Let’s Hear It for the British Empire

Let’s Hear It for the British Empire
Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, on the balcony of Buckingham Palace during the Platinum Jubilee Pageant in London, England, on June 5, 2022. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
Roger Kimball

Like many, I'm suffering from a surfeit of royalty at the moment.

I was a great fan of Queen Elizabeth II, whose passing last week I noted in The Spectator.

I'm also, though a proud American patriot, a fan of the British monarchy.

It has been a source of stability, succor, and political enlightenment for centuries.

Some say that monarchy is the opposite of democracy, and therefore inimical to freedom.

That opens a large subject. For now, I merely point out that the United States is supposed to be a constitutional republic, which is a form of representative democracy.

In fact, it's an increasingly oligarchic bureaucracy ruled by a tiny, entrenched elite who eagerly barter freedom for the warm glow of political correctness.

That's a subject for another day. For now, I merely want to register my affection for the British monarchy.

Yes, I worry about its prospects at the hands of Charles III, who for my taste is too committed to the religion of climate change, and perhaps insufficiently committed to the religion of the Church of England (remember, he once said that, should he ascend the throne, he would be defender of the “faiths,” plural).

But all of that’s as may be.

The airwaves have been laden with remembrances, encomia, and valentines to the late Queen, the royal family, and even royal impersonators like Megan Markle, the American wife of Prince Harry.

It can all be a bit cloying.

But how much more welcome it is than the vicious attacks on the Queen, on the British monarchy, on the British generally.

The airwaves have been full of that poisonous vituperation, too.

I don't propose to open that fetid midden.

I do, however, want to respond briefly to the calumny directed at the British empire by Ali Velshi, the Kenyan-born Canadian television journalist who has made a grand tour through a half dozen left-wing outlets, including Al Jazeera, CNN, and (now) MSNBC.

It was from his perch at MSNBC that Velshi spoke with the distinguished English historian Andrew Roberts about the Queen and her legacy.

I almost said that Velshi “interviewed” Roberts, but that would not have been accurate. “Lectured him dismissively” would be more like it.

Velshi began by saying that the Queen represented an institution that had a “long, ugly history of brutal colonialism, violence, theft, and slavery.”

“For many centuries,” Velshi continued, “the British robbed other nations of their wealth and power and exploited their people.”

He wasn’t done yet.

“Even as Queen Elizabeth's reign largely marks the beginning of the post-colonial era,” Velshi said, “the horrors that her long line of ancestors inflicted upon many generations of people across the globe continues to be the source of pain.”

Roberts replied with his customary aplomb, treating Velshi to some of the contempt he deserved.

It was no surprise that, just as Roberts was warming up, Velshi cut him off.

Let me step in to add to what Roberts was saying.

Far from constituting a “long, ugly history,” the story of the British empire is a litany of civilizing patronage.

Certainly, the inhabitants of what is now the United States benefitted immeasurably from British colonization.

The same is true of Canada.

In fact, everywhere that Britain went in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries benefitted immensely from its wise and beneficent intervention.

Were there mistakes? Yes. Were there unnecessary cruelties, stupidities, and miscalculations? You bet.

This isn't a fairy tale but actual history we're talking about.

On balance, the British colonial adventure was an incalculable gain for the colonized.

The British brought better hygiene, the rule of law, better schools, roads, industry, and manners.

Consider, to take just one example, the work of Sir Charles Napier, the British commander in India in the early 19th century.

Told that immolating widows on the funeral pyres of their husbands was a cherished local custom, Napier said: “Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.”

The philosopher George Santayana was right about the colonial rule of the Englishman.

“Never since the heroic days of Greece,” he wrote in “Soliloquies in England,” “has the world had such a sweet, just, boyish master. It will be a black day for the human race when scientific blackguards, conspirators, churls, and fanatics manage to supplant him.”

What’s happened in Africa, India, and elsewhere in the period of de-colonization—better call it “rebarbarization,” a much more accurate name—is stark evidence that Santayana was right.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Roger Kimball is the editor and publisher of The New Criterion and publisher of Encounter Books. His most recent book is “Where Next? Western Civilization at the Crossroads.”
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