J. S. Mill, the Prime Directive, and the Theory of Moral Intervention

John Stuart Mill [left] and Jean-Luc Picard [right, drawing by gerardtorbitt]

This is the penultimate post of our five-week roundtable on science fiction and imperial history, co-edited by Marc-William Palen and Rachel Herrmann. You can read our call for posts here, and the other posts in the series here, here, here, here, herehere, and here. We look forward to hearing your thoughts!

“No starship may interfere with the normal development of any alien life or society.”

— Prime Directive (United Federation of Planets General Order 1)

“The Prime Directive is not just a set of rules; it is a philosophy…and a very correct one. History has proven again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less developed civilization, no matter how well intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous.” – Capt. Jean-Luc Picard

The Victorian political philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1973) and Star Trek’s far-future United Federation of Planets (the Federation) differ substantially on the colonial question. In particular, Mill the Victorian liberal imperialist thought that it was the duty of the British to help “civilize” less developed states through colonialism. Within his stages of civilization, Mill regarded underdeveloped states like India to be backwards and in need of benign British despotism, which was “a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting that end.”[1]

Although Star Trek‘s Federation may share some similar Victorian-era ideas about imperial power structures and civilizational stages, by contrast it has strict rules about not attempting to “civilize” or colonize “backward” societies. It is enshrined in their Prime Directive, which was first introduced in the Original Series (1966-69) as a none-too-subtle anti-imperial rebuke of the US war in Vietnam.[2]

However, despite their glaring differences on colonialism as civilizing mission, J. S. Mill and the Federation do see eye-to-eye when deciding whether it is morally justifiable to intervene in foreign conflicts. Continue reading “J. S. Mill, the Prime Directive, and the Theory of Moral Intervention”

Anticolonialism, Antifascism, and Imperial History

 Antifascist demonstrators in London, October 1935. Photo: National Media Museum/SSPL
Antifascist demonstrators in London, October 1935. Photo: National Media Museum/SSPL.

John Munro
Saint Mary’s University[1]

There’s a lot to be said for emphasizing the structuring role of colonialism and anticolonialism across the twentieth century. To contextualize the world wars, the Cold War, and contemporary global capitalism as embedded in a larger set of imperial continuities is to offer an indispensable corrective to the overemphasis of 1945 as epistemic break; the embellishment of US history as an empire-free zone; or the exaggeration of the distance between imperialism and free trade. Fredrik Petersson’s astute Versailles-to-Bandung emplotment of transnational anticolonial activism is thus a very compelling one, especially when read alongside several concurring periodizations.[2] But how we might conceive of antifascism in this empire-centered genealogy requires further attention. Whether antifascism was itself an anticolonialism, in other words, matters much for how we make sense of the twentieth century. Continue reading “Anticolonialism, Antifascism, and Imperial History”

Violence and Colonial Order: A New Talking Empire Podcast

thomas violence and colonial order

Richard Toye
History Department, University of Exeter

Follow on Twitter @RichardToye

Professor Martin Thomas’s book Violence and Colonial Order: Police, Workers and Protest in the European Colonial Empires, 1918-1940 is a pioneering, multi-empire account of the relationship between the politics of imperial repression and the economic structures of European colonies between the two World Wars. Ranging across colonial Africa, Southeast Asia and the Caribbean, Thomas explores the structure of local police forces, their involvement in colonial labour control and the containment of uprisings and dissent. This work sheds new light on broader trends in the direction and intent of colonial state repression. It shows that the management of colonial economies, particularly in crisis conditions, took precedence over individual imperial powers’ particular methods of rule in determining the forms and functions of colonial police actions. In this Talking Empire podcast, I interview Professor Thomas about the issues raised by the book.

Exchanging Notes: Colonialism and Medicine in India and South Africa

Image courtesy of Wellcome Trust.
Image courtesy of Wellcome Trust.

Nandini Chatterjee
History Department, University of Exeter

Review of Poonam Bala ed. Medicine and Colonialism: Historical Perspectives in India and South AfricaLondon: Pickering and Chatto, 2014. Empires in Perspective Series. 240 pp. £60 (hardback) ISBN 13: 9781848934658; £24 (e-book) 9781781440872.

medicine and colonialism bookThe recent surge of interest in imperial history has been cross-fertilised by work on a number of other themes, such as knowledge formation, law and governance and trans-national connections. This collected volume of essays very usefully brings together a number of these trends to bear upon the crucial area of colonial medicine. Self-consciously aiming to be a comparative work and taking material from India and South Africa, it takes its cue from earlier works that aimed to ‘de-centre’ the metropolis-periphery model of conceptualising empire and colonialism.[1] While re-asserting the centrality of medical knowledge and practices to colonial rule, and the importance of the bodies of the colonised as sites for the exercise of colonial power, the book aims to move beyond a model of hegemony, domination and control. Instead, as the introductory essay outlines, the book’s trans-national methodology is intended to highlight ‘policies of European adaptation and resistance to initiatives of the colonized’ and the ‘transfer of ideas and knowledge in mutual engagements.’

Continue reading “Exchanging Notes: Colonialism and Medicine in India and South Africa”

How the Antarctic Reframes the Context of Class and Empire

Shackleton Expedition, Antarctica, 1915. Photo: REX
Shackleton Expedition, Antarctica, 1915. Photo: REX

Richard Batten
History Department, University of Exeter
Follow on Twitter @Richard_Batten

Review of Ben Maddison. Class and Colonialism in Antarctic Exploration, 1750-1920. London: Pickering & Chatto, 2014. xii + 247pp. £60 (hardback), ISBN 978-1848934184. ‘Empires in Perspective’ Series.

class and colonialismThe histories of Antarctic exploration have generally tended to focus on the narratives of intrepid explorers such as Ernest Shackleton and Robert F. Scott, who led expeditions of endurance to the arduous polar wilderness of Antarctica. In the view of Ben Maddison, this concentration on the heroism of the Antarctic explorers, who he defines as the Antarctic elite or the ‘masters’, was an understandable consequence of how historians had approached ‘Antarctic history almost exclusively from the rhetoric and records of the masters’ [79]. In Class and Colonialism in Antarctic Exploration, 1750-1920 (2014), Maddison suggests that historians have, unintentionally, strengthened the invisibility of the Antarctic working class because they have been hesitant to engage critically with the voices from below on these expeditions.

Indeed, Maddison argues that it was the ‘gentrification’ of Antarctic exploration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that further contributed to the silencing of the working class. This despite the fact that the expeditions to Antarctica were ‘facilitated by multifarious labours of the working class’ [6]. Consequently, Maddison claims to fill this historical vacuum by providing a substantial new interpretation of the history of Antarctic expeditions. Continue reading “How the Antarctic Reframes the Context of Class and Empire”

The Secret History Behind Today’s Algeria-Germany #WorldCup Match

The Algerian team in 1982
The Algerian team in 1982

Mathilde von Bülow
Lecturer in International and Imperial history, University of Nottingham

Today, Germany’s Mannschaft will face Algeria’s Fennecs at Porto Alegre, after both teams made it through the group stage of the FIFA World Cup. Though it has yet to be played, the match is already being hailed as an historic, even epic, event. Why? Because it represents the first time the Algerian squad has progressed to the final sixteen at a World Cup. Its larger symbolism, however, is rooted in a longstanding Algerian resistance to French colonialism, which underpinned the secret history of Algerian-German football relations. Continue reading “The Secret History Behind Today’s Algeria-Germany #WorldCup Match”

Orientalism and its Legacies: New Talking Empire Podcasts

SaidOrientalismRichard Toye

Edward Said (1935-2003) was one of the foremost intellectuals of the Twentieth Century. Heavily influenced by the French philosopher Michel Foucault, his work spanned the fields of literature, history, and post-colonial studies. He was a controversial figure, and none of his work is more debated than his landmark 1978 book Orientalism. Said recast this term so that it referred to the structures of knowledge – or rather discourse – through which Westerners constructed the image of the East. Continue reading “Orientalism and its Legacies: New Talking Empire Podcasts”