With the return of Hong Kong to the Chinese government in 1997, the empire that had lasted three hundred years and upon which the sun never set loosened its hold on the world and slipped into history. But the question of how we understand the British Empire--its origins, nature, purpose, and effect on the world it ruled--is far from settled.
In this incisive new work, already being hailed as a landmark, David Cannadine looks at the British Empire from a new perspective--through the eyes of those who created and ruled it--and offers fresh insight into the driving forces behind the Empire. Arguing against the views of Edward Said and others, Cannadine suggests that the British were motivated not by race but by class. The British wanted to domesticate the exotic world of their colonies and to reorder the societies they ruled according to an idealized image of their own class hierarchies. In reestablishing the connections between British society and colonial society, Cannadine shows that Imperialists loathed Indians and Africans no more nor less than they loathed the great majority of Englishmen and were far more willing to work with maharajahs, kings, and chiefs of whatever race than with "sordid" white settlers. Revolted by the triumph of democracy in Britain itself, the Empire's rulers embraced a feudal vision of the colonies which successfully endured until the 1950s.
Written with verve, clarity, and wit--and characterized throughout by highly original thinking--Ornamentalism will fundamentally alter the way we view the British Empire.show more