From the man behind national conservatism to an East India Company view of the British Empire, here are this week’s top picks in imperial and global history.
Last week, the Ritz-Carlton in Washington played host to a much-hyped devoted to “national conservatism.” Hosted by the newly-formed Edmund Burke Foundation, the conference sought to sketch the blueprint of a right-wing nationalism shorn of its uglier elements (the mission statement cast itself “in stark opposition to political theories grounded in race”). The keynote speakers were Tucker Carlson, John Bolton, Josh Hawley, and Peter Thiel, but the impresario behind it was the Edmund Burke Foundation’s chairman, Yoram Hazony, whose speech announced that “today is our independence day” from neoconservatism and neoliberalism and called for a return to “Anglo-American traditions.”
While Steve Bannon has won the headlines, Hazony has emerged in the last year as the leading proponent of a more high-toned conservative nationalism. His current prominence is linked to his 2018 book, The Virtue of Nationalism, which has quickly become the closest thing the movement has to an intellectual manifesto. The book has received rapturous reviews across the right-wing press and the 2019 Conservative Book of the Year award. While it gained plaudits from the more intellectually respectable precincts of the right (it carries blurbs from leading conservative Trump critics Yuval Levin and Reihan Salam), it has also been acclaimed by the MAGA crowd. In April, former Trump official Michael Anton (another participant in last week’s conference, better known as the pseudonymous author of the 2016 “The Flight 93 Election”) Hazony’s book as the intellectual basis for a supposed “Trump Doctrine” in foreign policy—a hard-nosed yet non-crusading creed rooted in the recognition that “there will always be nations, and trying to suppress nationalist sentiment is like trying to suppress nature.” [continue reading]
Sarah C. Dunstan
Women and the History of International Thought
Speaking in 2005, the celebrated African American civil rights activist and politician, Horace Julian Bond, reflected “There’s a Chinese saying, ’Women hold up half the world. In the case of the civil rights movement it’s probably three-quarters of the world.” With the exception of icons such as Rosa Parks, most of the women involved in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s in the United States are not well known today. Fewer still are recognised for their efforts to link their struggles for racial equality in the United States to internationalist projects, although this is beginning to change through the work of historians such as Keisha Blain, Imaobong Umoren and Jennifer Scanlon. In today’s blog post, I am going to briefly sketch out the internationalist thought and activism of five African diasporic women linked by their involvement in the United Nations and their commitment to racial and gender equality on the world stage: the African American lawyer and diplomat, Edith Sampson; the Martinican activist and journalist, Paulette Nardal, the African American educator and founder of the National Council of Negro Women, Mary McLeod Bethune; and the African-American lawyer and activist, Pauli Murray. In so doing, I will also gesture towards the way that their contributions were belittled and elided in their own times.
When Edith Sampson became the first black woman appointed to the permanent U.S. delegation to the United Nations, the sociologist and activist St Clair Drake dismissed her appointment as an act of propaganda on the part of the U.S. State Department, an effort “to offset communism” by painting the nation as racially progressive. It was not, he felt certain, a reflection of Sampson’s expertise. Sampson and other African Americans who believed in the potential of American democracy were commonly labelled ‘the left wing of McCarthyism,’ and thinkers such as St Clair Drake and W.E.B. Du Bois refused to take their political work and thought seriously. Whilst historians have made strides towards recovering the political trajectories of less radical male activists, the work and careers of women such as Sampson seem to have been doubly tarnished by their relative conservatism. One such example of this can be found in the work of historian Gerald Horne, who writes that Sampson was used to “cover up racism and barbarism at home,” and describes her as both a “hired gun,” and a “stooge.” [continue reading]
Seven years ago the impressionist Rory Bremner complained that politicians had become so boring that few of them were worth mimicking: “They’re quite homogenous and dull these days … It’s as if character is seen as a liability.” Today his profession has the opposite problem: however extreme satire becomes, it struggles to keep pace with reality. The political sphere, so dull and grey a few years ago, is now populated by preposterous exhibitionists.
This trend is not confined to the UK – everywhere the killer clowns are taking over. Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, Narendra Modi, Jair Bolsonaro, Scott Morrison, Rodrigo Duterte, Matteo Salvini, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Viktor Orbán and a host of other ludicrous strongmen – or weakmen, as they so often turn out to be – dominate nations that would once have laughed them off stage. The question is why? Why are the technocrats who held sway almost everywhere a few years ago giving way to extravagant buffoons? [continue reading]
The day after the United Nations voted to recognize the People’s Republic of China, then–California Governor Ronald Reagan phoned President Richard Nixon at the White House and vented his frustration at the delegates who had sided against the United States. “Last night, I tell you, to watch that thing on television as I did,” Reagan said. “Yeah,” Nixon interjected. Reagan forged ahead with his complaint: “To see those, those monkeys from those African countries—damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!” Nixon gave a huge laugh.
The past month has brought presidential racism back into the headlines. This October 1971 exchange between current and future presidents is a reminder that other presidents have subscribed to the racist belief that Africans or African Americans are somehow inferior. The most novel aspect of President Donald Trump’s racist gibes isn’t that he said them, but that he said them in public. [continue reading]
“The riches of Bengal…are derived from this river, which with its numerous branches flowing through and intersecting an extensive space of country, transports speedily and at a moderate expense, the various products of districts, towns and villages, to places where they are immediately consumed or collected for the supply of more distant marts. The Ganges also affords a grand aid to the English, in all military operations within their own territory…the Bengal armaments are furnished, from their store boats with every equipment, and the Europeans enjoy, even in their camps, the luxuries of life.”
The importance of the river Ganga—both to Bengal and the British Empire—is just one of the many insights that make up George Forster’s book A Journey from Bengal to England, through the northern part of India, Kashmir, Afghanistan and Persia and into Russia, by the Caspian Sea. The book, whose first volume was published in Calcutta in 1791, is filled with insightful observations that its author gleaned during a truly unique journey—when he took the overland route from Madras to England. [continue reading]