The British Impact on India

The British Impact on India

The British Impact on India

The British Impact on India

Excerpt

Changes of fashion are as decisive, though perhaps not as frequent, in thought as in clothes, and one of the most interesting examples of such a change is provided by the contrast between the self-confident imperialism of nineteenth-century Britain and the vague belief of the English-speaking peoples today in self-determination as a principle of universal validity. Imperialism is dead as a doornail, and many of our modern writers seem almost ashamed that it ever existed. This view leads them into a logical dilemma, for it involves a condemnation of the main process by which civilisation has been diffused. It necessitates a denial of the benefits conferred on mankind by the Roman Empire and of the great stimulus to the material and spiritual development of India provided by the full-blooded imperialism of the Guptas.

Attempts have been made to escape from this dilemma by arguing that in the present stage of human development, knowledge and culture can be spread by other means than conquest or domination, and that empires have thus become anachronisms. The argument is not convincing, and a more satisfying solution consists in recognition that imperialism is in itself neither good nor bad, but must be judged by its quality and results. It is, indeed, but the outward expression of national energy and exuberance, the outcome of a spirit of exaltation which at times seems to possess a whole nation. Such a spirit worked strongly amongst the ancient Romans in the two centuries before the Christian era; it animated Englishmen from the days of Elizabeth, and Germans after the time of Frederick the Great; and it may well operate powerfully in an India rejoicing in its new-found freedom.

Imperialism is indeed a regularly recurring historical phenomenon, calling for neither approval nor condemnation in the abstract, and a more profitable exercise is to consider particular imperialisms and assess their spirit and their achievements. It may perhaps be taken for granted that for a people who have reached a high level of political consciousness foreign rule is spiritually debilitating. On the other hand, few would doubt that the Norman Conquest of England provided the impulse which was in due course to generate nationalism and a unique political genius. Our object in this book is to consider to what pattern the British Empire in India conformed, and in . . .

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