In her response to Julian Go’s book Patterns of Empire, Mukherjee contends that the harder Go seeks to critique American exceptionalism, the more he has to insist on the liberal nature of the British Empire in India. By “liberal British rule,” Mukherjee writes, Go refers to certain imperial policies that seemed to offer the subject populations more representation, and therefore more participation in governance. He is not concerned with liberalism as a school of political philosophy. The notion of “liberal empire,” however, is untenable as a characterization of the British Empire in India, both discursively and historically. Even on the face of it, the notion of liberal empire is a contradiction in terms: the idea of liberty and the idea and institution of empire are mutually incompatible. After all, the very fact of empire as an exercise in political power over an alien population is predicated on the loss of political sovereignty of the subject population. Can an empire deprive a society and culture of its political sovereignty and independence and yet claim to be liberal?
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Mithi Mukherjee; The British Empire in India: A Liberal Empire. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 1 December 2014; 34 (3): 625–630. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/1089201X-2826217
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