Transnational Ideas and the Global Anti-Imperialist Movement

Friday, January 8, 2010: 9:30 AM
Edward D (Hyatt)
Christopher McKnight Nichols , University of Pennsylvania, Philedelphia, PA
This paper explains the trans-Atlantic nature of the anti-imperialist and decolonization movements from the 1890s until 1914. Looking primarily at America and England, this paper reveals that the anti-imperialist movement had a global reach based largely on a set of Anglo-American political and intellectual associations. The paper focuses on connections between William James and James Bryce, and between Cambridge, MA and London, England, as a way to explore how transatlantic systems of thought informed anti-imperialist politics and decolonization efforts.
Bryce, a prolific writer and opponent of empire, often drew on ideas recently propounded by John Stuart Mill and Thomas Carlyle. Bryce and James critiqued various “abstraction-based” rationales (e.g., racial superiority, manifest destiny, laissez faire) for extending empire abroad. James spent long stretches of time in the British Isles where he attended decolonization society meetings. He joined with numerous Gladstonian liberals, such as Bryce, and argued against the American occupation of the Philippines, against the Boer War, and for Irish home rule, national self-determination, and international arbitration. As James traveled the continent he encountered British, French, and others enmeshed in a transatlantic liberal reform and anti-imperialist network. Brits such as Bryce, A.V. Dicey, John Morley, and others came to Cambridge, MA, where they met James and American-based opponents of empire, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Edward Atkinson, James Russell Lowell, and politicians, George Boutwell, George Hoar, and William Jennings Bryan. Many of these American and some British anti-imperialists paradoxically borrowed from and explicitly updated the long-standing U.S. isolationist tradition of “steering clear of foreign entanglements” to argue for less interventionist yet more commercially and culturally engaged forms of internationalism. While previous studies of the movement have focused on individual nations, this paper’s major finding is to document American and British anti-imperialists operating across nations and within a global framework of anti-colonial activism.
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