Empire: Let the statues fall

David Veevers argues for reinterpreting our past through today’s values

The World Today Updated 5 March 2021 Published 1 December 2020 3 minute READ

David Veevers

Historian at Queen Mary, University of London, and author of ‘The Origins of the British Empire, 1600 – 1750’

In 1878, the British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli proclaimed that ‘our Empire is an Empire of liberty, of truth and of justice’. Disraeli’s contemporary, the anti-imperialist Frederic Harrison, very much disagreed. The Empire, he replied, was conducting a policy of military terrorism – Imperium et Barbaries – and wrote that Britons ‘hold themselves free from all the laws of war … races of dark men [are] sacrificed to the pitiless genius of Free Trade, and at the blood-stained altar of colonial extension’. Fast forward a century and a half, and the struggle over what the Empire was, and how we should regard it, continues to rage. 

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