In Search of Monsters — Cruel Britannia

In this installment of In Search of Monsters, host Chris Lydon interviews historian and prodigious imperial researcher Caroline Elkins on her new book, Legacy of Thinking, a look at how the English got to rule the world for two centuries.

This British Empire thought of itself as a distinctively liberal empire, civilizing the people it exploited, and everywhere spreading the language of Milton and Shakespeare, free speech and the rule of law. It is precisely this imperial line that Elkins set out to bury, citing the the official records of terror and police state practices used to rule, at its peak, over half a billion people. One can analogize this episode to America’s own experience as the supposed ‘liberal hegemon’ in the aftermath of the Cold War, as well as Russia’s current war, longing for a return to imperial grandeur. Will each of these modern examples meet a similar demise?

Listen to the full episode here:

Additionally, check out these related resources here:

Has neo-Orientalism killed our ability to sense the limits of Western influence? – QI Eurasia Director Anatol Lieven in Responsible Statecraft, September 28th, 2021.

Illusions of empire: Amartya Sen on what British rule really did for India – Amartya Sen in The Guardian, June 29th, 2021.

The return of ’empire’ in international politics – Gareth Smyth in Responsible Statecraft, July 19th, 2020.