Anti-Britishness: The fact that we exported freedom to the world is now deemed to make us the baddies

Anti-Britishness: The fact that we exported freedom to the world is now deemed to make us the baddies. By Daniel Hannan.

Anti-Britishness may be a minority creed, but it is in the ascendant. It lies behind our statue-smashing spasm and behind the “decolonisation” of school and university curriculums. It drives the reordering of museum exhibitions and the campaign to give away legally purchased artefacts. It animates the idiotic campaign for “climate reparations” to badly-governed countries.

Sure, each of these campaigns has other notional justifications. But none of them stacks up. If you want to argue that a connection to slavery, however tenuous, wipes away everything else that a historical figure achieved, fine. But I can’t help noticing that the agitators who make this case never apply it to Chinese or Arab or African slave-owners. Nor, more damningly, do they seem to care about the places where slavery is most common today (in declining order of prevalence, North Korea, Eritrea, Burundi, the Central African Republic and Afghanistan).

Britain was the country that abolished slavery, worldwide:

Slavery was practised across every continent and archipelago, but social justice warriors reserve their vituperation for the country that distinguished itself by pouring its blood and treasure into a decades-long campaign to extirpate the foul trade.

“Colonialism-and-slavery” is almost a binomial phrase, like “law-and-order” or “wear-and-tear”. But colonialism was partly driven by abolitionism. Having halted the Atlantic traffic, Britain sought to eliminate the practice in the African kingdoms where it remained endemic.

The Benin bronzes, for example, were seized in an 1897 punitive expedition against a slave kingdom that thought nothing of burying alive the people it owned. That fact is rarely mentioned because Britain must always be the villain. Thus, the British Museum, which owns most of the brass carvings, says on its website that their acquisition was a consequence of the “expansion of colonial power”, and mentions slavery only glancingly, and in a way that implies that it was somehow imposed on the region from outside …



Britain gave the world the industrial revolution, so now it should pay the world carbon reparations??

The idea that Britain should be penalised for having given the human race industrialisation, which released billions from backbreaking toil, is asinine.

Logic, though, has little place here. Everything has to be squashed into the approved format of our age: poor-against-rich, colonised-against-coloniser. Outrage trumps inconvenient facts. Does Pakistan, which is leading the calls for climate reparations, have 100 coal mines while Britain has none? Meh. Has China emitted more CO2 over the past eight years than the UK over the past 220 years? Who cares? Britain should pony up because exploitation and something something.

The British were the best colonialists, with countries applying to join the British empire:

The British Empire had a self-dissolving quality. Its administrators spoke of “stewardship”, and brought most of their colonies to independence without a shot being fired in anger — an extraordinary and unsung achievement.

Several countries petitioned to join. Some, like Malta, were admitted; others, like Uruguay and Ethiopia, were not. Why did they ask? Perhaps because, in many parts of the world, Britain was seen as the sort of adult that a lost child might approach. People in the Empire were, on most measures, vastly better off than the people living under German or Belgian or Japanese rule. And the authorities in London at least tried to keep colonists in some kind of check. It is hard to argue that indigenous populations were worse off under British rule than in autonomous settler states such as Argentina, the USA or the Boer republics. …

Liberal values and human rights are also British exports:

Listen, for example, to how Vladimir Putin talks of the current war. Russia, he says, is fighting against the West’s determination to impose liberal values everywhere. What liberal values? Freedom from arbitrary arrest, uncensored broadcasters, genuine elections, that sort of thing. He correctly associates liberal values with Britain, for no country has done more to disseminate them.

That dissemination happened partly through example and partly through imposition. Some countries saw that our liberal institutions had made us rich and free, and chose to copy them. Others had liberal institutions forced on them by colonial authorities, and were left to decide, after independence, whether to keep them.

But does the fact of having exported these values really make us the baddies? Would people rather live in a world dominated by Erdogans and Xis? I have a nasty feeling that we might soon find out.

Maybe civilization has peaked for a while, and a squalid, stupid dark ages comes next.

Is this a sign of that future?