THE BRITISH EMPIRE:GOOD OR BAD?Whether the British Empire was a good or a bad thing depends on theperspective from which we look at it and it also depends on the colony we’retalking about.
However, overall, the British Empire has had both good and badeffects on its colonies. If we were to count the pros and the cons of the BritishEmpire, I would say the harm it caused to certain colony was greater than thebenefits they took from. The British went abroad for economical and politicalreasons and during the process of empowering their own nation, they did harmedmany colonies on an economical and a cultural level. Even so, have to give theBritish some credit for having established things like a common language(English) and means of communication that are today very helpful to the former colonies.
The first thing we have to look atto understand the British Empire is the motive force that drove them abroad.The first reasons that caused the British to go for a search of new colonieswere that the British population was growing fast and they needed new lands toexport their population; they also needed new markets to sell their excess ofproduct and get raw materials. In some parts of Africa, conquest happenedbecause the British were following the road of Gold and they needed placeswhere to stop and refuel. Looking at itfrom that perspective, we can only expect in colonization things that willprofit the British people, not the native. The first colonies like the USA and Canada were settlement colonies,and they were established on the basis of freedom, democracy and equalopportunity for the people who were running oppression in England and werelooking for better opportunities.
Those countries are the most developed in theworld nowadays and like Ferguson said, they should be somehow thankful to theBritish Empire. In contrast, other colonies like West African countries andIndia are still facing important problems such as poverty and corruption. British people moved to new land in search of raw materials andmarkets for their own interest. The two sets of countries that I talked aboutearlier are different in the way that the first one are settlement countries withwhite people and the second group is made up of countries with were black orbrown people. That aspect of the colonies was very important because whenmaking policies in the colonies, the British considered the racial composition.In Ferguson’s essay, he praises the British Empire for its bigachievements and the way it civilized countries that would have been lostwithout British rule. True the British Empire has had good effects such asbringing ideas like freedom and democracy but only to the settlement colonies.When it came to other colonies, the British were acting in a way that was verycontradictory to what they were advocating.
The slave trade is a big example ofhow contradictory their ideas of freedom were to what they actually did. About the good achievements theBritish Empire made in the colonies (different from the settlement ones), thereis the establishment of English as a common language that connects many people.That is important especially in Africa where there are many languages. The othergood thing they brought to their colonies was means of communications like railroadsand they also brought their own technologies. Those things were helpful to thecolonies but they were made mainly for British benefit; they needed tocommunicate with natives and they also needed to move from place to place andoversee the different regions (Raychaudhuri 364).
The British didn’t go oversea for humanitarian reason, they went forfinancial and political ones and in the process of achieving their goal, theystepped over many people and their culture. When reading Georges Orwell’sBurmese days, I was shocked by the treatment that was inflicted to the Burmesepeople. The British came with ideas of civilizing the “savages” and acted in avery condescending way towards the natives; that is at a human levelunacceptable. They undermined cultures that were already in place by bringingtheir language and their own religion. They also disturbed the social structurespresent by making themselves the new rulers and removing traditionalinstitutions that were the foundations of some societies. In many of the colonies, there was a big system of exploitation ofthe native population and their country’s resources (Raychaudhuri 364). In WestAfrica just like in India, peasants were forced into growing cash crops likecocoa in Africa and cotton in India.
The famine of 1876-1878 showed how bad thesituation was; hundreds of thousands of people died of starvation in India (Davis314) while England was enriching itself. While people were starving to death, the QueenVictoria to celebrate her declaration as Empress of India threw a week longfeast (class lecture). Peasants in India were heavily taxed and they were in chronicdebt. The British imported cheap textile destroying the domestic manufactures (Davis313-314) and they put the native in situation where they had to grow what theBritish needed in order to survive. The other important thing that Empire caused was separation of manypeople by establishing arbitrary borders and dividing countries in a disorderedmanner. People from same tribes have found themselves in different countrieswith people they shared almost nothing. For that reason, there are many civilwars and conflicts tribal conflicts.
Some native got frustrated about the factthat they belonged in one country but they were living in a foreign one.Today many countries are still living in poverty and corruption. TheBritish transferred the power to educated elites that are corrupt especially inAfrica (Falola 347). Aids are given but they are not enough to replaceeverything that was lost during the colonial rule (Falola 355). The BritishEmpire left the colonies broke and the natives were untrained to continue thejob. They exploited all the resources and left the colonies bare of what couldhelp them survive. That’s why some colonies are still dependant on the colonistseven after their independence. The ideas that were brought in settlement colonies were totallydifferent.
They were a good base for building strong nations like the US orAustralia. However, the British Empire was very discriminatory and didn’t allowthe same things for black people and white white. Even in the colonies theysettled in, they oppressed the natives and brought diseases that killed them. TheNative American (in the US) and the aborigine populations have drasticallydecreased and they are underrepresented in their own countries.Overall the British Empire was a bad thing for most of the colonies.It plunged them into a cycle of poverty and chronic dept from which it is noteasy to escape. The colonies are still dependant from developed countries, theywere bared from their resources and left to survive after the British left.
TheEmpire was only a good thing for white settlers and it was mainly a good thingfor Britain and its economy. If Britain is the country it is today, it’s partlybecause of all the benefits it has taken from the colonies.