Assimilation and Association in French Colonial Theory, 1890-1914

By Raymond F. Betts | Go to book overview

Chapter 9
IDEAL AND REALITY

AFTER all was said and done, what effect did the changes in doctrine and theory evidenced during the period under study have on French colonial policy? The question is both interesting and provocative, for French colonial history following the First World War indicates that a simple answer is impossible. Even though association became the official colonial policy immediately after the war,1 the ghost of assimilation lingered on and could still be seen flitting in and out of French colonial affairs. Yet observation of this activity does not permit one to conclude that the French always uphold the old maxim, Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

It is clear that most of the French colonial theorists and popularizers in metropolitan France did consciously set aside the doctrine of assimilation and did uphold association in some form or other. The support they obtained for their stand was ample, as has been seen. But ever present in French colonial theory was the moral element, the responsibility which the conqueror assumed toward the conquered and without which many felt the conquest could not be justified. Around this issue association and indeed assimilation were often centered and hence at times tended to overlap.

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