GHOSTS OF EMPIRE

BRITAIN'S LEGACY IN THE MODERN WORLD

Perhaps the sun has not quite set on the British Empire.

That’s the premise of Kwarteng’s fascinating debut about the long-term and far-reaching effects of British rule. As the son of Ghanaian immigrants to London, educated at Eton and Cambridge, his views encompass the attitudes of both rulers and the ruled. He supports his statement that “instability in the world is a product of [the British Empire’s] legacy of individualism and haphazard policy making” with both fact and logical hypotheses. There never was an imperial strategic plan, he writes, nor directives to those who ruled. “Encourage trade” was the only directive. There were few, if any, instances of policy reversal by London. Colonial leaders ruled as judges, lawgivers and police with no oversight. Most administrators of British colonies followed the principal of masterly inactivity. Decisions made by one colonial ruler would often be overturned by the next one. Tribal leaders, indigenous administrators and monarchs appointed by the English ruled without interference, some wisely, most autocratically to the detriment of the population. Most of these countries continue to struggle to find their own identity. Kwarteng maintains that those who served the empire were not appointed because of their class, but their education and their athletic ability. The Duke of Wellington put it best when he said, “The battle of Waterloo was won on the playing field of Eton.” The author insists that it wasn’t a class-oriented society, but the majority of those who served in the colonies first went to one of the best public schools, preferably Eton, and subsequently studied classics at Oxford or Cambridge. The hierarchical society in the colonies was far more restrictive than any found in England, even though it too was based not on money but on education and status. Rule was serendipitous, and the locals were effectively ignored and left to their own devices—as long as they didn’t interrupt trade. Kwarteng effectively illustrates the effects of empire in a forceful and thorough book that holds important lessons for today’s leaders—in particular that the cost of invading and occupying a country always exceeds expectations.  

 

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-61039-120-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2011

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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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