September 22, 2017

Experts agree, colonialism was a lark


The submission of Prince Diponegoro to General De Kock at the end of the Java War in 1830, painting by Nicolaas Pieneman

The editorial staff of the Third World Quarterly has resigned in protest over the publication of a controversial article in the journal’s most recent issue. The piece, titled “In Defense of Colonialism,” was written by Bruce Gilley, an associate professor of political science at Portland State University. According to the open letter that accompanied the board’s resignation, the article had initially been submitted for scholarly peer review and rejected, only to be later published as an “opinion piece” in the journal’s “Viewpoints” section.

For reference, here is Gilley’s abstract, taken from the Taylor & Francis website (you can find a link to the full article in this piece at OpenDemocracy):

For the last 100 years, Western colonialism has had a bad name. It is high time to question this orthodoxy. Western colonialism was, as a general rule, both objectively beneficial and subjectively legitimate in most of the places where it was found, using realistic measures of those concepts. The countries that embraced their colonial inheritance, by and large, did better than those that spurned it. Anti-colonial ideology imposed grave harms on subject peoples and continues to thwart sustained development and a fruitful encounter with modernity in many places. Colonialism can be recovered by weak and fragile states today in three ways: by reclaiming colonial modes of governance; by recolonising some areas; and by creating new Western colonies from scratch.

Yes, Gilley is not only defending the historical utility of colonialism—which would be horrific enough—he is actually calling for the reinstitution of the most dangerous, bloody, inhumane, and outright-fucking-evil form of governance the world has ever seen. This is insane. As Nathan J. Roberts noted in Current Affairs last week, “it’s hard to believe, at first, that it isn’t a Sokal-esque satire intended to prove how normalized abhorrent opinions are.”

Sadly, Gilley is serious. And indeed he is far from alone. One of the resigning editors, Vijay Prashad, writing about the decision to resign in Scroll, astutely notes that Gilley is one of several historical revanchists who are attempting to resusicate colonialism for the twenty-first century, and that we ignore the rising tide of colonialist thought and practice at our own (and everyone else’s) peril.

Let’s take a moment here to note that our own president suggested recently that the American military might be sent in to colonize Chicago.

Bruce Gilley, Donald Rumsfeld, Steve Mnuchin, Joe Arpaio. These contemporary colonialists are all-too-representative members of the expert-class in whom certain political figures would have us place our civic faith. And the answer to these violent (and not-so-fringe) opinions should be to bravely reject the validity of those institutions that would give them a platform. So bravo to Prashad et. al, and ¡No parasán!



Simon Reichley is the Director of Operations and Rights Manager at Melville House.