This essay offers a conspectus of Said's work as a whole. It focuses on why Said chose four writers in particular to lionize and engage with. These writers are Jonathan Swift, Giambattista Vico, Joseph Conrad, and Erich Auerbach, and what they share is their conservatism. Why then did Said, a pioneering critic of empire, place these conservative writers in his private canon? The reason, the essay argues, is that Said sensed the structural connection between progressivism and imperialism, that is to say, the overwhelming force of the connection between improving the world, making it fairer and more affluent, and taking control of territories who are not interested or committed to progress.

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