Niall Ferguson: Empire (How Britain Made the Modern World) – Empire for Sale

From the Channel 4 television series by Niall Ferguson (one of this seminar’s “new imperialists”), which accompanies his book by the same title. This part deals with the decline of the British empire, ending with the rise of American empire and globalization. Also interesting is the nature of the rivalry between Britain and Germany, played out in the early 1900s, as Germany sought to encourage Muslim uprisings against British dominion, and backed the Ottoman empire, while the British counteracted by sponsoring Arab nationalism against the Ottomans.

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The points raised in this segment of the overall series are few and relatively simple:

  • The alternatives to British empire were often cruel and barbaric: enter the Japanese empire, with graphic scenes from the “rape of Nanking”
  • Empire ended up costing Britain, more than Britain profited. Here Ferguson offers no details, and at one point it seems as if it was the cost of British beneficence and investment. Yet, as becomes clear later, the cost was that of conflict, of putting down revolts, and keeping other imperial hegemons at bay (at enormous cost), such as Japan and Germany.
  • In order to “save” Britain, which was depleted of financial capital, the U.S. came to its “rescue” — however, it becomes clear that the U.S. acted as another self-interested imperial hegemon: it would aid Britain, but at the cost of its hold on empire (thus making room for the advance of a more informal American empire). The U.S. during WWII acquired several key British naval bases. After, under Eisenhower, it opposed the British seizure of the Suez Canal.
  • The legacy of British empire lies in more than, as Ferguson quotes one speaker, just the export of football and “fuck off,” but the English language itself, the “single greatest cultural export” of modern times, resulting in Anglobalization.
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About Maximilian C. Forte

I am a professor of anthropology at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. My areas of research and teaching interest are centered in Political Anthropology, with a focus on imperialism, neoliberalism and globalization, nationalism, democracy, and the international political economy of knowledge production.
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One Response to Niall Ferguson: Empire (How Britain Made the Modern World) – Empire for Sale

  1. Pingback: Lower Sixth: Summary of the ideas in the Ferguson video | A level History at St.Lawrence College

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