Author of article on “the case for colonialism” withdraws it after death threats and social-media mobbing; academics are mostly silent

In today’s political and social climate, trying to defend colonialism is just asking for trouble—in fact, even for death threats. That’s what happened to associate professor Bruce Gilley at Portland State University, who recently published an article—actually, a “Viewpoint”, the academic equivalent of an op-ed, but refereed like a regular article—called “The case for colonialism” in a journal called the Third World Quarterly. If you go to the link, though, you won’t find the article; you’ll find this:


According to Andy Ngo, who’s been reporting this in Quillette, Gilley’s article said this:

First published on September 8, “The case for colonialism” argues Western colonialism has created net-good in some instances, particularly through establishing governance, institutions and infrastructure. Gilley argues that nations who embraced and built on their Western colonial legacy, for example, Singapore, have fared better than those who followed anti-colonial nationalist ideologies. The article also advocates for temporary “recolonization” in specific contexts, such as public finance and criminal justice, for populations who consent as a means to build up their institutions.

Well, you can imagine what a furor that caused! As Ngo reports, two petitions immediately went up on asking for the article to be retracted and the journal’s editor fired, and 15 editors resigned in protest at the article. A howling social media mob descended on Gilley, calling for his tenure to be revoked and for him to be fired. Some people even called for Gilley’s Ph.D. to be revoked! Students prepared to protest outside his office, but they couldn’t find him as he’s on sabbatical. And he began receiving death threats on the phone—threats credible enough that Gilley himself asked for the article to be withdrawn. (The journal’s claim that it withdrew the piece because the editor got threats of violence may be the real reason, or part of the reason, but since nobody’s talking we just don’t know.)

Apparently, although this wasn’t a “regular” journal article, it did go through peer review: one reviewer recommended minor changes while the other recommended rejection. In such cases the main editor makes a judgment call, and he decided to accept it. To his credit, one of the journal’s editors, Noam Chomsky—an anti-colonialist if ever there was one—didn’t resign, and said this:

Chomsky told The College Fix via email that while the method by which the article was published should be reviewed, he opposes demands to retract the article, saying it opens “dangerous doors.”

I haven’t read the article since it’s been removed. Perhaps it lingers somewhere on the Internet. But for this discussion it doesn’t matter. What bothers me are several issues.

The first is the censorship of an opinion that’s worth discussing. Surely colonialism has in the main been bad, and if Gilley maintains otherwise I’d disagree. But he apparently didn’t: he argued that in some instances colonialism has created a net good. Maybe he’s right. Perhaps  there have cases of colonialism, or certain actions of colonial powers, that could cause an overall improvement of a dysfunctional nation. I can’t think of any, for eventually all those nations demand independence, but it’s certainly something worth discussing. Asking for such a discussion is not, of course, the same thing as justifying willy-nilly occupation of someone else’s lands, which I oppose, but it’s a counterfactual type of argument worth having.

Why is it worth having? Because even though most people (and nearly all progressives) despise colonialism, we need to hear arguments on the other side, if for no other reason than to firm up our own arguments and hear the best case of our opponents. If Gilley can make a case that Singapore, for instance, was improved by colonialism, we need to hear it rather than stop our ears and shout “nyah nyah nyah nyah!” We need to hear these arguments for the same reason we should listen to the arguments of Holocaust denialists: we need to learn the evidence for the Holocaust, and be able to meet the best arguments of our opponents. If you simply shout “colonialism is always harmful” without being able to defend that, or without hearing the opposition, you have an assertion without an argument. Further, as John Stuart Mill noted in On Liberty, each generation forgets those arguments, so they have to be repeated over the years.

I object, too, to the academic and social-media mobs that try to quash articles like this and punish their authors, just like they tried (and failed) with Rebecca Tuvel’s Hypatia article comparing transracialism with transgenderism. What is happening is that there are certain Received Points of View that are considered “correct”, and if you don’t adhere to them in academia, you become fair game for the howling bands of online thugs who threaten you. Of course not all opinions are equally worth discussing: a journal shouldn’t need to publish an article saying that women should be denied the vote or blacks enslaved—the moral arguments against these are much clearer. But if an article passes peer review, as Tuvel’s and Gilley’s did, then it’s not right to call for its retraction because it doesn’t conform to the mores of the moment.

These mobs of academics and the public are, in effect, trying to control the content of academic knowledge and discourse by deciding which views are acceptable and which are not; and the latter views are not to be aired. But this is the journalistic equivalent of de-platforming someone already invited to speak. (I needn’t point out that Gilley is not Richard Spencer.) As Chomsky said, the best response to an article like Gilley’s, given that you oppose his thesis, is to write an article showing (with reasons) why he’s wrong.  You don’t censor his paper, you don’t retract it, you don’t threaten his life, and you don’t call for his firing or revoking his Ph.D. Knowledge advances not by bullying and censorship, but by free discussion—the kind of discussion that can’t take place now that Gilley’s article has vanished. (I wonder how many people who condemned it even read it beyond the title.)

Finally, this kind of mob control of academia breeds a climate of fear that chills all open discourse. Gilley’s life was threatened, but it’s notable that few people are speaking out in defense of his right to publish his piece after it passed peer review. That’s because while Gilley (and the journal editor) may have feared for their lives, the rest of us fear other consequences of this thuggery: being called racists, bigots, or colonialists. The climate of fear is evident from Ngo’s report:

While Bruce Gilley’s colleagues in the political science department remained silent as the controversy was brewing, a few of them are now speaking out. David Kinsella, professor of political science in the Hatfield School of Government at Portland State and former editor-in-chief of International Studies Perspectives,expressed repulsion at the thought of violent threats being sent to an editor or author but is concerned about the wider implications. “I also worry that this episode could encourage others to threaten violence as a means of influencing decisions about scholarly research and publication.”

The silence of so many who should be defending academic freedom clearly derives from fear. After all, as a colleague told me yesterday, if an academic published an article criticizing Big Pharma or Republican attacks on women, other academics would rush to proclaim the right to publish such articles, articles that would certainly offend some people. Why the difference? Because articles attacking Big Pharma and Republicans are acceptable to the academic Left. And if you flout the ideological standards of the Regressive Left, you’ll be subject to either personal threats or lifelong demonization as a racist, a misogynist, or some other beast of ideological impurity.

In the end, though, name-calling is inimical to free discourse, and free discourse is the only path to truth—or to social improvement.


There’s another relevant piece in Quillette that I don’t have time to discuss, but it’s good and well worth reading: “The case for contrarianism” by Oliver Traldi.


  1. Posted October 12, 2017 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Is there any definition of colonialism that doesn’t include “white privilege gone wild” or “Christian privilege run amok”?

    One of the foundations of a humanistic future has to be self-determination. For example, if Arizona wants to skip over the theory of evolution in its public schools, then none of their students will be studying biology (or, really, much of anything else) in out-of-state colleges and universities. Arizona has the right to determine their state school standards. And they have the right to suffer the consequences.

    • Posted October 12, 2017 at 11:44 am | Permalink

      No, it’s their children who suffer if they are denied a proper education.

      • Brett
        Posted October 17, 2017 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

        …you mean like, communism is good, America is bad, or kindergarten students need to be taught how to masturbate, or teenage girls need to experience ‘fisting’, or Christian, white males are nazis? That kind of ‘proper education?

    • lkr
      Posted October 12, 2017 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

      ?the Aztecs and Inca? Mongols/Mughals? the Gauls or Goths? Hittites and Assyrians? Shaka’s Bantus? Darius’ Persians? AngkorWat era Khmers? the Han dynasty?

      Imposition of political, economic, cultural, and often linguistic hegemony seems to arise every time military conquest is possible.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted October 13, 2017 at 10:05 am | Permalink

        I was thinking of the first colonisation of Australia – from the Indonesian archipelago.
        Then there’s that whole thing about the Africans crossing the Bab al Mandab and driving the indigenous Homo erectus and other species to eventual extinction.

    • Martin X
      Posted October 13, 2017 at 10:20 am | Permalink

      From a humanistic perspective, it’s not clear that “self-determination” means that a *state* should have the right to self-determination, since the state is not a conscious entity.

      A state may suppress the self-determination of its citizens, which isn’t a humanistic goal.

  2. Posted October 12, 2017 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    “… the journal editor has subsequently received serious and credible threats of personal violence. […] Taylor & Francis has a strong and supportive duty of care to all our academic editorial teams, and this is why we are withdrawing this essay.”

    There was a time when a publisher would take pride in *not* submitting to such threats and blackmail.

    Now they take pride in doing so.

    O tempora! O mores!

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 13, 2017 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      Pride goeth before a health and safety policy. If you have a health and safety policy that values your employee’s health and safety, then you do not have an option about this. If you’re a UK company with more than 5 employees or contractors and you do not have a written health and safety policy, then you are committing an offence with criminal law consequences.
      The details will vary between countries, but I’d be very surprised to hear of a country that doesn’t have some policy in this regard.

      • Posted October 13, 2017 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

        But the BBC and others send correspondents to war zones, so it must be possible to have some sort of balance with H&S.

        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted October 14, 2017 at 8:49 pm | Permalink

          Yep. If you really want to take it on. but you’ve got to really want to take it on. If, for example, your entire business model is based on putting divers down to 200m depth, or putting workers up to 200m height (without months of scaffolding work), then you’ll take on the process of developing (& adhering to) appropriate working practices. For example, I have known people who were put through terrifying anti-kidnapping courses with BBC journalists at about 1 year’s average salary per person per course. BBC are large consumers of those – larger than oil industry in-country workers – so probably get a better price, but it’s steep . And when they tell me “terrifying”, these are people who’re bored by helicopter underwater escape training and doing “fire escape through burning refinery, in the dark” exercises.
          When we were making electrical sensor equipment to contain and measure potentially explosive gas-air mixtures, with the machinery in a potentially explosive gas-air atmosphere (Zone 0 in USCG terminology ; Zone 1 in European terminology. Or is it the other way around.), around 1/3 of our paperwork burden was for compliance with H&S (specifically BASEEFA – a by-product of the UK’s long history of coal mine explosions) regulations. That includes all materials invoices, buying in individually certified stainless steel casings, testing of completed assemblies …
          If your business model is having people stand up and talk to people in a room, you’ve got to have an incredibly good business case to take on that level of work and cost.
          I was fortunate that my university department didn’t have any fatalities on field courses while I was there. But were were adjusting to having killed a student a couple of years before I was there (washed off the rocks by a wave), and it was resulting in a thorough-going revision of all field trip itineraries. 30 years later, and probably well over half of graduates in the field have no no fieldwork experience worth speaking of, and a significant part of that is down to the costs and complexities of H&S compliance.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted October 15, 2017 at 12:41 am | Permalink

            The trouble is, that once having established a precedent and procedures for genuine high-risk situations, all this gets dumped on everyday low-risk hazards and just spoils everything with overkill. And, arguably, increases the risks in many cases where it’s applied inappropriately.

            Case in point – workers patching six feet of footpath**, surrounded by barriers and cones and signs saying “footpath closed, please use other side of road” – this on a four-lane arterial road! But if someone gets killed crossing the road (twice) then that’s their own fault or that of the unfortunate driver concerned, not the concern of the footpath-patchers who might otherwise risk being blamed if someone trips on their pothole and hurts themself. [/sarcasm]

            (**Yes, actual example. I’m absolutely certain it arises because they’re too bloody lazy to try and accommodate the occasional pedestrian who might want to traverse the bit of footpath adjacent to their patching.)


            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted October 15, 2017 at 12:46 am | Permalink

              I should also add that all this “Health & Safety” crying wolf just leads to cynicism about all safety practices, even in those instances where they are fully justified. Probably just as well I retired when I did, as the ever-more-onerous-and-bureaucratic ‘safety’ procedures, and my ever-increasing contempt for anything labelled “H&S”, were going to have a major collision sooner or later. 😉


            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted October 15, 2017 at 11:41 am | Permalink

              If you have two systems, you will be mired in “borderline” cases where people who think they should be in a low-risk category want to escape the laws that apply to low-risk and high-risk categories.
              Also, people do get dangerously blasé and miscategorise familiar tasks as being low-risk when it simply means that they’ve not personally experienced a high risk situation recently.
              An example : I’ve long proposed that people should earn their driving license for (say) 5 or 10 years, then it expires and they have to prove their driving competence again before continuing to drive without “Learner” restrictions. Because people acquire bad habits, then think that they’re the right thing to do. Also, laws, vehicles and traffic conditions change.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted October 15, 2017 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

                You will always get borderline cases with *anything*. The problem is that enormous amounts of time and money are wasted and people are unnecessarily inconvenienced or their enjoyment is ruined, in complying with ‘rules’ that are completely and obviously irrelevant or excessive in the particular circumstances and which, as in the example I gave, actually increase the risk of an accident.

                I don’t deny high-risk situations but 99% of everyday situations are not high-risk, the highest risk is crossing the road.

                “H&S” is rife with arse-covering, buck-passing, and time-wasting, preferably of ‘someone else’s’ time, money and efforts.

                Another example – the practice that, any time an ‘incident’ occurs, the health & safety committee are required to take some ‘pro-active’ action to prevent a recurrence. Which means that, after the obvious sensible steps have been taken, they have to invent something else, even if absurd.
                I think this is why our suburban trains ended up with thirteen warning notices around each door, none of which anybody ever read and which, I submit, would have constituted a dangerous distraction had anybody ever tried to read them all while disembarking.


              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted October 17, 2017 at 11:53 am | Permalink

                Aye, well. I’m no great fan of tight health and safety – and I’ve sat on more than enough incident investigations to appreciate where you’re coming from on the “invent a new proactive response” problem. But that’s not in the regulations (industry-specific approved codes of practice is what is written into our legislation, though which countr’s laws applies is always a toss-up), that internal company politics and/ or insurance company requirements. Blame the right thing.
                Where prescriptive legislation or regulations exist, if you trace back to the root of each regulation you’ll find deaths or injuries. Often multiples. As I said previously, a lot of the legislation I had to work with is ultimately rooted in mine explosions. And the tendency of companies to increase profits with actions that end up killing their workers or members of the public.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted October 17, 2017 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

                “Where prescriptive legislation or regulations exist, if you trace back to the root of each regulation you’ll find deaths or injuries.”

                I wouldn’t disagree with that. In fact, Labour Department and suchlike regulations were, IMO, eminently justifiable.

                What caused the rot was buck-passing in the rampant free-market atmosphere a couple of decades ago, where – instead of funding the Labour Department to enforce safety – the free-market politicians said “We’ll make companies responsible for their own safety and just prosecute them if anything bad happens”. So instead of following well-defined rules, managers live in a climate of fear where they could be ‘held accountable’ (i.e. scapegoated and prosecuted) if they had failed to do any thing that, *in hindsight*, might have alleviated the accident. And then you get parasitic “safety providers” who engage in moral blackmail on the lines of, “here’s our product (/safety course) and if you don’t pay us to use it, you could be found to have failed to do everything possible to avert the accident”. Since it’s only large amounts of company money and time being wasted, not their own, what manager could refuse to pay the blackmail? Along with that goes the witch-hunt mentality that accidents don’t just happen, somebody will (must) be found to have done something wrong and ‘held accountable’.

                I think I’ve ranted enough.


              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted October 17, 2017 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

                So instead of following well-defined rules, managers live in a climate of fear where they could be ‘held accountable’ (i.e. scapegoated and prosecuted) if they had failed to do any thing that, *in hindsight*, might have alleviated the accident.

                There is a philosophic and practical problem with tightly defined rules administered by a government entity. Even the best of government agencies are not the most nimble of organisms, and you’re at real risk of having regulations that are not relevant to current technilogy. An example – when I started, we were required by USCG rules to seal cable entries into JBs using some weird gland which you packed with a putty to exclude gases from accessing the sparking potential of the wires. Worthwhile for 1000V/1kA motors ; not so relevant for a 24V clamped sensor circuit which actively managed its stored energy to be unable to create a spark of more than 20 microJoule in a cable cut event (technologies called “intrinsically safe” – recognisable on DNV certified vessels by being in light-blue cables.
                This is why modern regulations set goals (e.g. “minimise the risk of electrical sparking in flammable atmospheres”) rather than prescribing methods (“use these funny glands to seal cables into JBs ; seal JB flanges with putty”).
                Yes, it’s harder to keep up with. But nobody ever said it would be easy.

                And then you get parasitic “safety providers” who engage in moral blackmail on the lines of,

                What really burns my torch is the way that you get a new general manager at A.Oil.Co office, and they then adopt a new policy of BlahBlahBullshit … for which there is only one provider “Sole.Source.Co” in town. And when you look through the board of directors for Sole.Source.Co, you find a familiar name and address – the new manager’s wife.
                People wonder why I’m cynical.

              • infiniteimprobabilit
                Posted October 17, 2017 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

                At the risk of prolonging the thread – most sewage pumps are submersibles, that is, they sit in the bottom of wet wells full of sewage. As such, their cables have to be very well sealed against leakage. At some pointed, our wet wells were reclassified as ‘explosion hazard’ (possible petrol vapours or methane) and all of a sudden our pumps weren’t ‘compliant’ (another lovely weasel word) because their cable entries might be watertight but they weren’t certified ‘explosion proof’. After much heat between the mechanical and electrical departments some sort of sane compromise was reached.


              • gravelinspector-Aidan
                Posted October 21, 2017 at 11:31 am | Permalink

                Don’t get me started on tank entry. Wasn’t there another family killed by faulty tank entry procedures recently? It’s routine, repetitive and after the 10th time of reading the reports, tedious.

  3. Historian
    Posted October 12, 2017 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    This link will download the article:

    • Jesus
      Posted October 12, 2017 at 11:17 am | Permalink

      Thanks for the link. I was going to look at internet archives and see if I could have found it.

    • Randy schenck
      Posted October 12, 2017 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

      Yes, thanks again. I have not read all of it but note there is even a quote from Darwin at around page 9.

    • Liz
      Posted October 12, 2017 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

      There’s a part in Horrible Bosses when Charlie Day is reading the ad he found for the hitman they are hiring. The movie is a comedy. “No political figures. No children.” Jason Sudeikis (SNL) responds earnestly with a subtle comedic tone, “That part was important to me. When I read that.” That’s what I thought of when reading this from the paper: “Colonialism can return (either as a governance style or as an extension of Western authority) only with the consent of the colonized.” “…only with the consent of the colonized.” – I just thought of that scene. “That part was important to me. When I read that.”

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted October 13, 2017 at 10:12 am | Permalink

        What was that unspoken motto of the British Empire? “Peace through Superior Firepower?”

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted October 15, 2017 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

          Whatever happens, we have got
          The Maxim gun, and they have not
          – Hilaire Belloc


          • gravelinspector-Aidan
            Posted October 17, 2017 at 11:55 am | Permalink

            s/Maxim Gun/nuclear weapons
            s/Hilaire Belloc/Donald Trump (and others)/
            Le plus ca change, le plus c’est la mem chose.
            Aren’t we around Belloc’s centenary?

    • Bruce Gorton
      Posted October 12, 2017 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

      Reading through it he looks to have the same problem I see in a lot of anti-colonial writing. He doesn’t really deal with the purpose of colonialism, and thus has a bit of a romantic view of it.

      The point to colonialism is two-fold, to ensure a supply of raw materials and to ensure a market for manufactured goods. Every hospital, every massacre was for that purpose.

      You can see what someone values by what they’re willing to sacrfice, with Apartheid the British Empire were willing to sacrfice human rights, but not the gold. The gold was the entire point to the Boer Wars.

      This is where the anti-colonialist goes wrong. The anti-colonialist sees colonialism as being about the spread of cultural values, rather than this simple economic truth.

      They will reshuffle who runs the economy, but the direction of the flow of goods remains the same, and the threat of developing local manufacturing of novel goods is limited by suspicion of the very fields required to do so as “colonialist”.

      Which means from the colonial point of view, why buy the cow when the milk is free?

      Europe’s economy has not exactly been weakened by the end of colonialism.

      The colonial powers did not withdraw from Africa out of some sense of moral disgust at their rule, they left because they didn’t need to expend the resources staying would have entailed in order to achieve their economic ends.

      Zimbabwe in the midst of a famine exported corn that South Africa had sent to it as food aid. That people were starving in Zimbabwe, didn’t exactly amount to much to the people buying that corn.

      Nor should it have, Zimbabwe is not their problem.

      Unlike if it was still Rhodesia, in which case the people who were starving would still be the subjects of the crown and thus their starvation would reflect upon the British Empire.

      In other words the colonial powers could achieve everything they wanted without any of the guilt or blame simply with a few bribes here or there to the ruling “revolutionaries”.

      Why have British troops torturing opposition members, when you can have Zanu PF do it for you in the name of the revolution? Recognise in order to maintain the inequities in the colonial economy model horrors are required lest it become unprofitable, so the British may rule more efficiently but the end result would still be much the same.

      So with regards to the opinion piece, it seems thoroughly naive at best, as if the author seems to think that the solution to current bad leadership is to revert to past bad leadership.

      What he is saying, in terms which Americans may understand, is that the solution to Donald Trump being your president is to bring back the queen.

      Which is of course bunk. It is not Donald Trump or Robert Mugabe that is the problem either of our continents face, and simply outsourcing leadership won’t solve it.

      It is all the flow of the economy. And to fix that requires not just more competent mechanics maintaining the shape of failed systems, but inventors who seek to build new ones.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted October 13, 2017 at 10:16 am | Permalink

        The gold was the entire point to the Boer Wars.

        Diamonds too. Chromite to a lesser degree – very important too once the World Wars got started – a vital alloying component in armour plate. And armour-piercing shells.
        People, food, art, “culture” … not important.

    • nicky
      Posted October 12, 2017 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

      I only get ‘Article withdrawn’…

  4. Luis Servin
    Posted October 12, 2017 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    I would just like to point out that peer review is not an absolutely reliable process, even in the “hard sciences”. It would be interesting to read what the reviewers’ opinion was, since they obviously recommended publication. This could be done anonymously, and I’m sure it would make an interesting read an contribute to the discussion. This is becoming practice in many scientific journals.

  5. peter
    Posted October 12, 2017 at 11:18 am | Permalink


    • Jacques Hausser
      Posted October 12, 2017 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      Totally out of focus here… but very good !

  6. Posted October 12, 2017 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Quite right, Jerry.

    This article, from Nathan Robinson, is an example of what should happen in response to such articles:

    Not all of us necessarily know about these things. So Gilley’s piece, poor though it was, allows Robinson to remind us in some cases, or to inform us in others, of the horrors of colonialism.

    • Posted October 12, 2017 at 11:22 am | Permalink


    • Posted October 12, 2017 at 11:31 am | Permalink

      Very nice work. Here is the conclusion – one I think we can all agree on;

      “I think, then, that all responses to this article should be rigorous and careful. I think everyone should try to read the full thing, to know what Gilley argues and what he doesn’t argue. And we must repeatedly emphasize that the reason Gilley’s piece is so wretched is not just because it advocates something that contradicts our sense of justice, but because he has deliberately produced a false version of history. I am sick and tired of people on the right saying those of us on the left simply Can’t Respond To Their Arguments. I’ve read their arguments, and they’re bad.”

    • Posted October 12, 2017 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      This article, from Nathan Robinson, is an example of what should happen in response to such articles

      What? Construct a worst case scenario and then claim – without evidence – that it always happens like that?

      I haven’t read Gilley’s article so I can’t comment on whether Nathan Robinson’s characterisation is fair. If it is, then Gilley’s article deserves criticism, but I suspect it was more nuanced than Robinson is letting on.

      • Posted October 12, 2017 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

        Well, I for one would rather a bad response in terms of a bad follow up paper than a bad response as in calling for the guy’s ‘academic head’.

      • Posted October 12, 2017 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

        Whatever you think of Robinson’s piece, this is precisely what he recommended you -and everyone else interested in the issue- do.

        He wrote; “I think everyone should try to read the full thing, to know what Gilley argues and what he doesn’t argue.”

    • Dean Reimer
      Posted October 12, 2017 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

      This is a great rebuttal of the facts, but I feel it veered off the tracks when Robinson took the step of assuming Gilley’s motive in writing the essay. It went from a reasoned counterargument to polemic, from a piece that one could easily send to conservatives as a refutation to one that would immediately trigger their tribal identity and lead them to reject it out of hand. (Although Robinson did have the sense, at least, to leave it for the end.)

    • Pat
      Posted October 12, 2017 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

      Robinson’s article is a polemic, drawing mainly on jounalist sources. Gilly’s piece is more academic, drawing on the academic literature. Gilly’s piece is more convincing, to my mind

      • Posted October 12, 2017 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

        Robinson draws from journalist sources because that’s what he is and journalism is what he is doing.

        OTOH, Gilley’s piece is polemics, just gussied up to look like academics. If he was truly doing academic work he’d not have ignored data that contravenes his thesis. And boy did he ignore that data. In a proper academic paper, he’d have addressed at least some of the issues Robinson brings up as they undermine his thesis. In fact, ignoring data that contradicts a conclusion from the data is the worst sin any academic can make.

        The only defense Gilley has is our very own Craw’s defense; if you squint hard enough, and ignore all that goes against it, you could find a benefit in absolutely anything.

        Though I suspect a political agenda, I cannot say what his motives are in writing that piece nor do I argue that he doesn’t have a point. As an academic exercise, I agree with Robinson that Gilley’s piece seems of very poor quality.

  7. Posted October 12, 2017 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  8. Posted October 12, 2017 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    It depends on whether you define good and bad based on actions or consequences. In the long run colonialism, in speeding up development, might lead to benefits for great numbers in the future even if people suffered at the time. Just like experimenting on people might lead to medical advances that benefit more people.

    The Norman invasion was genocide. But without it the history of the UK would have been entirely different. Who can say what the country would have ended up like?

    • Frank Bath
      Posted October 12, 2017 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      I’ve never heard of a Norman genocide. There was ‘the harrying of the north’, but the Norman’s ended up speaking the same tongue as those who worked the land. The natives.

      • Jacques Hausser
        Posted October 12, 2017 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

        Natives ? I would say “previous invaders”. The Angles and the Saxons, and before them the Romans, and before them the Celts, and before them the builders of Stonehenge, and before them…

        • Posted October 12, 2017 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

          Interestingly, the modern evidence suggests that the invaders influence was always more cultural than genetic. It used to be the conventional wisdom that the Angles and Saxons displaced the Romano-British from what is now England but genetic evidence now suggests otherwise.

          • mikeyc
            Posted October 12, 2017 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

            That’s interesting. Could you point me in the right direction to find that work? Many thanks.

            • Tim Harris
              Posted October 14, 2017 at 1:06 am | Permalink

              Saxons, Vikings, and Celts: The Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland; by Bryan Sykes.

              From The Independent:

              ‘Mr Targett, a 42-year-old history teacher in Cheddar, Somerset, has been shown by DNA tests to be a direct descendant, by his mother’s line, of “Cheddar Man”, the oldest complete skeleton ever found in Britain, and now also the world’s most distant confirmed relative.

              ‘Even the Royal Family can only trace its heritage back to King Ecgbert, who ruled from 829AD to 830AD. By contrast, Cheddar Man, a hunter- gatherer who pre-dated the arrival of farming, lived in 7150BC.’

      • Posted October 12, 2017 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

        I’d describe the Harrying of the North as an act of genocide, wouldn’t you?

        Anyway, colonialism doesn’t require genocide. The Norman invasion was certainly an act of colonialism. The entire structure of government was replaced following 1066.

        And the Normans never ended up speaking the language of the natives. By the time, English became the language of the royal court (in the early 15th century in the reign of Henry V), English had changed significantly, not least because of the influence of Norman French.

        As to whether England became a better place as a result, we really can’t tell. For quite a long while, it was probably significantly worse for most of the Saxons, but who knows. We also do not know what many of the places that Great Britain colonised would be like now without our invasion.

        • nicky
          Posted October 13, 2017 at 10:58 am | Permalink

          And to think that Rollo’s men, the Normans who conquered what is now Normandy, did not speak a word of French!
          Did you note that when animals climb on an English table they start to speak French? Cattle, cow becomes beef (boeuf), sheep become mutton (mouton), pigs or hogs become pork (porc) calves become veal (veau), and chickens become poultry or poulet (poule, poulet).

    • Jorge Rojas
      Posted October 12, 2017 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

      Even if you consider consequences as a criterion to judge if colonialism was good or bad, you just can´t take the current consequences becauses these weren´t the consequences intended by colonialism. Under your logic we could justify anything because “in the long run” it could lead great beneficies.

      So the point here, even considering consequences, is if these countries did what they actually did (kill, enslave, rob, rape, etc.) because they foresaw these “good” consequences. If not (and we can assume this) it wasn´t good even if now, on the long run, these actions had some beneficies.

      • Craw
        Posted October 12, 2017 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

        “Even if you consider consequences as a criterion to judge if colonialism was good or bad, you just can´t take the current consequences becauses these weren´t the consequences intended by colonialism.”

        I think you are conflating judging colonialism and judging the colonialists. The motives might damn the colonialists, but Speaker’s point is that one’s assessment of the results might differ. We can logically say both “X did a bad thing” and “What X did turned out well.”

        • Jorge Rojas
          Posted October 12, 2017 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

          “We can logically say both “X did a bad thing” and “What X did turned out well.”

          You´re right, but I was judging colonialists because it seems to me Speaker was too. He says “…based on actions or consequences”, so he´s not talking about “colonial outcomes”, but what colonialists did. He also compares his assessment with experiment with people for medical advances, and here our intended consequences are medical advances.

          Having this clear I also think the outcomes of colonialism can be positive (if there is evidence so) but retrospectively.

      • Posted October 12, 2017 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

        I’m not a consequentialist. But if you are a consequentialist it is precisely the consequences that dictate whether an action was ultimately good or bad.

        If you take intent into consideration you aren’t a consequentialist. The clue’s in the name.

        • Jorge Rojas
          Posted October 12, 2017 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

          Not quite right. Consequentialists take intentions into consideration. What is not taking into consideration is MOTIVE.

          If the consequences of your action was good it doesn´t matter why you did it, but of course that is important if you wanted to do so.

      • nicky
        Posted October 13, 2017 at 11:02 am | Permalink

        Well, although colonialism overall was ‘bad’ (very bad immo), there are some rare positives. And some of these positives were definitely intended, such as e.g. the banning of Suttee.

  9. Posted October 12, 2017 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    Would there have been as much fuss if he’d argued that the Byzantine Empire was a net good? I’ve seen academics argue that they had a better class of slavery.

  10. Posted October 12, 2017 at 11:55 am | Permalink


    For what it is worth, Brian Leiter (another academic) is on the right side of this one too.

    I can understand the editors resigning if they cannot support the content of their journal (though the action should not be taken lightly), but the rest is beyond the pale.

    • Craw
      Posted October 12, 2017 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      I think the resignations are out of line too, because they imply that the idea is simply beyond the pale. That really cannot be sesnsible: a discipline devoted to a question that only allows one answer to even be floated. Leave that attitude to the faithful. (In fact it’s an attitude that is even beneath the medieval church, which always had a Devil’s Advocate!)

      A Computer Science journal once printed a “proof” that P=NP. Now no-one believed it (not even I suspect the author), and in fact it was wrong but no-one resigned over this. In fact it took a lot of very smart people a fair while to find the flaw in the proof.

  11. Vaal
    Posted October 12, 2017 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    I can’t imagine what to add. Your response covers this very disturbing issue perfectly, Jerry. Thanks!

  12. drew
    Posted October 12, 2017 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Because it’s obligatory on a story like this:

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted October 12, 2017 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

      And also in a humorous vein,
      The Onion recently published an article entitled.

      Online Activists Unsure About Offensiveness Of Article, Figure They’ll Destroy Author’s Life Just In Case

    • DrBrydon
      Posted October 12, 2017 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      Yep, came here for this.

      REG: All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?

      XERXES: Brought peace?

      REG: Oh. Peace? Shut up!

    • stuartcoyle
      Posted October 12, 2017 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

      This is exactly the scene that first came to mind when I read this article. Thanks!

  13. Frank Bath
    Posted October 12, 2017 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Do these foolish students not read the newspapers? Because they didn’t like what it printed the jihadis tried to silence ‘Charlie Hebdo’ by the use of violence.

    • Craw
      Posted October 12, 2017 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

      That assumes facts not in evidence. I saw much of the left excoriate Charlie Hebdo decry their “hate speech”, even after the attacks.

      • Posted October 12, 2017 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

        This is unfortunately true. Charlie Hebdo seems to me a test-case, determining whether one is with the bad guys or the good on a clear issue of principle, like the Dreyfus case a century ago. With the Dreyfus case the left got it right; this time around much of the left came down on the wrong side. I have a very good friend who is very, very intelligent, a philosophy lecturer, a thoroughly decent person, and incidentally a fluent French speaker and translator of Sartre; and she maintained (without a shred of evidence) that Charlie Hebdo were ‘racist’. I can only assume this is because of the culture that she inhabits as an academic in the UK. That’s the accepted position and to question it would open you to accusations of pro-western bias, islamophobia, racism, imperialism and just generally being in agreement with right-wingers.

      • nicky
        Posted October 13, 2017 at 11:35 am | Permalink

        Yep, their ‘hate speech’ was/is so clearly satire and sarcasm. It was often also vulgar and dirty, kind of trademark humour. Charlie Hebdo’s predecessor ‘Harakiri’ had as subtitle: ‘journal bete et mechant’, loosly translated as ‘stupid and mean paper’.

  14. Craw
    Posted October 12, 2017 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    I do not know what to call Reconstruction but colonialism. Am I the only admirer of Reconstruction here?

    • Posted October 12, 2017 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      Which one? Do you mean the reconstruction after the U.S. Civil War? In that case, could you explain to me how it is “Colonialism”?* If not the US, do you mean, perhaps, the reconstruction in Europe after WWII? If so, how was that “Colonialism”? If neither of these…well…which?

      *Please don’t argue it’s colonialism because the CSA seceded from the Union – your arguments here are usually sound and it would be disappointing if you used this one.

      • Craw
        Posted October 12, 2017 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

        The government of the southern states was taken over, militarily, by the federal government, which was the North. (This after the war ended.) Imagine tomorrow the USA army invades Canada and imposes its will, redistributes property, etc, but that only a few Americans actually migrate. This lasts for a little over a decade. That would still count as colonialism wouldn’t it?

        The whole point about colonialism, and the reason for disapproving of it in general, is not the migration of people but the usurpation of power and property: outsiders (to speak loosely) come in, take over the government, change all the rules, take over many of the assets, run things their way. That’s a pretty good description of Reconstruction. And it was a good thing. I wish it had lasted longer.

        Or to take another example, the rule of Germany in the American sector or Japan post-war. The period of American rule was beneficial to both. (The Russian not all at all.)

        So the simple claim that colonialism is ipso facto bad isn’t right.

        • Posted October 12, 2017 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

          I see. But don’t you think you are stretching the definition of Colonialism, as it pertains to this paper, to the point of uselessness (if not absurdity)? The Colonialism defended by Gilley is the kind most everyone recognizes; people with little or no political, cultural, ethnic, religious or even genetic ties to another invade and subjugate them (or in some cases effectively eradicate them). This is manifestly what did not happen between the North and the South.

          In any event, while it is true one could find positive effects from Colonialism, no matter how one defines it, you are suggesting one of the very things that Nathan Robinson calls Gilley out on (see link above).

          • Craw
            Posted October 12, 2017 at 3:48 pm | Permalink

            I don’t care about Gilley’s piece which I have not read. I am just pointing out that while he might be wrong what he is arguing is not inherently beyond the pale and cannot just be waved away on general principles, the way say ID or Perpetual Motion can be.

            You want to make this about “ties” and genetics? Then it’s hard to see how the Romans could be said to have colonized Italy isn’t it?

            • Posted October 12, 2017 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

              You don’t care about Gilley’s piece. Ok fair enough. I’ll only point out the way he used the term “Colonialism” -which is not the one you are using- is the subject of this WEIT discussion.

              Essentially your argument is that some good can come out of Colonialism, no matter how one defines it. If so, that’s not a particularly useful argument as it is true of absolutely everything.

              I don’t know the history of early Roman civilization so can’t comment on your contention that they colonized Italy. I submit that my understanding of Colonialism (and, again, which is the same as Gilley) is what most people think of when they think at all about the term.

  15. Frank Bath
    Posted October 12, 2017 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    The European nations should all have stayed at home and waited for the rest of the world to come and colonise them.

    • Ken Phelps
      Posted October 12, 2017 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

      Interesting thought. Are we shifting to a policy of “history is written by the losers”?

      • Harrison
        Posted October 12, 2017 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

        Well, it’s more the rebellious children of the winners who are retelling the story to put their parents in a worse light.

        • Tim Harris
          Posted October 14, 2017 at 1:09 am | Permalink

          No, it really is not.Do think a bit. Do learn something about the critics of colonialism who existed long before the present.

  16. Dave
    Posted October 12, 2017 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    I dare say if Gilley had published an article titled “The Case for Islamic Colonialism”, arguing that the Arabs, Ottoman Turks, Mughals and others all brought long-lasting benefits to the lands they conquered and occupied, we would never have heard so much as a peep from the massed ranks of “anti-colonialists”.

    • Dean Reimer
      Posted October 12, 2017 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

      Regrettably, you are very probably correct.

  17. Sastra
    Posted October 12, 2017 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    I read and enjoyed Ibn Warraq’s Defending the West; a critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism — and this book explored some of the things the British did right in India. For example, they established public education for all, with the original stated goal of helping to ensure that in the future the Indian populace would thus all be literate, well educated, and perfectly capable of ruling itself and then the British could all quietly go home. While that wasn’t quite what happened, the fact that this was apparently one ideal rationale for colonialism given in the 19th century counts against the common comparison with slavery and contempt.

    It’s certainly an idea worth exploring, and the book worth reading. Would Warraq be attacked for defending the West? Did I read a dangerous book?

    • Posted October 12, 2017 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

      Well, “Warraq” published under a pseudonym for fear of violent reprisals; so yes, it was dangerous for him.

      • Sastra
        Posted October 12, 2017 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

        His earlier books were usually criticisms of Islam, and that’s when he adopted the pseudonym.

    • Craw
      Posted October 12, 2017 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      I have Indian friends who tell me they think the British did a lot of good. One said it was the best thing to ever happen to India, despite the cost. They don’t want the Brits back, they all celebrate independence, but they wouldn’t accept the idea there was nothing good about colonialism/imperialism.

      • Posted October 12, 2017 at 7:36 pm | Permalink

        I sometimes wonder if things might have gone better for the Native Americans if Britain had not lost control over the colonies in North America at the end of the 18th century.

        Also, what might have happened in the 1830’s when Britain made slavery illegal throughout the empire, if the USA was still part of it. Would they have acquiesced or would that have induced a rebellion?

        • Posted October 13, 2017 at 11:52 am | Permalink

          Speaking of, a Native friend of mine was once asked if she thought there was any good in what Europeans did in the Americas to the then current inhabitants.

          The answer was not exactly what I would have expected – either way. She just said: “magnesium snowshoes”, and left it at that. Since we were close, I asked her privately later what her answer meant beyond the literal. It meant, “Please ask a question that doesn’t sound like you’re leading to a ‘yes, but ….’ situation”, and that the real issue was *one of choice*, which was never offered. Also to suggest that perhaps genocide, racism, religious and other cultural bigotry etc. are pretty major compared to anything positive, which *of course* exist: in fact, Inuit (for example) are taught to always see the positive *too* in a negative situation. But it isn’t a matter of “this balances this” (crossing off a bad with a good) but a matter of trying to appreciate the total situation.

      • Richard
        Posted October 13, 2017 at 3:40 am | Permalink

        I once worked with an Indian contractor who told me that he thought that India had been better off when it was ruled by the British.

        I told him “Well, at least we gave you cricket!”.

      • TJR
        Posted October 13, 2017 at 9:59 am | Permalink

        That’s my experience of folks from most of Asia too. Of course they are mostly people currently working in western universities, so hardly a random sample.

        Plus, people growing up in Asia now experience government by the local ruling class, so government by a western ruling class might have a rose-tinted good-old-days element to it.

  18. Posted October 12, 2017 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    I think there needs to be a form letter reply that needs to be used by newspapers and magazines to respond to complaints and death threats. First complaints, etc. have to be sent via a valid email address, to the editors (no phone numbers provided).

    The response would be along the lines of:
    – we understand that this is an emotional issue, however please list the points that the writer made that you think are wrong, and explain why you think the author is wrong.
    – if you are unable to provide an explanation of why you think the author is wrong, and simply don’t like the article, then we will simply delete your email

    • Craw
      Posted October 12, 2017 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

      “I think there needs to be a form letter reply that needs to be used by newspapers and magazines to respond to complaints and death threats. ”

      HAH! That’s a wonderful idea!

      Please list the names of all those you want to kill:

      How will you do it (check all that apply):
      _ shooting
      _ stabbing
      _ poison gas

      When will you attack (please specify to nearest half hour):

      and so on.

  19. DrBrydon
    Posted October 12, 2017 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    It is wrong to assume that colonialism is one thing. Ignoring the ancient world (does anyone object to Greek colonization of Sicily?), the nature of colonial regimes has varied over time and by place. There is no comparing the French colonization of Canada with the Belgian colonization of Congo. Likewise, English/British colonization of Canada was vastly different than the British colonization of South Africa. The British history in India is, in itself, a study in contrasts over time, from their early days as traders under the Mughals, to a period of equality with other regional potentates, to one of suzerainty. One might agree that any colonialism was bad, but it was not all equally bad and not all the same. If we just say something is Bad, and, therefore, not appropriate for nuanced discussion, we might as well let the censors in.

    • improbable
      Posted October 12, 2017 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      And of course the Mughals showed up after Vasco da Gama, “with little or no political, cultural, ethnic, religious or even genetic ties to [India] invade and subjugate them” to quote @mikeyc above.

      Yet somehow that’s not colonialism.

      So the term is useless both for being too narrow and too broad. It should be retired, we could just go back to saying “rule”.

      • DrBrydon
        Posted October 12, 2017 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

        Fair point. It is also an anachronism prior to the 1880s.

  20. Posted October 12, 2017 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    What an absurdity? How can one evaluate and critique if the paper is withdrawn? Where is civil debate today? Those protesting this paper are on the same bandwagon and Trump and his ilk. Has anybody found the paper yet? I googled for a few minutes without success

    • brec
      Posted October 12, 2017 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

      See comment number 3, above.

      The paper will have a lot more short-term readership than it would have without its withdrawal.

      • Posted October 13, 2017 at 11:06 am | Permalink

        Indeed. The Streisand Effect is alive and well!

  21. Posted October 12, 2017 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    This reminds me of the ridiculous attacks on E O Wilson in 1972 after he had published Sociobiology or Randy Thornhill (New Mexico) evolutionary behaviorist who published a major review on the evolution of rape in animal species (those who attacked him claimed that he was promoting and condoning rape in humans; of course they had never read the paper). Both hit home with me since Wilson was a professor of mine and I respected him greatly, and Randy and I were in grad school at U Michigan and he was a genuinely nice fellow who would never hurt anybody.

  22. Max Blancke
    Posted October 12, 2017 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

    Well, this goes back to the whole “Noble Savage” thing. They really believe that pre-colonial societies all lived in peace with nature and their neighbors. Importantly, they had special insight into spiritual happiness. Of course none of it is based on facts.

    A Tzompantli is a rack for displaying newly severed human heads. Some were designed to hold more than 60,000 heads. The fact that such things existed says a great deal about the eden-like life in ancient America.

    But colonialism, especially the British type, puts British-style infrastructure in place, with colonial citizens being trained to occupy the jobs in local government, law enforcement, and commerce. Places like Singapore are great examples of what such places can become. Rhodesia might be an example of the opposite effect. A look at history might show that most colonial people, when once again independent, tend to revert back to their normal state of chaos and violence.
    An example of the fashionable view of such places is “When colonial rule ended, therefore, it is hardly surprising that African leaders, taking back the seats of power, mirror the behaviours of the previous colonial rulers and repressors. Since the regimes they assume after independence have been historically designed for the express purpose of rigid social control, it is little surprise that the new leaders tend to mirror the harsh governing practices of the colonials”(Hamblett, 2009, “Civilization” and the myth of African “Savagery”)

    So yes, Colonial societies almost always fall short when compared to imaginary tribal utopias.

    • Posted October 13, 2017 at 11:56 am | Permalink

      My friend (see above) used to say that it was *irrelevant* whether or not her people(s) were the most bloodthirsty savages or the most idyllic and pacifistic people ever. What *does* matter – to her and many like her at least – was the choice in the matter of what happened to them, or rather the lack of choice. At the time in question, I agree completely – if there’s no influence possible, a sort of version of Star Trek’s Prime Directive applies. (I think the PD gets complicated when you start having contact of any kind, so leave alone!)

  23. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted October 12, 2017 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    “All colonialism is bad in every way”.

    I don’t think that can be sustained. Without colonialism the USA, for example, would never have come into existence. [Resists temptation for a cheap shot].
    Undoubtedly that was bad in many ways for Native Americans. But on the other hand without those early colonists (yeah we know they rebelled later) the positive effects of the US would never have happened.

    I do think that in many cases the withdrawal of colonial power at the end of the last century (amid a climate of ‘colonialism’ being regarded as unacceptable) took place far too fast, resulting in an effective power vacuum and subsequent economic and political instability. Ideally it should have been staged gradually over, say, 50 years, but nobody wanted to wait that long.

    Gilley’s suggestion of ‘recolonisation’ (probably better to call it ‘technical and procedural assistance’) – if it means establishing and building up a professional and disinterested Civil Service to administer a developing country’s institutions – by invitation of the country concerned – seems quite sensible to me. Certainly a subject for rational debate. In exactly the same way developing countries get overseas expert help in building up their infrastructure.

    (I’m *not* arguing that colonialism was always ‘better’, just that some aspects of it in some situations were beneficial, and ideally it would be best not to throw the baby out with the bathwater).


    • darrelle
      Posted October 13, 2017 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      My 1st thought regarding Gilley’s suggestion is, what’s in it for the benevolent colonizer? Historically what was in it for colonizers was resources, wealth and power. Without much, if any, thought to how depleting a colonies resources might affect the colonies future.

      Does Gilley suppose colonizers will, more often than not, deal equitably with their colonies, i.e. not tend to suck them dry? Even when the colony’s native government leaders are looking out for themselves rather than the best interests of their country? Even when the colony doesn’t understand the value of their resources? I’m skeptical.

  24. Max
    Posted October 12, 2017 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    Man has been a colonialist since he stepped out of the trees.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted October 13, 2017 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      As recently as that?

  25. Michael McKeever
    Posted October 12, 2017 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a link to the article

  26. andrewnwest
    Posted October 13, 2017 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    It’s a bit frightening that the extreme left has moved sufficiently far past Chomsky that he feels compelled to disagree with them.

    • biz
      Posted October 13, 2017 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      Chomsky has also intellectually opposed postmodernism for quite some time.

      He is a real dinosaur – a non-postmodernist, committed to principles of free speech, not particularly fond of identity politics, libertarianish socialist. It must be increasingly lonely being him.

      • Posted October 13, 2017 at 11:58 am | Permalink

        What does that make me? I’m two generations on and I (in broad outlines) agree with all of that. 🙂

  27. peepuk
    Posted October 13, 2017 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    “Surely colonialism has in the main been bad”

    Was colonialism, like its close cousin imperialism, good or bad in the moral sense? I don’t think so.

    I would say colonialism may be not cool anymore, but has been quite popular.

    Most cultures on this planet are for a large part build on the remains of former imperialistic empires, also the languages we speak are mostly the languages of former empires.

    The biggest enemies of colonialism believe in Gods from imperialistic empires or in imperialistic ideologies like communism. Hating imperialism is, in most cases, and for a large part, hating your own culture. Don’t think that is healthy.

    Have humans suffered under imperialism? Yes.

    Have humans benefited from imperialism? Ditto.

    Was colonialism ever morally justified? No.

    Today, the world is much more globalized; so there is no need for colonialism anymore. I would say it is out of fashion and just doesn’t make sense anymore.

  28. nicky
    Posted October 13, 2017 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    What irks me most is that I cannot read Gilley’s piece. Does he really globs over the evils of colonialism? I can’t know .

    Even the most horrible things might have some positive consequences.The second WW for example showed that plexiglass (the Spitfire cockpit was made of plexiglass) is inert within the eye, no inflammatory reaction (yes, splinters of plexiglass in the eyeball, that’s how war is), It lead to the development of PMMA intra-ocular lenses for cataract surgery, by Harold Ridley (nowadays we use the foldable Acrylic lenses, but at the time it was a huge advance).

  29. Posted October 13, 2017 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

    To me this is the most alarming thread I have read on this website so far.

    To translate it into everyday terms, The Case for Colonialism seems to be this:

    “So yes, I went over to my neighbours with a gun. I forced the father to work himself to death in my silver mine, burned the mother alive because she didn’t want to join my religion, and raped the daughter every day for the rest of her life. I burned down their house and stole all their farmland for my own use. But hey, I also built a new house for the son, and I paid for him to be trained as a mechanic. I know he wanted to take over the family farm, but I am sure he now earns more money that he would have with that little farm, and his training is much more future-proof. So really he should be thanking me.”

    That is what the discussion is about, but to my great astonishment a good number of commenters here say, yes, that reasoning makes sense. The son is better off, that is all that counts! Why are you so irrational about it?

    Also, I agree that one shouldn’t shut down a discussion of, say, Halloween costumes which hurt nobody. But surely somewhere there is a line? When somebody comes over and says, “let’s discuss me murdering your whole family and enslaving you, because I believe there is a rational case to be made for it”, am I seriously meant to reply, “that sounds intriguing, let’s have an open discussion about it” or otherwise be declared regressive and authoritarian? Is there nothing to be considered beyond the pale? Because if colonialism isn’t then I don’t know what is.

    • Posted October 13, 2017 at 6:49 pm | Permalink


      • Tim Harris
        Posted October 13, 2017 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

        Very well said

  30. jay
    Posted October 13, 2017 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    The Roman empire spread art, architecture and science.

    India is an industrial and scientific powerhouse (not to mention democracy) today. It certainly was not that before the colonial era. The British influence (who were in turn influenced by the Romans) has a significant amount to do with that.

    The USA is a former colonial nation. Can you not argue that the British influence was a net gain?

    • Posted October 13, 2017 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

      India is an industrial and scientific powerhouse (not to mention democracy) today. It certainly was not that before the colonial era.

      Ahahaha. How droll.

      How can one discuss the ‘merits’ of colonialism in what appears to be utter ignorance of history? This is at the level of “second law of thermodynamics disproves evolution”.

      • Tim Harris
        Posted October 13, 2017 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

        Well said, Alex. But to some people an ignorance of history seems to be a matter of dogmatic pride. It’s not ‘scientific’, so it is not worth studying.

    • Tim Harris
      Posted October 13, 2017 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

      ‘…tend to revert back to their normal state of chaos and violence’ Well, there speaks an all too typical Western assumption, one that one should like to have thought had had its day. It’s all the natives’ fault for not imitating their masters properly. The success of Singapore – that shining city in the sea – is far from being due only to the British.Its citizens are mostly Chinese, from one of the oldest civilisations in the world, one that laid great emphasis on education. It is astonishing to me how many white Western people continue to believe that all the good in the world emanates from them.

      • Tim Harris
        Posted October 13, 2017 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

        The above is meant to be a response to Max Blancke’s assertions which are far back in the line.

        • Posted October 13, 2017 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

          Ah yes, I saw that one too. My immediate thought was a different one: what absence of chaos and violence are we talking about? It cannot be the last few thousand years of European history, because there was a major war every generation, and minor wars pretty much continually.

          • Tim Harris
            Posted October 13, 2017 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

            Yes, it is, well, I’d better not say amusing, so I shall just say extraordinary, that so many Europeans and people of European ancestry in other lands, seem to believe that European civilisation was delightfully pacific and well-governed throughout its thousands of years of history, and filled as well with glittering cultural achievements, while everywhere else was an anarchic, violent mess until order and peace was imposed by those just, stern and impartial Europeans. The Thirty Years War, the Napoleonic wars, the American Civil War, the First World War, the Second World War, the Holocaust and all those other splendid wars & massacres within Europe (I am purposely not mentioning those perpetrated outside Europe by Europeans or those of European ancestry: the Philippines, anyone?)- it’s as if none of these existed or, if they did, were of any importance.

            Donald Drumpf’s response to the devastation of Puerto Rico also shows how ingrained such prejudices are.

    • Tim Harris
      Posted October 13, 2017 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

      A question jay might ask himself or herself is when the US ceased to be a colonial nation. One sometimes gets the impression when one talks to patriotic Americans with European antecedents that they believe the British came and colonised THEM. (I seem to recall some American ambassador, during a friendly chat with Saddam Hussein,responding to Hussein’s complaints about colonialism by saying that, yes, the Americans knew all about that because they had been colonised, too.)

  31. L. Donovan Heinz
    Posted October 14, 2017 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Quite correct. Science does not advance through quashing differing opinions. Now, can we try applying this principle to the global warming debate?

    • Posted October 14, 2017 at 10:26 am | Permalink

      It’s been applied: plenty of dissenting voices have spoken up and they haven’t been ignored or censored; they’ve been REFUTED. Our best inference, agreed on by virtually all climate scientists, is that human activity is causing global warming.
      You could say the same thing you said about creationism, but, like climate change denialists, creationists haven’t been “quashed”; they’ve been answered, and their religiously based attempts to sneak their subject into schools has been declared illegal by the courts.
      Climate change denialism is quackery, but we know that because it’s BEEN discussed.

  32. Posted October 24, 2017 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Quaerere Propter Vērum.

  33. Ed
    Posted November 15, 2017 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    The interwebs never forgets. The paper is here:

    Judging for one’s self seems to be a privilege reserved for the few, in some circles at least.

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] adhere to its identity-based conception of Social Justice. Therefore, Bruce Gilley’s essay “The Case for Colonialism” came under intense fire but so too did Rebecca Tuvel’s “In Defense of […]

  2. […] against journal editors are one way to get a retraction [Sara Hebel/Chronicle of Higher Education, Jerry Coyne, Oliver Traldi, Quillette (Bruce Gilley, “Case for Colonialism” […]

%d bloggers like this: