Within the field of imperial history, Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (1776) is commonly associated with the anti-imperial economic doctrine that arose in the mid nineteenth century alongside the rise of Free Trade England. This ideology drew inspiration from Smith’s condemnation of the British Empire for being unnecessarily mercantilistic, expensive, and atavistic. Smith’s critique of imperialism came to be known as “Cobdenism”, named after Victorian free trade apostle Richard Cobden, the anti-imperial radical who led the overthrow of England’s protectionist Corn Laws in 1846.
But the longer imperial legacy of the Wealth of Nations is much more . . . complicated. Smith’s work was transformed into an amorphous text regarding the imperial question throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Adam Smith had left behind an ambiguous legacy on the subject of empire: a legacy that left long-term effects upon subsequent British imperial debates.
“1989” has become shorthand both for the triumph of human rights over state-socialist dictatorship and the subsequent implementation of a “neoliberal” reform agenda. Yet the coalescence of these two phenomena in Eastern Europe twenty-five years ago is quite surprising once we focus on the prehistory of 1989. Following the crooked paths that led to the annus mirabilis is thus a great opportunity to assess the transformation of human rights discourses during the 1980s.
Twenty five years ago, on 6 February 1989, representatives of Poland’s government and of the illegal democratic opposition began negotiations on political and economic reforms. Inaugurating their meetings at a round table that had been crafted specifically for this occasion, they set events in motion that became a major catalyst for the collapse of the “Soviet bloc.” Continue reading “Human Rights, Neoliberalism, and 1989”→
What might a historian of modern empire uncover within the long-running cartoon book series, Asterix the Gaul? Orientalism, French cultural anxiety about American neo-imperialism, and fears of cultural corruption in the face of the forces of global commercialism, of course.
Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman Dwight E. Stanford Chair in U.S. Foreign Relations, San Diego State University, & Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University
Why does international turmoil so often raise the question at home and abroad, “What’s the United States going to do about it?” Why not Mexico, Iran, France, or Switzerland?
Observers of today’s world are confronted by the fact that the U.S. exercises an unusual function as the nation with the greatest—yet, nonetheless, very limited—power to determine outcomes in foreign conflicts. This influence raises important questions. Why does any country play such a role, and who appointed the United States? Is America an exploitative empire that holds other nations in thrall, as many revisionists believe, or a benign hegemon that prevents the world from spiraling into violence and poverty, as realists do? And, are these the only two possible answers? Continue reading “Playing Umpire: America and the World”→
Centre Director Andrew Thompson explains that if globalization is not to silence the past, we need to delve back into its history – its imperial history.
‘Globalization’ is among the biggest intellectual challenges facing the humanities and the social sciences today. It is a concept that conveys the sense that we are living in an age of transformation, where change is the only constant, nothing can be taken for granted, and no-one knows what the future might bring. But globalization is also much more than that. To borrow the phrase of the historical sociologist, Mike Savage, it is an ‘epoch description’, something that seeks to define for the current generation the very meaning of social change. By thinking of ourselves as part of a globalized world, we are saying something about how over time our identity has changed. We are locating ourselves in time, differentiating ourselves from our predecessors, signalling a break with what went before. Continue reading “Imperial Globalization – The Presence of the Past and the Crucible of Empire”→