Blogs > Liberty and Power > Jingoism VS. Empire

Jul 16, 2006 4:27 pm

Jingoism VS. Empire

My fellow-blogger, David Beito, quotes [below, 11th August] from Max Boot’s latest gory atavism. American forces, it seems, didn’t kill enough Ba’athists. On the other hand, the American army slaughtered a sufficient number of Filipinos (200,000 or so) to keep those natives quiet. On these grounds, Boot believes the Americans should proudly proclaim themselves imperialists.

Now, in the latter part of the 19th century, a cheap, shallow, mindless militarism appeared amongst a certain portion of the population in Britain. This short-sighted, militaristic egotism was nicely expressed in the refrain of a popular music-hall ditty (‘Macdermott’s War Song’): “We don’t want to fight, but by jingo if we do/ We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men / We’ve got the money too”.

The belligerence here is conditional. To embody the 21st century sentiment above -- the first line has to be unconditionally aggressive: “We _do_ want to fight, & by jingo _when_ we do…”

The ‘War Song’ came out in 1878. Early that year, Disraeli sent the navy to Constantinople, to prevent Russian forces from entering. (Lord Derby, the foreign secretary, resigned in protest.) War fever gripped many (not all) people in Britain -- & those who opposed Disraeli, termed this sabre-rattling, ‘jingoism’ (from the refrain of the War Song.) Jingoism, precisely because it is so bellicose & therefore can see only the very short-term, has always been recognised as a danger -- indeed, as in opposition to -- the long-term interests of a settled Empire.

Such myopic, bloodstained jingoism is all that Boot & his ilk have any knowledge of. They know nothing of long-term, slow-growing developments -- legal & cultural. Killing people is easy. But such blood-lust cannot build an Empire.

What Roman civilisation left behind was the foundation of what is now Western Europe: Roman law, the Romance languages, the Latin vocabulary in other languages, Latin & Latin literature, the road system, urban centres, etc. The Roman war machine, being destructive, left only some army usages (the layout of a British army camp still follows the Roman pattern.)

During the British Imperial period British settlers in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa & East Africa in effect extended British society overseas. In other territories, this period left the common law, the English language & its literature, a whole host of cultural practices -- from schools & universities to political institutions, to administration, newspapers, cricket, etc. Thus it produced a distinctive set of cultural traits & links amongst a number of peoples. I quote from Mark Steyn -- a Canadian -- in the Spectator 13 August 2005 []:

“ ‘British’ was the prototype multiethnic nationality: if you were a doctor from Kingston-on-Thames or a nurse from Kingston, Jamaica, or an assistant choreographer from Kingston, Ontario, you were British — and….race didn’t come into it. [In] law, there was no distinction between a British subject in Wales and a British subject in Tobago. Britishness was…a genuinely multicultural identity…. It’s always been the great outward, global, embracing identity”.

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Sudha Shenoy - 8/15/2005

Most definitely not. Except for the 'anciennes colonies' in the West Indies, the French distinguished between those who had assimilitated completely -- turned into mini-Frenchmen -- & others. The latter were 'sujets' -- subjects; only a tiny handful (the former) were full French citizens (perhaps a few thousand.)The French went in for lofty aims -- the spread of civilisation ; the British just wanted peace & trade. -- See Prosser Gifford & Wm Roger Louis eds, France & Britain in Africa (Yale UP 1971.)

Only after 1945 was French citizenship granted to African subjects, but not, I think, to those in Indochina.

David T. Beito - 8/14/2005

Did the multi-ethnic identity exist to the same extent for subjects of the French colonial empire?