LThe death of Queen Elizabeth II and the lengthy national mourning (sometimes bordering on collective hysteria) that followed provide an opportunity to reflect on what remains of the British imperial idea today. The British Empire project took shape in the 16th centurye Century under the Tudors to compete with Spain and Portugal and to a lesser extent France, and it borrowed heavily from the institutions and practices of the Iberian world.
During the XVIIe In the 19th century the British Empire existed in two versions: one, Atlantic, was based largely on colonization and the conquest of territories; and the other, Asian, was originally more trade-oriented, whether through the East India Company or private companies.
The Asian Empire was in the XVIIIe 19th Century: The conquest of vast territories and the accumulation of wealth in India prompted it to expand eastward with the help of gunboat diplomacy. The Opium Wars with China followed, but the British also tightened their grip on Southeast Asia.
The War of Independence waged by the American colonies from the 1770s would reduce Britain’s footprint on the Atlantic. the 19the The 19th century was nevertheless dominated by the empire, which was enriched by numerous territories in Africa and elsewhere. The result was a highly ambivalent political regime, with a unique form of democracy in the metropolises and varying forms of despotism in the colonies.
Rule full of pitfalls
In this context, decolonization took place in the 20th centurye Century. The process would not involve the big three “White Settlements” that’s Canada, Australia and New Zealand, but it started in a fourth of those colonies, Ireland. The most important steps were taken after World War II with the independence of the countries of the Indian subcontinent and then most of the colonies in Africa up to Zimbabwe in the late 1970s.
Some political leaders have had to admit that the usual arguments about the merits of pax british and the “enlightened despotism”, and the idea that the colonized peoples were big children no longer held up. However, much of the British political class continued to believe that Empire had brought benefits, not only to Britain but to the colonies as well.
This vision of things was manifested during the Falklands War against Argentina in 1982. It was about “to defend the cause of liberty”affirmed Elizabeth II in front of the American President Ronald Reagan. “The conflict in the Falkland Islands was forced upon us by undisguised aggression and it goes without saying that we take pride in the way our soldiers serve their country. » In this habitual wooden language, empire became synonymous with freedom. The majority of Her Majesty’s subjects unknowingly advocated intervention in the Falkland Islands“characterized aggression” was an integral part of the history of their empire.
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