The legacy of European colonialism

In relatively recent decades, some prominent Australians declared that the ‘black armband’ view of Australian history needed to be counter-balanced by stressing the successes of white settlement (as if there is some doubt about the latter). This included revising historiography. The aim seemed to be to claim that it was not British policy to destroy any indigenes and their cultures. I am not sure how that ‘white-washes’ the shooting, poisoning, and other terrible things done to the Aborigines by the ‘settlers.’ Since many of the non-urban First Peoples are now living in terrible conditions, I doubt that one can claim that European invasion and settlement was of benefit to the Aborigines.

The following extracts from ‘Of empires gone and going’ in ‘Musings at Death’s Door’ do, however, accept that there can be benefits from colonialism, from empires.

“What was the legacy of colonialism? In British Malaya, now Malaysia and Singapore, the positive gains were: the English language, now the language of international relations; Western democracy (for what that is worth); respect for law and order in the British way (but needing some serious improvements to deliver justice); and a form of multiculturalism which is potentially more equitable than the traditional forms.

Colonialism, allied to slavery, ‘blackbirding,’ contract transfer of labour from one colony to another, and free immigration entry as needed, contributed to the juxtaposition (and some intermingling of genes) of diverse populations and cultures. This did enhance inter-cultural contacts and relations between the peoples affected.
Did the colonies of the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, Belgian, French and Germans benefit in a similar manner? They were known to be more brutal than the British. Certainly, Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the communist revolution which drove the French out of Indo-China, learned about obtaining independence through revolution during his studies in France.

A cursory scan of some of the better-known empires to see if they offered durable benefits either to the subject peoples or to mankind in general might be of some casual interest. The difficulty inherent in this endeavour is in separating civilisation from empire, the former generally localised but often making a contribution to the future of mankind, the latter often generalised geographically but soon not worthy of remembrance. Civilisations endure. Yet, apart from those of China and India, has there been any substantial long-term continuity of civilisations?”

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