A Tale of Two Indias: Burke and Mill on Empire and Slavery in the West Indies and America

Political Theory 34 (2):192 - 228 (2006)
The subject of empire has emerged as a central concern in political theory. Edmund Burke and John Stuart Mill have been at the center of much recent scholarship on this topic. A number of depictions of Burke as a critic and Mill as a defender of empire rely largely on their writings about India. This article focuses instead on Burke and Mill's writings on the West Indies and America from the standpoint of both thinkers' connection to Scottish Enlightenment historiography. It argues that Burke's embrace of the notion of a civilizing process helps explain his dismissive treatment of Africans and Indians in the Americans and makes it clear that he was no simple defender of cultural pluralism and difference. Conversely, it argues that Mill's essay, "The Negro Question," and his public criticism of martial law in Jamaica suggest his doubts about the civilizing effect of British rule. By re-examining their writings from this particular geographical and theoretical perspective, the article challenges the new scholarly orthodoxy surrounding Burke's and Mill's views of the imperial project.
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