Indian Culture, Politics

Why British dismantled their empire?

  • Rise of America?
  • Ruins of second world war?
  • Rise of nationalist movements in many colonies?
  • Empire became too big for Britain?
  • Change of British heart ?
  • Empire became unprofitable?

British left their colonies but not thrown out by force. There are many puzzling facts about the last half century of the empire. There were not strong forces inside Britain which were driving towards dismantling of the empire. No nationalist movement was strong enough to over throw the British rule. At the international stage, which was Europe, Japan, and America, there was not much pressure on Britain against the Empire. Americans were looking for to have their own colonies. Europeans were more busy in their own empires and wars.

I just read the book Empire and the English character. This book analyzes the typical thinking of British Colonial Officers of the empire.  The book shows that different officers had different conception of the empire. Each colony was created and run with different objectives. So, each officer can have his own justification of his actions depending upon his circumstances. The officer, who was posted in some outpost in a jungle, thought that he was in a civilizing mission of the natives. Native people need to learn the governing art by watching the great example of British. The officer, who was posted at economic gold mines, thought that his main interest was trading with some necessity to govern.

The British long debated and analyzed the right mode and means of governing. They ran the empire impromptu. Just what ever works. Various events shows that they could never figured out the good solution to run the empire and more importantly the moral justification. They knew one clear goal or a dream, that is, they deserve all the economic benefits of the empire and they do not want to harm anyone in the process. They seem to never realize that this goal is almost impossible to achieve.

There were many strains of thought. Some suggested to place an autocratic bureaucracy over the colonies, which will make sure the ‘civilized behavior’ in the colony, and let the day to day matters be handled by a native elected legislature. Another idea was to create a commonwealth (A super nation organization, some thing like EU ). In which, colonies will be sovereign states but their international issues, such as disputes and trading, will be handled by British. There were many other variants for the organization of empire. But, essential feature in all of them was that the British wanted to keep their hands on the pie (economic benefits of the colonies). This lead to many restructurings of the empire during first half of 20th century. Meanwhile, the war was looming over Europe which lead British to be less ambitious over their plans. Some times they are forced to negotiate with the native leaders to gather support for the war. Meanwhile, Americans were getting more and more powerful and they wanted a share in the British empire.

Also the troubles due to the nationalist movements. The most powerful nationalist movement was in India. It was lead by Gandhi and it was very hard for British to call leaders like Gandhi as uncivilized savage. They kept doing concessions with Gandhi and his congress. One day they found that the most of administration was actually Indian and it had became unprofitable to run India(due to some 1920 tax reforms). So, they decided to let India go.

There were series of complex events which finally led to the fall of the empire. I don’t think that one factor can be singled out. The whole lesson to be learned is that to kill beasts, like British empire, one has to do the groundwork to create conditions in which it can not sustain itself.


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