LA Podcast: In Defence of the British Empire

On Thursday the 19th February 2015, Sean Gabb and Keir Martland, both members of the Libertarian Alliance Executive Committee, spoke at a debate organised by the Manchester University Student Union on whether the legacy of the British Empire should be regretted. Both spoke against the motion.

Sean Gabb said that empires are a regrettable fact of history. The British Empire was not the first or last, and not at all the worst. Rather than condemned for its faults, which were common to all empires, it should be praised for its virtues, which were unique to our own country.

Keir Martland elaborated on the virtues of the British Empire – the suppression of the slave trade and slavery, the suppression of banditry and piracy, the spread of English law and science and the English language to formerly benighted regions of the world.

Their speeches were not always well-received by the audience, but were not greatly disrupted. Sean did his usual impersonation of a Soviet tank, not stopping even when someone began to shout obscenities. Top marks to Keir, who was brought in at the last moment for his first public debate, and who was steady under enemy fire. A fine debut.

Here is a recording of the event, though Daniel Harding may wish to play with the file or move it to another location.


  1. I do not tend to listen to Podcasts – but I hope that Sean and Keir did not really make the error of saying “England” or “English” when he means British, after all the Empire was something in which people from all parts of the United Kingdom (Scotland, Wales and Ireland, although the legal status of Ireland changed at various times, as well as England) played a vital part. Scots actually playing a disproportionately important role.

    Again “English Law and Science”?????? Scots law is at least as important in the development of Canadian law, and the Scots were far more important in science (especially the practical application of science) than the English. It is quite true that I am not fond (philosophically or politically) of some Scottish thinkers. Such as David Hume (who seems to have rejected everything about the Church of Scotland apart from its Calvinist determinism [and, contrary to James McCosh, predestination DOES imply determinism – as at least Martin Luther was frank enough to state that plainly, whatever John Calvin may have said] – its Calvinist determinism being what I find most objectionable about this Church, an insult to the moral freedom of human agents), but the overall Scottish contribution to British learning and culture is vastly important.

    It is probably just a typo in the post – not something that was actually said in the Manchester discussion.

    The hostile reception does not surprise me – Manchester is a leftist city, their objection to the British Empire is not its elements of collectivism, but that it was not collectivist enough (the typical Manchester political type prefers the vile regimes that replaced the British Empire).

  2. How much Scots law influence there is on the Indian legal code – via the Scottish thinker James Mill and his son John Stuart Mill (as well as from Macaulay) is a hotly debated point.

    I find the Scots urge to top-down “plan” India (seen as early as the Governor Generals in the early 19th century) as regrettable – with the “public works” railways and so on (although such public works projects were not the total failure they were in the Highlands of Scotland and in Ireland).

    For their part people such as James Mill and J.S. Mill would have regarded me as a horrible English Church-and-King Tory. I am actually a conservative Whig (after the manner of Edmund Burke) rather than a Church-and-King Tory – but from where the Mills stood there is no difference. And they had a point – after all philosophically (if not politically) a conservative Whig such as Edmund Burke has more in common with a Tory such as Dr Johnson than he does with the Mills.

    To bring things up to the modern age – I doubt that the typically English work of literature “The Lord of the Rings” would have found favour with the moral relativists and philosophical determinists of the Bowood Circle or the later Westminster Review crowd. Although I doubt they liked Scottish literature, such as the works of Sir Walter Scott, either.

  3. All empires are objective measures of human achievement, of their government, morality, duration and extent of their territory. I have no problem at all with empire since, if God exists, and He created us for a purpose, it was with the intention of seeing who triumphs over whom, with the most triumphant being the ones who follow His laws most faithfully.

    Some of you may not know that all religions are about imposing group solidarity and group solidarity enables your society to withstand the attacks of your internal and external enemies. Our external enemies are of course invaders and exploiters, and our internal enemies are always sluts and socialists.

    1. All advanced civilisations are patriarchies and all declining and primitive civilisations matriarchies.

    2.. Patriarchies run on marriage the way cars run on petrol.

    3. Patriarchies condone male promiscuity while matriarchies condone female promiscuity.

    4. Marriage is eugenic while bastardy is dysgenic.

    5. Matriarchies establish themselves by default when the institution of marriage is ignored or desecrated.

    6. To respect marriage, it would be logical and necessary to forbid extramarital sex, as all the Abrahamic faiths command us to do.

    7. Once men say it is OK for their women to be sluts ie fornicatresses then their position will soon be lower than sluts.

    8. Muslims have noticed that the position of the Western man is indeed lower than the slut and he is no more than a slave who pay taxes used to feed the parasitical sluts who are the unfit unmarried mothers of their variously fathered bastards whose degenerate and unproductive offspring do not become good citizens and add to the increasing numbers of parasitical sluts and bastards.

    9. If you disagree with me that all men in the West are lower than sluts – including the Prime Minister of Britain and the President of America – then tell me why no leader of any political party is prepared to criticise them.

    10. No leader of any political party will criticise sluts because they all have the vote.

    11. The American Empire replaced the British Empire but both now have men who are undeniably lower than sluts. It would seem natural and inevitable that Muslims, noticing the moral degeneracy of the West and having a healthy aversion of sluts, would use Islam to reassert the patriarchy, and so war against the West and WW3 was declared on 9/11.

    12. If God exists He who would He assist? If He were rational and moral, He would assist those who believe in Him and obey His laws rather than those who deny His existence, His prophets and deliberately flout His laws to the extent of declaring they will promote gay marriage globally, as Cameron has done.

    13. Even if God did not exist, there are obviously certain evolutionary advantages in men not having to endure a status lower than that of stupid sluts who excrete their bastard offspring as carelessly as a dog would drop its droppings on the street. These thus excreted offspring are then casually sent to care homes to become the victims of sex predators by the slut mothers who so casually conceived them. You can be sure that the Child Abuse Inquiry will not be pointing the finger of blame at these unfit slut mothers, because the person in charge of the Inquiry is a female judge in a matriarchy even more advanced than Britain’s.

    The British Empire is certainly useful in illustrating the folly of democracy and the condition of those who refuse to learn the lessons of their own history.

    The British Empire was lost after WW2.

    It has been said that WW2 was a continuation of WW1.

    It has also been said that WW1 was the consequence of the British defending Belgian neutrality.

    Of course, Belgian neutrality was only an excuse. The real reason why Britain went to war was because a Liberal Prime Minister thought participating in a short successful war in 1914 would assist the Liberal Party in winning a general election in 1915.

    Britain’s empire was lost because of a Liberal Prime Minister pandering to British jingoism.

    Even now – over 100 years later – the dementia-suffering British continue to pursue the reckless foreign policy of treating every war as if it were a party and they the world’s number one party girl.

    Even now they worship the leaders and the ideology of the leaders who lost them their empire and claim they bomb countries in order to spread the benefits of feminism, liberalism and democracy even as they are rotting inside and outside from the effects of ingesting and applying these toxic ideologies.

    It will be interesting to see how things end for them.

  4. As for Macaulay – I certainly do not lump him with the Mills (the eventual victory of the Mills among young liberal thinkers made the “New Liberalism” of the late 19th century the logical next step), but there is something about him……, he just “feels” different from the sort of Whig thinker I like.

    It is complicated, it would require a post (a post I am not sure I am really qualified to write) not a comment, to explain what I think about Macaulay.

    Still none of this should be confused with the support for statist tyranny that one finds in Thomas Hobbes, or with government departments controlling almost every aspect of life which one finds in Jeremy Bentham (and there may be more of a trace of even as far back as the BBC hero Thomas “Wolf Hall” Cromwell – with his desire, perhaps from Martin Luther, for the state to replace the church and other non state institutions, in education, the relief of poverty, health care and so on).

  5. Clare Khaw – I am not a sociologist, so I will leave your sociological thought (about “sluts” and so on) to those who specialise in such matters.

    However, your historical point is clearly mistaken.

    The Liberal Party Prime Minister (like the Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey) certainly did NOT want war in 1914 – war was unavoidable and the Conservative party was actually more supportive of it than the Liberal party was.

    The aim of Imperial Germany was obvious (it had been a commonplace of the German academic and political elite for years) – to crush the independent nations of continental Europe (not just Belgium) as a necessary first step the goal of replacing Britain on the world stage. With the tragic death of the Emperor Frederick in 1888 the liberal cause, already in peril in Germany, was lost. As the French President in 1914 said in his reply to the tissue-of-lies that the German Declaration of War upon France (a tissue of lies that clamed that France had bombed Bavaria and so on) – the German Declaration of War was NOT just a Declaration of War upon France, it was Declaration of War on the universal principles of reason and justice – from a German academic and political elite who did no longer even believed that universal principles of reason and justice even existed.

    By the way the reply of the French President (who was as stern an enemy of the Marxists as was the proto national socialists in Germany – hence the Soviet propaganda to blacken his reputation in the early 1920s) had a great impact in the United States – not with the “New Freedom” (read – decline of freedom) supporters of Woodrow Wilson, but actually with President Wilson’s conservative opponents – who were already deeply concerned about the German influence of German moral relativism, and historicism in American universities and general cultural life (yes they were concerned with Germanic efforts to “interpret” religion into meaninglessness – but this was not their only concern, the German intellectual fashion was rightly seen as a direct attack on the “universal principles of reason and justice” themselves).

    No British government (not even in the time of the first Elizabeth in the 16th century) could allow the northern coast of Europe, facing this island, to be dominated by a hostile power – the idea that the First World War was somehow optional, was a Liberal party plot to win an election in 1915, is just false.

    • Germany gave Britain the chance to carve up Europe between themselves twice, but both times Britain declined. The Kaiser was the eldest grandson of Queen Victoria, and Hitler admired the English. The British policy of being nasty to the Germans ended in the loss of Britain’s World Empire. Of course you insist that you had to go to war in WW1 and also in WW2 to justify your reckless gamble and catastrophic loss, but some of us know better.

    • You don’t need to be sociologist to know that most British mothers are Slut Single Mothers or read and understand this report at

      If most British mothers are Slut Single Mothers then most of the next generation will be bastards and sluts. If people deserve the government they get, what kind of government do the people of Paedo Bastard Britain Slutland deserve?

  6. A good debate. I enjoyed hearing it. I thought the 2nd speaker for the motion (Calvin??) got very emotional in a way that showed that for him the issue was only important for the chance it gave him to grab the moral high ground. I am weary of this behaviour.

    Of course, India was prosperous in the pre-industrial sense before the British got there. Prosperous compared with a world that had not seen an Industrial Revolution. It had had no scientific revolution or industrial revolution, so we are only talking about the handicraft stage.

    It feel behind, not because the UK destroyed their economy – the much more rapid growth of the industrialising world of Europe would have left them relatively behind in any case. For some reason, it seems important for people to distort this.

  7. The debate unfortunately got rather focussed on India, when everyone actually knew or ought to have known that the “British Empire” was rather bigger and in fact rather more important in lots of ways than the “Indian Empire” (as defined in a British sense.)

    If the British had not “conquered” India, then either the Dutch or the French would have done, between them – not to mention the Portuguese (anyone remember Goa then?) and more Indian blood would have got spilled than was the case with the British. It is a pity that we failed to make this specific point out loud yesterday in Manchester, but it is too late now.

    We also failed properly to make the point that the slave trade – for which the repellent Tony Blair “apologised” some years ago, even though the British didn’t invent this pre-capitalist-barbarian notion – was first made illegal internationally by Britain, and then ultimately abolished by Britain, with the exception of in and around a number of today’s nations, some of which are not a million miles from South West Asia and Africa. The Royal Navy has spent the better p[art of 200 years trying to supress slave trading, even this week, around countries that I ought not to name for safety reasons.

    • “If the British had not “conquered” India, then either the Dutch or the French would have done, between them – not to mention the Portuguese (anyone remember Goa then?) and more Indian blood would have got spilled than was the case with the British.”

      …I take it you slipped in the alternate realities where these things happened and did a head count? This is a bullshit statement and it’s just as well it wasn’t introduced into the debate.

      Quite apart from anything else, the “at least we didn’t kill as many Jews as the Nazis” isn’t an argument in defence, it’s condemning yourself out of your own mouth.

  8. A very sad state of affairs in which the British feel they have to defend the empire they once had and then pretend it was an unmitigated good for everyone involved.

    As far as I am concerned, if you feel able to and attempt and succeed at acquiring empire, by hook or by crook, then good luck to you. The trick is in keeping it, eh?

    It is telling that no one else saw fit to mention the Opium Wars when the British behaved like violent drug dealers and drug traffickers. You may notice that the Chinese are quite forgiving too, and don’t go on about it the way blacks go on about being enslaved as if they will never get over it or that they were the only people in the world who were ever enslaved by another race.

    Slavery is after all an institution, just like marriage an prostitution, and an institution is just a naturally-occurring practice that pops up in all human societies.

    The most the Chinese did was rather cheekily suggest to David Cameron when he was in China that he might like to not wear his poppy as the British wearing poppies could have unpleasant memories for Chinese people who are aware of the Opium Wars. Cameron declined and the Chinese did not roll on the floor having hysterics and claiming emotional damage to their collective national psyche and just shrugged their shoulders saying to each other “Well, we tried it on but it didn’t work, but we are glad we tried it on and will carry on trying it on.”

  9. “The legacy of the British Empire should be regretted” That was the title of the debate and that should have been the content of the debate. How can one regret an Empire? The Egyptian. The Greek. The Roman. They happened because it is in man’s nature to evolve, to acquire, to build, to sustain and maintain tribal, societal and State control. Do the Italians humble themselves in self-flagellation and repentance and say that they regret the Roman Empire and that they are so sorry for the slavery, the taxes, the genocidal actives and oppression and subjugation of the people in those countries they conquered? Forget the roads, the infrastructures, the wealth and stability, the innovation and educational developments that was part of the Roman Empire, lets just regret full stop the legacy of the Roman Empire. Empire building is normal. What one can say is that one regrets some of the activities that caused grief, harm and death upon the nationals. One can say some of the activities were not noble or done to educate the natives. That has been said by many. How many more times do we have to say sorry? But a legacy that brought modernisation, trade and industry into the countries that made up the Empire cannot be ignored or minimised as an after affect as if these effects were a anomaly? Ah but lets just regret full stop the legacy of the British Empire. Slavery, incidentally, was not the idea of the British Empire. Slavery existed between tribes in Africa, Peru – the Aztecs adhered to slavery – long before the British Empire. The Egyptian and the Greek Empires had slavery. One can regret the notion of slavery and oppression and subjugation, they are not nice things to happen to people. They were however seen as the ‘normal’ way of control and power over people. Tribal leaders and Monarchs had been doing it for years. Most Empires start from trade and company occupation, then build on there into colonies through such trade and company occupation, protectorates and dominions.

    Having listened to the pod-cast I have to say I was disappointed that the ‘for the notion’ speakers did not address the topic or issue, which was, “The legacy of the British Empire should be regretted”. They concentrated on their own slogan which amounted to stating that ‘the British Empire was bad and everything it stood for and achieved was both bad and evil’. Such bad and evil was wicked and destructive to all the natives of all the countries involved. Nothing good in any shape or form came out of the British Empire that was beneficial in any way for any of said natives. No schooling, no health care, no employment, no home building, no infrastructure, no trade, no markets, no prosperity. Not one of those attributes was held or accessed by any of the natives involved not at any time. The speakers should have been pulled into line and made to address the issue, which was not ‘Is Empire a good thing?’ They should have tackled the issue in question which was, putting it differently, ‘should the whole of the legacy of British Empire, for all of its asperity, bluntness and or achievements be regretted?’ As for Sean Gabb and Keir Martland, I thought they did address the topic as required.

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