C. A. Bayly
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British radicals in Asia and the persistence of empire c. 1820–1950
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This chapter considers the role of expatriate British liberals, radicals and socialists in India over the long term, while also briefly considering comparable figures in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. There are many studies of the development of anti-colonial thought amongst domestic British political theorists, such as J.S. Mill and Herbert Spencer. But the focus of this discussion lies on British and Eurasian public figures who lived in subject territories for some time and engaged in a constructive dialogue with Asian anti-colonialists. The chapter moves from the 1820s and 1830s, when radicals opposed the “despotism” of the East India Company, along with the first generation of Indian liberal spokesmen, through the age of the early Indian National Congress, which was supported by figures such as A.O. Hume and William Wedderburn, to the role of socialist and even revolutionary British radicals in the 1930s and 1840s. No clear line of political and economic thought united these men and women. For example, in the early days, many British radicals supported free-trade and European colonization; a century later, their successors vehemently opposed both. Instead, the chapter suggests that it was their religious, aesthetic and even sexual unorthodoxy, which characterized activists in this tradition. Their significance lies in the manner in which they helped both to perpetuate empire by empowering modest reforms in government and used imperial infrastructures to advance their critique of colonial rule, a critique they came to co-author with both Asian nationalists and liberal economists.

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