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A Turn to Empire:
The Rise of Imperial Liberalism in Britain and France
Jennifer Pitts

Winner of the 2006 First Book Award, Foundations of Political Theory Section of the American Political Science Association
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2005

Paperback | 2006 | $46.00 | £38.95 | ISBN: 9780691127910
400 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400826636 |
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A dramatic shift in British and French ideas about empire unfolded in the sixty years straddling the turn of the nineteenth century. As Jennifer Pitts shows in A Turn to Empire, Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, and Jeremy Bentham were among many at the start of this period to criticize European empires as unjust as well as politically and economically disastrous for the conquering nations. By the mid-nineteenth century, however, the most prominent British and French liberal thinkers, including John Stuart Mill and Alexis de Tocqueville, vigorously supported the conquest of non-European peoples. Pitts explains that this reflected a rise in civilizational self-confidence, as theories of human progress became more triumphalist, less nuanced, and less tolerant of cultural difference. At the same time, imperial expansion abroad came to be seen as a political project that might assist the emergence of stable liberal democracies within Europe.

Pitts shows that liberal thinkers usually celebrated for respecting not only human equality and liberty but also pluralism supported an inegalitarian and decidedly nonhumanitarian international politics. Yet such moments represent not a necessary feature of liberal thought but a striking departure from views shared by precisely those late-eighteenth-century thinkers whom Mill and Tocqueville saw as their forebears.

Fluently written, A Turn to Empire offers a novel assessment of modern political thought and international justice, and an illuminating perspective on continuing debates over empire, intervention, and liberal political commitments.


"Jennifer Pitts . . . [shows] that support for imperialism is not inherent to liberalism by demonstrating that prominent 18th- and early-19th-century liberals in Britain and France were deeply critical of imperialism. . .. The book is beautifully written, and the scholarship is outstanding."--Choice

"Jennifer Pitts helps us to see early-nineteenth-century imperial discourse in a new light by showing more clearly what came before."--Michael Bentley, Victorian Studies

"An impressive and even pathbreaking piece of work."--Theodore Koditschek, Journal of Modern History

"This book is a brilliantly successful attempt to account for the apparent transition from the fierce, bitter assault on the idea of empire by the writers of the second half of the eighteenth the often self-congratulatory, high-minded endorsement of a new kind of imperial mission less than half a century later.... Pitt's finest pages...are on Tocqueville and the Algerian question."--Anthony Pagden, Perspectives on Politics

"This is an excellent book about late eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century liberals and empire. Based on a wide range of material, which Pitts handles impressively, the book begins from a broad but workable definition of liberalism as involving a notion of individual rights and an attempt to widen social sympathies. Pitts deserves much credit for directing attention to liberalism's ability to negotiate difference in a context of empire and for her well-written, inspiring, and thorough analysis."--Casper Sylvest, Political Studies Review

"This [is a] thoughtful and engaging book."--John Cramsie, The Historian

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