Wednesday, April 11, 2018

John Gray on "hyper-liberalism"

There's much of interest in John Gray's piece at TLS on what he calls hyper-liberalism.

Just one part, which I will extract here, is about Marx writing about colonialism:
The complex and at times contradictory realities of empire have been expelled from intellectual debate. While student bodies have dedicated themselves to removing relics of the colonial era from public places, sections of the faculty have ganged up to denounce anyone who suggests that the legacy of empire is not one of unmitigated criminality. If he was alive today one of these dissident figures would be Marx himself, who in his writings on India maintained that the impact of British imperialism was in some ways positive. Acknowledging that “the misery that was inflicted by the British on Hindostan is of an essentially different and infinitely more intensive kind than all Hindostan had to suffer before”, Marx continued by attacking the “undignified, stagnatory and vegetative life” of Indian villages:
 we must not forget that these idyllic village communities, inoffensive though they may appear, had always been the solid foundation of Oriental despotism, that they restrained the human mind within the smallest possible compass, making it the unresisting tool of superstition, enslaving it within traditional rules . . . . England, it is true, in causing a social revolution in Hindostan, was actuated by only the vilest interests, and was stupid in her manner of enforcing them. But that is not the question. The question is, can mankind fulfil its destiny without a fundamental revolution in the social state of Asia? If not, whatever may have been the crimes of England, she was the unconscious tool of history in bringing about that revolution. (“The British Rule in India”, New-York Daily Tribune, June 10, 1853)

 Of course, Marx may have been mistaken in this judgement. Along with most progressive thinkers of his day, he assumed that India and other colonized countries would replicate a Western model of development. But like other progressive thinkers at the time, he also took for granted that this was a question that could and should be debated. He never believed that colonialism was self-evidently damaging in all of its effects.


John said...


If you haven't already try reading some of John Gray's books. Some label him as a misanthrope and perhaps there is some truth to that but there is a refreshing brutal honesty in some of his writing. Public library should have at least one of his works.

I'm inclined to agree with Gray that there is a strain of intellectual totalitarianism creeping into our culture. Look at the thrashing Folau has copped for expressing a biblical position. When people offer differing views on certain subjects they are pilloried by all and sundry.

Jason Soon said...

colonialism wasn't at all damaging for my part of the world (Singapore/Malaysia)
it was a blessing

God save the Queen