Martin J. Wiener
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A semi-exclusionary empire?
The use of British colonial ideals in Trinidad and Bengal
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One of the most significant ways of British culture was articulated throughout the Empire was by exporting the nation’s most important political ideology, Liberalism. A good deal of imperial history, from the British side, can be seen as a dialogue over the interpretation of Liberalism. As liberal ideas were carried away from home, two interpretations of the British Liberal heritage emerged, each focusing on one part of that heritage, and fated to clash. The first was widely held by colonists and other “non-official” Britons and the second by officials. The first emphasized the liberty of the individual and the consequent limitation of state power; the second focused on equality under the law for all subjects (including non-Britons), and the use of the state to maintain “ordered liberty,” with equal emphasis on both terms. The most famous clash was, of course, the American Revolution, but a similar dynamic underpinned relations between official and non-official Britons in the Empire through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries virtually down to the Empire’s end.

This chapter will explain how these two forms of Liberalism developed and how they came into conflict, citing several examples in the history of India and the West Indies.

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