Gertrude Stein once remarked that history must be understood not as the passage of time, but as the killing of centuries. This killing of centuries takes a very long time, she added, and she discerned the final death throes of the nineteenth century—a period in thrall to science and the idea of civilizational progress—in the middle of World War II. Being an American Jew in France, that denouement was realized, for her, by Hitler's Germany, in the moment that it fell to American industrial war making. But Stein's insight might as easily and as correctly be applied to the analysis of anticolonialism and the collapse of European rule in South and Southeast Asia. It was there, after all, that the ideology of a civilizational mission was revealed in all its hypocrisy. Such, at least, is the impression one gathers from reading the works of Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper, Leela Gandhi, and Benedict Anderson, each of whom offers a perspective on the history of empire's end, and the rise of revolutionary and nationalist independence movements in Asia. As counterpoint to their insistently particularizing narration of these movements, James C. Scott sketches a deep history of recurrent antistatism as the context in which European empires made their ill-fated claims to civilizational exceptionalism, and in which anarchism could emerge as a technics of ungovernability.

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