THE BRITISH EMPIRE:
GOOD OR BAD?
Whether the British Empire was a good or a bad thing depends on the
perspective from which we look at it and it also depends on the colony we’re
talking about. However, overall, the British Empire has had both good and bad
effects on its colonies. If we were to count the pros and the cons of the British
Empire, I would say the harm it caused to certain colony was greater than the
benefits they took from. The British went abroad for economical and political
reasons and during the process of empowering their own nation, they did harmed
many colonies on an economical and a cultural level. Even so, have to give the
British 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 at
to 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 colonies
were that the British population was growing fast and they needed new lands to
export their population; they also needed new markets to sell their excess of
product and get raw materials. In some parts of Africa, conquest happened
because the British were following the road of Gold and they needed places
where to stop and refuel. Looking at it
from that perspective, we can only expect in colonization things that will
profit 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 equal
opportunity for the people who were running oppression in England and were
looking for better opportunities. Those countries are the most developed in the
world nowadays and like Ferguson said, they should be somehow thankful to the
British Empire. In contrast, other colonies like West African countries and
India are still facing important problems such as poverty and corruption.
British people moved to new land in search of raw materials and
markets for their own interest. The two sets of countries that I talked about
earlier are different in the way that the first one are settlement countries with
white people and the second group is made up of countries with were black or
brown people. That aspect of the colonies was very important because when
making policies in the colonies, the British considered the racial composition.
In Ferguson’s essay, he praises the British Empire for its big
achievements and the way it civilized countries that would have been lost
without British rule. True the British Empire has had good effects such as
bringing 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 very
contradictory to what they were advocating. The slave trade is a big example of
how contradictory their ideas of freedom were to what they actually did.
About the good achievements the
British Empire made in the colonies (different from the settlement ones), there
is the establishment of English as a common language that connects many people.
That is important especially in Africa where there are many languages. The other
good thing they brought to their colonies was means of communications like railroads
and they also brought their own technologies. Those things were helpful to the
colonies but they were made mainly for British benefit; they needed to
communicate with natives and they also needed to move from place to place and
oversee the different regions (Raychaudhuri 364).
The British didn’t go oversea for humanitarian reason, they went for
financial and political ones and in the process of achieving their goal, they
stepped over many people and their culture. When reading Georges Orwell’s
Burmese days, I was shocked by the treatment that was inflicted to the Burmese
people. The British came with ideas of civilizing the “savages” and acted in a
very condescending way towards the natives; that is at a human level
unacceptable. They undermined cultures that were already in place by bringing
their language and their own religion. They also disturbed the social structures
present by making themselves the new rulers and removing traditional
institutions that were the foundations of some societies.
In many of the colonies, there was a big system of exploitation of
the native population and their country’s resources (Raychaudhuri 364). In West
Africa just like in India, peasants were forced into growing cash crops like
cocoa in Africa and cotton in India. The famine of 1876-1878 showed how bad the
situation was; hundreds of thousands of people died of starvation in India (Davis
314) while England was enriching itself. While people were starving to death, the Queen
Victoria to celebrate her declaration as Empress of India threw a week long
feast (class lecture). Peasants in India were heavily taxed and they were in chronic
debt. The British imported cheap textile destroying the domestic manufactures (Davis
313-314) and they put the native in situation where they had to grow what the
British needed in order to survive.
The other important thing that Empire caused was separation of many
people by establishing arbitrary borders and dividing countries in a disordered
manner. People from same tribes have found themselves in different countries
with people they shared almost nothing. For that reason, there are many civil
wars and conflicts tribal conflicts. Some native got frustrated about the fact
that they belonged in one country but they were living in a foreign one.
Today many countries are still living in poverty and corruption. The
British transferred the power to educated elites that are corrupt especially in
Africa (Falola 347). Aids are given but they are not enough to replace
everything that was lost during the colonial rule (Falola 355). The British
Empire left the colonies broke and the natives were untrained to continue the
job. They exploited all the resources and left the colonies bare of what could
help them survive. That’s why some colonies are still dependant on the colonists
even after their independence.
The ideas that were brought in settlement colonies were totally
different. They were a good base for building strong nations like the US or
Australia. However, the British Empire was very discriminatory and didn’t allow
the same things for black people and white white. Even in the colonies they
settled in, they oppressed the natives and brought diseases that killed them. The
Native American (in the US) and the aborigine populations have drastically
decreased 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 not
easy to escape. The colonies are still dependant from developed countries, they
were bared from their resources and left to survive after the British left. The
Empire was only a good thing for white settlers and it was mainly a good thing
for Britain and its economy. If Britain is the country it is today, it’s partly
because of all the benefits it has taken from the colonies.