Alibis of Empire: Henry Maine and the Ends of Liberal Imperialism

Alibis of Empire: Henry Maine and the Ends of Liberal Imperialism

Alibis of Empire: Henry Maine and the Ends of Liberal Imperialism

Alibis of Empire: Henry Maine and the Ends of Liberal Imperialism

Synopsis


Alibis of Empire presents a novel account of the origins, substance, and afterlife of late imperial ideology. Karuna Mantena challenges the idea that Victorian empire was primarily legitimated by liberal notions of progress and civilization. In fact, as the British Empire gained its farthest reach, its ideology was being dramatically transformed by a self-conscious rejection of the liberal model. The collapse of liberal imperialism enabled a new culturalism that stressed the dangers and difficulties of trying to "civilize" native peoples. And, hand in hand with this shift in thinking was a shift in practice toward models of indirect rule. As Mantena shows, the work of Victorian legal scholar Henry Maine was at the center of these momentous changes. Alibis of Empire examines how Maine's sociotheoretic model of "traditional" society laid the groundwork for the culturalist logic of late empire. In charting the movement from liberal idealism, through culturalist explanation, to retroactive alibi within nineteenth-century British imperial ideology, Alibis of Empire unearths a striking and pervasive dynamic of modern empire.

Excerpt

On May 10, 1857, native troops of the Bengal army mutinied against their British commanders, instigating the largest indigenous rebellion against European empire in the nineteenth century. In addition to the revolt of over 130,000 Indian soldiers, the “Sepoy Mutiny” brought together a wide array of disaffected groups into popular insurrection against British rule, temporarily shattering the imperial edifice across northern India and provoking a brutal response by the British. In strictly military terms, the war and the final suppression of the insurgency were both short-lived and less catastrophic relative to other major armed conflicts of the era. Yet, in Henry Sumner Maine's view, it would prove to be “the greatest fact in all Anglo-Indian history.” For Britain, the rebellion was a rude awakening and a deeply disillusioning affair, shaking the growing self-confidence in its imperial mission that had attended the steady expansion and consolidation of the British Empire in India over the prior hundred years. Moreover, the Indian Mutiny signaled the beginning of a particularly turbulent and violent decade in imperial politics during which a number of key uprisings broke out across the empire, most momentously among the oldest and most important of Britain's colonies and dependencies—Ireland, Jamaica, and India. Coming in quick succession, the Mutiny, the Maori Wars, the Morant Bay Rebellion in Jamaica, and the Fenian Rising in Ireland (and corollary bombings in England), together produced a threatening portrait of native disaffection and imperial instability that dramatically reshaped metropolitan attitudes toward subject peoples and gave rise to an anxiety about the meaning, character and future trajectory of the British Empire. In this manner, the 1857 Rebellion would come to mark a definitive turning point in the transformation of British imperial ideology. More precisely, it would mark the decisive turning away from an earlier liberal, reformist ethos that had furnished nineteenth-century empire its most salient moral justification.

The liberal model of empire, in which imperial domination was argued to be an effective and legitimate tool of moral and material progress, has been the subject of sustained scholarly interest, and, most recently, a key focus of philosophical and theoretical discussions of empire. Yet, while the nineteenth century was certainly the critical period in which liberal . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.