15 Sep A Post-Post-Colonial G20
In brief, post-colonialism as an intellectual/philosophical concept is exactly what you’d expect it to be, an examination of the world since the end of colonial imperialism through the gimlet-eyed lens of the continental tradition. Or to put it more simply, post-colonialism is the study of how the West and Westerners are malicious and malignant and responsible for all the problems that befall or have ever befallen non-Western nations and peoples. Post-colonialism is the amalgamation of the Golden-Age Myth, the Myth of the Noble Savage, and Western self-loathing into a school of historical thought in which the world can largely be divided into two camps “Oppressors” and “Oppressees,” the former of which is populated by those who are ineluctably evil and the latter by those who epitomize sweetness and light. Or, as David Pryce-Jones put it not quite 16 years ago in an essay in The New Criterion about the most famous practitioner of post-colonial “scholarship,” Edward Said:
The British responded to Third World nationalism in a welcoming phrase about “the winds of change,” as though those mobilizing enmity towards them had simply blown in with the weather. Only the French made determined efforts to resist, and then in vain….
Intellectuals in Europe went much further, pleading guilty to all the accusations levelled against them by Third World nationalists. They and their predecessors had always been constant and enthusiastic critics of empire, and now were thrilled to have their diatribes against their own countries thrown back at them, as it were by clever students and disciples. Violence committed by the ruled against the rulers won their applause….
The outcome of this long-drawn anti-imperial campaigning has worked its way into today’s truism—taught in classrooms everywhere—that Europeans were exclusively vicious oppressors while those they ruled are exclusively virtuous victims.
Last weekend, the leaders of the G20 nations met in New Delhi for that group’s annual summit, at which they discussed the problems plaguing the world and how best to pay lip service to the idea of solving them. The event was considered an enormous success for the nation and people of India, who hosted it for the first time. Not only did the production come off without a hitch, but Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also emerged from the proceedings as one of the most trusted global leaders and most valued and sought-after global partners. This alone – along with China’s ascension to near super-power status and India’s own economic miracle – should be more than enough to undercut the “post-colonial” narrative.
But there was more.
Careful (and even not-so-careful) observers might have noticed that Modi was not the only global leader of Indian lineage in the room last weekend. He was, of course, joined by Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Sunak was born in Southampton, Hampshire, England. His parents were born in East Africa, both being part of the Punjabi diaspora. Sunak’s grandparents were born in India and Pakistan – all of which is to say that the current Prime Minister of Britain is, ethnically and geographically, a byproduct of numerous facets of British colonialism.
But wait…there’s still more!
Sunak’s wife is Akshata Murty, a successful businesswoman in her own right and also the child of billionaire co-founder of Infosys, N.R. Murty.
The political and economic successes embodied in the Sunak-Murty union might give the late Enoch Powell a case of heartburn, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else who wouldn’t acknowledge them as a triumph of the British Empire.
Now, consider this: President Biden was of sound enough mind and body to attend the G20 summit this year – but only just barely. What, one wonders, will happen next year? Will he be able to attend? Will he still be capable of serving as president? If he can’t, or if he is not, then one presumes that the current Vice President would attend in his stead. The current Vice President, Kamala Harris, was born in Oakland, California, but she too is of Indian descent, her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, having been born in Madras, India.
And what about 2025? No one knows for certain who will attend on behalf of the United States that year, largely because no one knows who the president will be then. We do know, however, that the candidate currently in second place in the quest for the Republican nomination is another billionaire, this one born in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is also of Indian descent, his parents having emigrated to Ohio from Kerala in India.
Theoretically, then, starting next year and running for several years after, it is entirely possible that a full 15% of G20 – and three of the four most important nations in the Anglosphere – will be represented at the annual summit by men (and/or a woman) of Indian descent. Maybe it’s just us, but even the possibility appears to flip the entire post-colonial weltanschauung on its head.
If you want to add in the fact that the richest man in the world is also a product of British colonialism – born to a half-English father and Canadian mother in South Africa and educated in Canada – and it becomes harder and harder to argue that colonialism was responsible only for terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad things. One could get pedantic and note that the second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth richest men in the world (Jeff Bezos, Larry Ellison, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, and Michael Bloomberg) are also the products of British colonialism, but in the post-colonial worldview, the United States is inarguably an “oppressor” nation – as opposed to India and South Africa. So…we won’t get pedantic.
In any case, the point here is largely inarguable. The post-colonialists – like the rest of their anti-realist comrades in the continental tradition – got everything upside down and backward. European imperialism had its shortcomings, to be sure, especially as practiced by the French and the Germans. Nevertheless, British imperialism largely changed the world for the better. It was and remains a force for global good.
Both the colonizers and the colonized would do well to remember that.