Paul Johnson on colonialism

Paul Johnson, Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Eighties.

“Hitherto, colonial empires had been approached in an empirical spirit. Colonies were judged on their merits. Colonial powers were benevolent or exploitative or a mixture of both. The process was seen as having advantages and drawbacks for all the parties concerned, and above all as complicated and changing. Now it was all reduced to slogans made simple in both economic and moral terms, and certified everywhere and always as intrinsically evil. The process whereby this crude and implausible theory became the conventional wisdom of most of the world over the half-century which followed the Versailles Treaty is one of the central developments of modern times, second only in importance to the spread of political violence. The actual historical and economic reality did not fit any of the theories…”


“Seen from maps colonialism appeared to have changed the world. Seen on the ground it appeared a more meretricious phenomenon which could and did change little. It came easily. It went easily. Few died either to make it or break it. It both accelerated and retarded, though marginally in both cases, the emergence of a world economic system, which would have come into existence at approximately the same speed if the Europeans had never annexed a single hector of Asia or Africa. Colonialism covered such a varied multiplicity of human arrangements that it is doubtful whether it describes anything specific at all. Colonialism was important not for what it was but for what it was not. It bred grandiose illusions, and unjustified grievances. The first had a major impact on events up to 1945. The second, thereafter.”

Do you agree or disagree with Johnson? Is he right on or is he exaggerating?


3 responses to “Paul Johnson on colonialism

  1. The situation in the Middle East, from the wars, terrorism, national boundaries etc, disprove Johnson.

    It is more efficient for the big powers, to have nationalists take over colonialism’s apparatuses. The institutions have new faces, but still the same machinery.

  2. Maybe, but how much more was there to those apparatuses than looking around the neighborhood for a strongman you can give some guns to who will see to it that the goods keep rolling in? In places where colonial powers had more interest in going in and establishing themselves than they did in the Middle East we have relatively less headline news today. If more colonialism leads to more change, shouldn’t the opposite be true?

  3. Btw, I’m enjoying reading your blog, Renegade.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s