in sociohistorical structures of the kind she uses to analyze Indian nationalist discourse. and goods” (Ferguson. Even if we discard Ferguson’s nonsense about the underlying and ultimately triumphant nobility of the British character (e. economic. Empire: namely. practices are grasped not only in terms of the “performance” of representational structures but also as constitutive of such representational structures. in Mehta’s words. Goswami’s central problem is not the liberal. the core structure of Mehta’s argument—that a radical British universalism has sought to sweep aside local colonial parochialisms. but rather the emergence of a counterdiscourse of nativist nationalism. capital. albeit with an inverted ethical valuation. but that that same process of territorialization contradictorily fragmented the homogeneity of the global political. 302).

27 For an evaluation of some of the specific arguments made in Empire. no. It is also instructive to read Ferguson’s exculpatory account alongside a work he dismisses without any serious argumentative engagement.642 Sartori of subjectivity gain us? An answer to Ferguson cannot cede this dimension of imperialism in the way that the cultural emphasis of the new imperial history risks doing. to show how liberalism’s linkage to the global economic order of modern capitalism was fraught with perilous contradiction. social processes within which they have operated and continue to operate in the era of globalization..” or the callous imperial regime that presided over some of the worst famines in Indian history into a relatively benign “incorruptible bureaucracy” (e.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 46. 180– 82)?27 It is the role these strategic elisions perform in flattening the complexity of the British Empire’s position within the global economy as an agent of both modernization and traditionalization. but in the end it would have to confront him at this practical-institutional level of argument.” Historically Speaking: The Bulletin of the Historical Society 4 (April 2003): 21–36. but it seems ill-equipped to grapple with these larger questions of the historical constitution of the basic categorical logic of liberal thought. see Frederick Cooper. What is the real significance of the text’s one-sided misrepresentations that magically transform early-modern mercantilist aggression into the beginnings of what Ferguson understands to be a multilaterally beneficial process of “globalization. “Empire Multiplied: A Review Essay. more easily than) their vehicle.g. on balance. The current literature has evolved an extraordinarily refined understanding of the complexities of subject positionality. Ferguson. and the forum on “The British Empire and Globalization. 14. and ultimately to show how the liberal practices of exchange cannot be prophylactically disembedded from the larger. 2001). of both global integration and regional peripheralization. to show how empire could be an institutional obstacle to the realization of liberal values as easily as (surely. Mike Davis’s Late Victorian Holocaust: El Nin ˜ o Famines and the Making of the Third World (London. 2 (2004): 247–72. . Recognizing this allows us to show how the empire served to deepen the social forms of “backwardness” it simultaneously sought to reform. and contradictory.