Former Queen’s prof (now at Portland State) Dr. Bruce Gilley has been summarily removed from Queens’ Centre for International and Defense Policy for publishing a paper titled “The Case for Colonialism.” Apparently arguing that colonialism can be moral in some circumstances is now intolerable.
But of course it can, or at least a reasonable argument can be made. Kosovo, for example, was a colonialist intervention. Bosnia was. Such interventions to prevent human rights abuses are not rare in the annals of European 19th century colonialism. More often than we are told, the intervention of the European power was largely humanitarian in intent. It was a matter of peacekeeping, or of preventing a holocaust.
Even when this is not the case, much colonialism can be compared to the sound corporate policy, when a business is not doing well, of bringing in new management from outside. It works in business; it works as well in government.
Of course, at the time that Europe was colonizing the rest of the world, European culture was also significantly more technologically advanced than any of its colonies. The colonial authority introduced this new technology, improving living standards: railroads were laid, canals dug, new industries developed, schools and hospitals founded. Sure, European firms profited in building and managing these things; but so did the local inhabitants.
The case against colonialism is that it infantilizes people; makes the colonized dependent and strips them of initiative. And this is an important issue.
But really—the idea that different ethnicities should be sovereign and govern themselves is a new idea, dating from about 1917 or so and Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points. Before that, everywhere, colonization was the universal norm. It is, moreover, arguably racist to insist that there is something wrong with it—that government ought always to be on the basis of race or ethnicity. And this position that governments must be ethnically-based is disastrous for minorities everywhere.