A Welcome Attack on Churchill and Wilson
Bland Fanatics: Liberals, Race, and Empire
by Pankaj Mishra
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020
Pankaj Mishra dislikes the free market, and he blames it for the imperial conquests of the nineteenth century and after. But much of his book can be read as an extended commentary on some remarks by the great champion of the free market Ludwig von Mises.
In Liberalism (1927), Mises says:
The considerations and objectives that have guided the colonial policy of the European powers since the age of the great discoveries stand in the sharpest contrast to all the principles of liberalism. The basic idea of colonial policy was to take advantage of the military superiority of the white race over the members of other races. The Europeans set out, equipped with all the weapons and contrivances that their civilization placed at their disposal, to subjugate weaker peoples, to rob them of their property, and to enslave them….No chapter of history is steeped further in blood than the history of colonialism. Blood was shed uselessly and senselessly. Flourishing lands were laid waste; whole peoples destroyed and exterminated. All this can in no way be extenuated or justified. The dominion of Europeans in Africa and in important parts of Asia is absolute. It stands in the sharpest contrast to all the principles of liberalism and democracy, and there can be no doubt that we must strive for its abolition.
Mishra does not cite Mises, but he acknowledges that Richard Cobden, the great classical liberal defender of free trade, opposes imperialism: “India for Cobden was a ‘country we do not know how to govern’ and Indians were justified in rebelling against an inept despotism” (p. 192). Nevertheless, he continues to blame capitalism for imperialism, adopting a standard Marxist line.
You might expect at this point a denunciation of Mishra for his mistakes, but I do not propose to proceed in this way. He is a writer of considerable insight, and he repays careful study. Educated in both India and England, he has read very widely in both Eastern and Western sources, and among the latter he treats not only Marx with respect, but also George Santayana and Reinhold Niebuhr. Indeed, it is Niebuhr who provides him with the “bland fanatics” of his title. For Niebuhr, “Among the lesser culprits of history…are the blind fanatics of western civilization who regard the highly contingent achievements of ou
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