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Be it Resolved, the British Empire did more harm than good

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In 1933, at the height of the British Empire, a small island off the north east coast of Europe controlled 25% of the world’s population and land mass. India, Canada, Australia, the British West Indies, parts of South America and Africa were all under British sway to one degree or another for the better part of the preceding century or longer. In its heyday, this mighty colonial power was admired for the innovation and enlightened principles it brought to newly conquered lands. Now, however, some modern historians want to set the record straight and reconsider British colonialism by its true nature: one defined by mass torture, rape, censorship, and starvation. The British so-called commitment to virtue and social progress, they argue, was a fallacy used to hide the cruelty with which they dominated their underlings.  For these historians, the Brits were no less violent or savage than Russia’s Stalin or Japan’s Hideki Tojo. Other historians see the vilification of Britain by modern historians as lacking in context; Britain was no better or worse than all the other empires that preceded it. The British Empire is being unfairly blamed for the current economic and political woes of the global south, while the positive attributes they introduced to their colonies - such as free markets, the rule of law, and public transport - fail to receive the acknowledgement they deserve. Lest we are prepared to demand apologies from every colonial power that sought to grow their empire over the last two thousand years, Britain should be left well enough alone.

Arguing for the motion is James Heartfield, he’s a historian and author of Britain's Empires: A History, 1600–2020

Arguing against the motion is Nigel Biggar, theologian, ethicist, and author of Colonialism: A Moral Reckoning

SOURCES: Oxford Union, British Pathe, CNN


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