The Politically Incorrect Guide To The British Empire, by H.W. Crocker III, read by Ray Porter
It is a great shame that the audiobook cd I was listening to skipped at times, as this is a greatly entertaining and provocative book to listen to, and one that is worthy of a read for fair-minded individuals. To be sure, those who are most in need of listening to this book to hear of the positive side of British imperialism are likely to be the most close-minded about its contents, and those readers that take the author’s comments in a praiseworthy way at face value will likely be confirmed in their own existing prejudices. Neither reply to this book, either knee-jerk acceptance or knee-jerk opposition, is a productive response, as this book is a well-crafted one that is worthy of being taken seriously, but it is sufficiently imperfect that it cannot be taken uncritically. If this is not a likely response to this book for many readers, that is to be regretted, but all the same it does not make the book any less enjoyable for those who are interested in the British Empire.
In terms of its organization and structure, this book is organized in a topical fashion. The book explores the British Empire by region, in a highly selective manner, focusing on a few larger or more significant colonies, ignoring wholesale smaller colonies beyond brief mentions, and focusing on political and military leaders among the empire in various regions to the exclusion of most cultural figures, with the notable exception of Rudyard Kipling. The author wades into debates about the origins of the American Revolution , shows some remarkable hostility towards Israeli Jews, even when they were on the same side as Israel as in 1956 in the Suez War, and generally lives up to his aims of writing in a politically incorrect way, basically taking the thesis of Rhodesia’s breakaway leader Ian Smith at face value in the discussion of that colony, for example. The author, somewhat puzzlingly, does not include any of Britain’s Antarctic explorations or many of the smaller islands of the British Empire, or the shameful matter of Diego Garcia, into his account at all, making this book a tour of the highlights and most shocking aspects of empire rather than a systematic and thorough account.
Ultimately, given the somewhat superficial nature of this account, much of how a reader is likely to appreciate this book or not depends on the reader’s assumptions and larger worldview. To the extent that the reader has a fondness for political and military history, a willingness to countenance or even to express paternalistic sentiments towards backwards cultures, and a hostility to naïve idealism and left-wing social experimentation in general, the reader will find much to appreciate and enjoy in this book. That said, those readers who are hostile to the author’s approach and worldview are likely not to recognize the somewhat skewed but at least partially accurate insights this book presents. In the final analysis, this is the sort of book one reads and quotes from if one wants to start a quarrel, contains some intriguing choices for books and movies that anti-imperialists do not want the reader to enjoy, some of which are quite worthy of their own examination, and the high point of the book is to be found in its thoughtful and sympathetic biographical sketches. If the book is an imperfect one, it is still worth grappling with, especially if one believes that the flawed British Empire was still far better than the benighted fate of much of the former empire in the decades after independence. Is it better to live in basic peace and safety while unfree or to live disastrously unsuccessfully while free? That is the question.
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