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RETHINKING BURKE AND INDIA

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Abstract:

The question of how to think about the relationship between political theory and empire has recently emerged as an important topic in the history of political thought. In this regard, Edmund Burke, often regarded as the founding father of modern conservatism, has been depicted by a number of contemporary scholars as a staunch anti-imperialist and a strong defender of cultural pluralism and difference. In the present article, I argue against this view in two ways. First, I contend that Burke was not an 'anti- imperial' thinker in the strict sense of that term. The second argument operates within the framework of Burke's commitment to the imperial project -- rightly understood -- and seeks, within that framework, to understand the basis for his criticism of the British Empire in India. This latter analysis comprises the bulk of the paper. Following it, I conclude very briefly by comparing Burke's arguments about empire in India with his arguments about empire in the New World, and suggest that a coherent and consistent Burkean standpoint emerges from such a comparison, albeit one which is deeply conservative, and therefore challenges a good deal of current scholarship on this topic.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Political Science, University of Florida, 234 Anderson Hall, PO Box 117325, Gainesville, FL 32611-7325, USA, Email: doneill@ufl.edu

Publication date: January 1, 2009

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