The true story of British colonialism challenges the current “progressive” narrative with some solid historical facts

C.P. Champion: British colonialism was a force for good in the worldWhen I briefly assisted the Alberta government in assembling knowledge-based elementary social studies curricula in 2021, their communications experts refused to defend it, saying, Reaganesquely, “We don’t negotiate with the terrorists.” By the latter, they meant egregious left-wing experts and their CBC chorus. But the correct metaphor is not terrorists but agents of Soviet deception.

Biographical history and historical facts are today rejected by education experts, seeding our collective doom in pursuit of their social justice utopia. Fundamentally, the war on history that the contemporary Left inflicted on unsuspecting populations in the Western world is a replay, or extension, of the Cold War.

Centre-left governments appear to be content to let the cultural forest fires burn, sometimes piling on the fuel. On the other hand, conservatives lack the courage and strategic and tactical agility to resist. In many cases, people have no idea that an ideological war is going on and are unwilling to do what is necessary to fight it. Thus, ideological opportunists, reflexive activists, and other advocates of a purely negative view of history currently have the upper hand, as seen in Alberta’s now-official K-6 social studies curriculum.

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To confront the Soviet-style deception, lies, negative history, and character assassination emanating from the vicious “woke” activists who have infected parts of the Canadian Left, the only method that can possibly succeed is an overwhelming proactive factual information campaign to promote understanding and knowledge of the good and great foundations of our society, using every instrument available.

Consider colonialism. Contemporary people too easily fall into what they assume is good progressive thinking but whose origin is Leninist dogma, namely that colonialism was a “moribund” phase of capitalist exploitation, the last-ditch attempt of the rich to cheat the poor and the white to oppress the non-white. In reality, some empires – French, Spanish, Portuguese and others in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia in previous centuries – took a spoils approach, while others, like the British, progressively developed their colonies economically and politically.

British colonialism should be distinguished from its regressive rivals. Many forms of colonialism were rooted in conquest and brutal exploitation. For instance, consider the impact on indigenous peoples if Spanish conquistadors had first reached Canada. Furthermore, Mongol, Zulu, Chinese, Haida, and Haudenosaunee conquests were not free from racial and sexual violence. Instead, we should be surprised by the comparative absence of these traits in British colonial history.

What is remarkable about the British Empire is not that injustices were present on many occasions but that these injustices were often vehemently and successfully opposed from within. Can anyone seriously maintain that if Europeans had never colonized North America or Africa, bringing Christianity in their wake, indigenous peoples would have abolished the endemic slaving practices in their cultures?

It is an uncomfortable truth that slavery and slaving practices, albeit with cultural variations, are the historical norm on every continent. Abolition, on the other hand, is an aberration that originated in the Anglosphere and which showed few signs of appearing anywhere else. Even Marxist historians acknowledge this fact, though many attribute abolition to economic factors like the decline of profitability rather than religious or humane motives. It irks progressives terribly that the heroes of the anti-slavery movement – champions of freedom and natural rights – were 18th-century small-c conservatives: liberals, Whigs, Tories, Baptists, and evangelical Christians like William Wilberforce.

The abolition of slavery is a problem for the liberal-left because it contradicts their ambition to impose a negative and divisive narrative. They use destructive words like “racism,” “settler colonialism,” and “white supremacism” to avoid dealing with the complicated history and positive aspects of Western Civilization. These scare words make it easy to label anyone who questions their dogmas or praises European achievements as bad. But without realizing it, they commit one of the most fundamental of intellectual errors: they fail to recognize the difference between good and bad forms of imperialism.

What other empire has left behind a free and organic association of states like the British Empire-Commonwealth, a unique, entirely voluntary organization of countries that have chosen to maintain their ties with Britain long after the British Empire ended? This association stands out because it was formed willingly by its member countries, demonstrating a lasting bond and mutual respect that persisted even after the empire’s influence waned.

Reflect on the 20th century, which Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, a perceptive critic of the horrors of Leftism, called the “Age of the ‘G’” – a period marked by guillotines, genocide, gaols, gallows, gas chambers, and Gulags. This era witnessed the rise of some of modern history’s cruellest and most destructive empires. Notably, Hitler’s Third Reich (1933 to 1945) and, on a larger scale, the Communist empires of the U.S.S.R. (1917 to 1989) and the People’s Republic of China (1949 to the present), along with their client states like North Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Cuba, stand out.

These regimes, driven by utopian ideologies and the self-entitlement of a party vanguard, sought to create a perfectly just and equitable society by any means necessary. This often required suppressing, and even murdering, dissenting voices. Never in human history were more people persecuted, deprived of natural rights, starved, tortured, gassed, shot, or worked to death than by Party-controlled totalitarian atheist regimes.

The societies repressed by the Communist empires still struggle today to overcome their brutal legacies. , including the unresolved fate of Ukraine.

By the standards of the regimes of the 20th century, it’s difficult to understand the degree of condemnation heaped on the colonial empires whose closing phase was marked by a valiant resistance to the spread of Communism in Asia and Africa. Colonialism was arguably the lesser evil compared to Marxism-Leninism.

Despite the imperfections, there is no society in the world in which visible minorities and indigenous people would have been better off than in the North American societies of recent decades. This is mainly due to modern economic prosperity, which stems from the gradual unshackling of capitalist potential first discovered in the Middle Ages and the Italian Renaissance. Capitalism is the only system in the world capable of generating the vast surplus wealth necessary for low-productivity sectors of society to siphon off their existence, either through private charitable actions or by means of confiscatory taxation by incontinent governments.

To resist the tide of anti-historical themes propagated by hateful activists, we and our leaders must become better informed and work to educate the public to expose the fraud and hollowness of these simplistic but effective anti-historical themes. Modern education technocrats and their simpleton curricula need to be called out, resisted, and defeated by using effective communications, rallying well-informed parents and teachers, and replacing poisonous ideas with rich, engaging, and high-quality knowledge-based curricula.

To quote G.K. Chesterton: “It requires real courage to face the past, because the past is full of facts which cannot be got over; of men certainly wiser than we and of things done which we could not do.”

C.P. Champion is a senior fellow at the Aristotle Foundation for Public Policy and the author of The British Colonial Achievement and Its Deniers in The 1867 Project: Why Canada Should be Cherished – Not Cancelled (Aristotle Foundation, 2023).

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