The opening quotation from the onetime o≈cer of the Burmese colo-
nial police announces this book’s theme: colonies are dangerous to the
health of democracy. They act as a sweet but poisoned pill to the states
that have eagerly gulped them down. My essays on this theme were
written for di√erent occasions over more than a decade. When I sat
down recently to reread them, I found a coherence to my various crit-
ical e√orts. Each piece, I saw, added weight to an overarching concern
with how imperial strivings harm the chances for an egalitarian social
order. The frequent recurrence of this theme may have been my own
colonial unconscious guiding me; but for sure, my conscious research
has long been circling over this terrain.
In earlier work, I have found it fascinating to trace the general impact
of conquest, rule, and exploitation on the countries that conquered
colonial empires. The catalogue of these influences is impressive. The
colonies have gifted Europe with economic subsidies, with cultural
contributions, with workers and soldiers, and with contemporary do-
mestic social pluralism. Whatever the costs of these aids to the donors,
Europe has benefited mightily.∞ But here, my subject is a more sharply
focused look at how imperialism abroad, however much seen as benefi-
cial to the national project, has been damaging to democratic e√orts at
home. The point of Orwell’s short story was his realization that to rule
others, we have to become sahibs. That is my historical argument
as well.
This book is about how the system that made sahibs in the colonies
produced correlate e√ects in the metropoles. I mean here more than so-
called blowback—the name the cia gave to unanticipated negative con-
sequences at home of overseas actions, like how the United States
Previous Page Next Page