This Week’s Top Picks in Imperial & Global History

Marc-William Palen
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @MWPalen

From liberal romances of empire to a Russian sailor’s tomb in Singapore, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.

Liberalism and Empire

Nathan J. Robinson
Current Affairs

Paul Krugman had a column a few weeks ago called “Fall of the American Empire” about Donald Trump’s repudiation of “the values that actually made America great.” It is worth analyzing, because it is amusing and illustrative. Krugman believes that Trump is threatening to destroy America’s great “empire” and that this is bad, because our country’s “empire” is good and noble. Trump, Krugman suggests, is an aberrant departure from the lofty values and ideals that have guided our foreign policy for most of the past century. In fact, let’s have a look at a chunk of Krugman’s column so he can put things in his own words (please retain your guffaws until the end):

[W]e emerged from World War II with a level of both economic and military dominance not seen since the heyday of ancient Rome. But our role in the world was always about more than money and guns. It was also about ideals: America stood for something larger than itself — for freedom, human rights and the rule of law as universal principles. [continue reading]

Neoliberalism’s World Order

Adam Tooze

Neoliberalism has many histories. Milton Friedman, the Chicago school, Pinochet, Thatcher and Reagan’s market revolution, IMF structural adjustment, and shock-therapy transition programs for the post-Communist states are all fixtures in the narrative of the neoliberal turn. If we wind the clock back to the aftermath of the Second World War, we can see precursors in the ordoliberalism of West Germany and the Mont Pèlerin gathering of 1947. If asked to name a founding moment, one might point to the Colloque Walter Lippmann of August 1938 in Paris. Those with a particular interest in the history of economic thought might go one step further back to the “socialist calculation debate” launched by the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises in 1920, in which he articulated a fundamental critique of the logical possibility of socialist central planning.

All this is familiar to scholars. Globalists, from Wellesley historian Quinn Slobodian, is important because it provides a new frame for the history of this movement. For Slobodian, the earliest and most authentic brand of neoliberalism was from the outset defined by its preoccupation with the question of world economic integration and disintegration. In the 1970s, neoliberalism’s proponents would help unleash the wave of globalization that has swept the world. [continue reading]

Indonesianizing Knowledge, or: The Postcolonial Invention of ‘Colonial Science’?

Sebastiann Broere
History of Knowledge

“We are living in a new age,” President Sukarno proclaimed at the First National Science Congress in 1958, “the age of atomic revolution, of nuclear revolution, explorers and sputnik, of interplanetary communications with the moon and the stars, and the content of the sea.” And the new age, he reasoned, necessitated new roles. If it was up to him, scientists and other academically trained elites would guide Indonesia’s development into the future. Yet there seem to have been two problems. Although Indonesians had conducted scientific research during the colonial era, their number remained insignificant. As a result, Indonesian culture lacked a sense of scientific authorship and ownership. At the same time, “science” had overtly Western and imperialist connotations, against which the new Indonesian state postulated its postcolonial identity. Here I discuss three discursive strategies that Sukarno employed during the 1950s and early 1960s to resolve these tensions and Indonesianize the production of academic knowledge.

In 1951, using the term “ilmu pengetahuan,” which means academic knowledge, Sukarno declared, “knowledge without action is futile, action without knowledge is aimless.” Sukarno opposed the view that the production of knowledge could be a goal in itself. It was a means to an end. Technology, for example, was nothing but a tool to make life more comfortable. “Collect knowledge for the sake of national development,” Sukarno stated in 1962. Indonesia knew what it wanted to become, namely “a just and prosperous society,” and simply needed the expertise with which to turn ideology into reality. [continue reading]

Fascism and The Road to Unfreedom review – the warning from the 1930s

Richard J. Evans

Democracy is under threat in its historic heartlands, Europe and the US. Right-wing strongmen such as Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey and Jarosław Kaczyński in Poland are curtailing civil liberties, removing the independence of the judiciary and muzzling the press. In other countries, antidemocratic parties are riding high on a wave of public hostility to immigrants. And then there is Donald Trump, who, as we have seen during his recent European tour, is potentially a far more disruptive and dangerous figure than any of these, because as US president he wields an influence that is global in scale.

There can be little doubt about Trump’s hostility to democratic institutions or his contempt for democratic standards of public discourse. He defames his critics as liars, calls for the suppression of newspapers that expose his falsehoods, attacks judges who rule against him, urges the wider use of firearms in society, expresses sympathy for white supremacist demonstrators, withdraws demonstratively from international alliances and organisations, and suggests that becoming president for life might not be a bad idea. [continue reading]

A Sailor’s Tomb in Singapore

Yuexin Rachel Lin
Across the Amur

Just who was Astafev? The service record of Vladimir Petrovich Astafev (born 2 July 1860 in Novgorod) notes that he entered the navy as a student at the age of 14. He graduated ten years later from the Hydrography Department of the Nikolaevskii Naval Academy, today the N.G. Kuznetsov Naval Academy. From then onwards he served as an astronomer and hydrographer in the fortress-port of Kronstadt, embarking on an expedition to the Arctic archipelago of Novaya Zemlya and earning the rank of lieutenant in the Corps of Navigators.

In June 1890, just a few months before his death, Astafev was appointed senior navigator on the Admiral Nakhimov, a cruiser in the Imperial Russian Navy’s Pacific Fleet stationed in Vladivostok. His post coincided with Russia’s eastward expansion: The port city of Vladivostok was undergoing rapid development and plans to build the Trans-Siberian Railway were reaching fruition. In Singapore, a Russian consul-general was appointed that same year to cement imperial interests in Southeast Asia. And in October 1890 [O.S.], eschewing the usual European Grand Tour, Tsarevich Nikolai Aleksandrovich – soon to be Tsar Nicholas II – embarked on a ten-month voyage of Asia, including a brief stop in Singapore. In autumn 1890 Astafev was still on an English ship en route to his post in Vladivostok; on arriving there, he and the rest of the crew of the Admiral Nakhimov would have been assigned to the Tsarevich’s entourage. [continue reading]