There are many ways to commit suicide in academia today. Bret Weinstein, a biology professor at Evergreen State College, opted not to take part in the school’s annual “Day of Absence” celebration. Participation in the racially motivated festivity required white students and faculty to absent themselves from campus for 24 hours in order to reflect on the racist horror show masquerading as the United States. Instead, in March 2017 Weinstein complained in a letter to the school’s administration that such a policy discriminated based on skin color. After Weinstein’s missive leaked, student radicals denounced him in a viral video as both racist and intolerant for having the temerity to question their racialist orthodoxy. In response, Weinstein resigned from Evergreen later that year.
In 2015 Yale professor Nicholas Christakis defended an email his wife, a fellow Yale instructor, had sent out advising students that they were mature enough not to be lectured by the administration as to which Halloween costumes passed p.c. muster and which committed the latest unforgivable sin of cultural appropriation. Yale’s aggrieved mob argued Christakis had unforgivably placed “the burden of confrontation, education, and maturity on the offended.”
For his sins, Christakis lost his position as housemaster of Silliman College. But one need not wade into the treacherous swamp of campus race relations to commit professional hara-kiri. A well-researched, logical, academic journal article on a now-controversial topic will have the same effect as jamming a shotgun into your mouth and pulling the trigger. Better yet, if your paper touches on any intersectional sacred cows—race, economic “privilege,” Western versus non-Western values—campus radicals will check your pulse and finish the job if necessary.
Portland State political scientist Bruce Gilley signed his own death warrant with his provocatively titled article “The Case for Colonialism,” which appeared in a 2017 issue of Third World Quarterly. Those who take the time to read Gilley’s erudite piece will come to understand the logical, historical, and evidentiary holes that destroy the anticolonialists’ intransigent ideological position. But academic arguments no longer take place in quiet, studious reflection. Instead, today’s educational philistines rampage through academia issuing death threats to both publishers and peer reviewers when not executing mob attacks against scholars on social media.
Taylor & Francis, Gilley’s cowardly publisher, issued a public “Withdrawal Notice” after the vindictive mob’s vicious assault:
This Viewpoint essay has been withdrawn at the request of the academic journal editor, and in agreement with the author of the essay. Following a number of complaints, Taylor & Francis conducted a thorough investigation into the peer review process on this article. Whilst this clearly demonstrated the essay had undergone double-blind peer review, in line with the journal’s editorial policy, the journal editor has subsequently received serious and credible threats of personal violence. These threats are linked to the publication of this essay.
So, despite receiving clearance from a “double-blind peer review,” the publisher caved to the horde’s illiberal demands. One wonders just how much trouble the author of that chicken-hearted statement went to as he typed it, all the while curled up in a fetal position behind his locked office door as building security triple-checked visitors’ I.D.’s and the firm’s Diversity and Inclusion SWAT team thought up other self-flagellating mea culpae for later tweets.
Gilley’s piece deserves to be read widely, all the more so by those who reflexively disagree with any positive utterance regarding colonialism. To understand your opponent’s argument is to understand better your own argument. Should they take the time to do so, these modern-day book burners will have trouble swallowing Gilley’s overarching belief that colonialism “needs to be rethought in light of the grave human toll of a century of anti-colonial regimes and policies.” In place of the leftist litany of colonial sins shoved down the throats of every student of history, political science, and anthropology—not to mention economics, foreign languages, and even art history—at Western universities, Gilley turns ideology into paradox as he sets out to show how “the case for Western colonialism [instead] involves reaffirming the primacy of human lives, universal values, and shared responsibilities—the civilizing mission without scare quotes.”
Gilley’s article launches a two-front war against today’s clichéd anticolonial arguments. First, he sets out to disprove “that it [colonialism] was objectively harmful (rather than beneficial),” using the terrifying case study of Guinea-Bissau’s postcolonial “liberation” as just one example. In 1963, anticolonial zealot Amílcar Cabral declared all-out war against Guinea-Bissau’s Portuguese overlords. Cabral stated his revolutionary intention “to totally [sic] destroy, to break, to reduce to ash all aspects of the colonial state in our country in order to make everything possible for our people.” What had the Portuguese done to so upset Cabral? Aside from quadrupling rice production and raising life expectancy over the previous quarter of a century, not much. Cabral’s putatively homegrown revolutionary forces accepted arms, and one can imagine propaganda and intellectual support, from Cuba, Russia, and Czechoslovakia, as well as cash from every American leftist’s favorite socialist paradise, Sweden.
Cabral’s “postliberation” achievements support Gilley’s contentions. In 1974, 10,000 Guinea-Bissauans died at the hand of Cabral’s newly formed autocracy, and by 1980 rice production had shrunk to less than half of what it had been under Portuguese rule. Ten percent of the country’s residents fled to nearby Senegal. Not surprisingly, Cabral institutionalized his revolutionary success with the creation of a one-party state of 15,000 employees, “ten times as big as the Portuguese administration at its peak.”
But those distressing postcolonial events occurred nearly 40 years ago. What about Guinea-Bissau today? Sadly, almost nothing has improved aside from the offshore bank accounts of Cabral’s successors. The country has suffered under a “more or less permanent UN peacekeeping force” for several decades. Its rice production continues to wither, shrinking to just one-third its all-time peak, despite remarkable advances in agricultural technology over the ensuing decades. But as long as the campus radicals are happy that the Portuguese interlopers got their comeuppance, why worry that the average Guinea-Bissauan now lives in a country our President would gleefully classify as a “shithole”?
The anticolonialists have it exactly backward. The Guinea-Bissauan example proves how “objectively harmful” the removal of a colonial hegemonist becomes for otherwise unstable countries. It does not prove how horrible life is under a colonial power. Gilley dispenses with the second objection to colonialism, its lack of legitimacy, by citing a myriad of improvements across the colonial world including, but not limited to,
expanded education; improved public health; the abolition of slavery; widened employment opportunities; improved administration; the creation of basic infrastructure; female rights; enfranchisement of untouchable or historically excluded communities; fair taxation; access to capital; the generation of historical and cultural knowledge.
Only a dyed-in-the-wool Marxist could take exception to that list. And Gilley cites the historical record showing Marxists doing just that. As far back as 1927, Elinor Burns’s British Imperialism in West Africa detailed several examples of careless Marxist writers who faulted colonialism “when it did not invest in public health and infrastructure (showing callous disregard for labor) and when it did (in order to exploit it).” The principle of noncontradiction dies on the Marxist page.
These historical examples help us understand Gilley’s powerful final conclusion: “The origins of anti-colonial thought were political and ideological. The purpose was not historical accuracy but contemporaneous advocacy.” Those working hardest to bring down the Western colonial edifice have had to ignore mountains of evidence showing colonies’ improvements in living conditions, governance, and national security, all a result of the European colonial project. But honest scholars will admit that colonial projects often proceeded in less than humane or altruistic fashions. Then again, even the brutal case of the Congo deserves reconsideration, considering Congolese liberationist Patrice Lumumba thanked his Belgian colonial rulers for “restoring our human dignity and turning us into free, happy, vigorous, and civilized men” in his 1962 autobiography. Whichever side one takes on the net effects of colonialism, open discussion and rigorous analysis will be the only avenues to approach something resembling the truth.
Maybe Gilley’s concluding section—“The Case for Recolonization”—is what sparked the violent threats. American anti-interventionists will also recoil from that section heading for entirely different, yet much more reasonable, rationales. The United States’ history of nation building, starting with Reconstruction in the American South and continuing through the dusty wastelands of Iraq and Afghanistan, provides ample evidence of American colonialism’s structural, historical, and cultural deficiencies. While neocon interventionists such as Max Boot and David Frum might hold up Gilley’s arguments in support of the next American military crusade and subsequent occupation of Iran, Syria, or Venezuela, cooler heads will deny any national interest or strategic security benefits to be gained from such ill-thought adventures against any of these three sad-sack nations. If either one of these technically American neocon revolutionaries has his way regarding the future launch of hostilities, rest assured even less benefit will come from the subsequent American colonial boondoggle to follow.
The European colonial project differed from the recent and ongoing American colonial project that continues to drain our nation’s coffers today. Gilley’s paper addresses a specific, isolated historical phenomenon and period. We must be careful to ensure Gilley’s arguments and evidence don’t fall into the hands of “Americans” eager to launch the next utopian crusade on behalf of global meliorism. Perhaps for that reason we owe an unwitting debt of gratitude to the leftist radicals who successfully threatened Gilley’s publisher to suppress his work.
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