Colonialism Did Some Good & Its Abrupt End Caused Much Harm: The Last Imperialist by Bruce Gilley Reviewed

Colonialism Did Some Good & Its Abrupt End Caused Much Harm:  The Last Imperialist by Bruce Gilley Reviewed

We last met Gilley after one of those academic apoplexies, in which when he suggested colonialism was not all bad and the PhDs screamed “Burn the witch!” For his heresy, he had his paper “The Case for Colonialism” canceled. Yet—important lesson here—he himself was not canceled because he refused to apologize for his non-crime.

Not only did he not back down, he wrote a whole book on the subject, giving us the life of Sir Alan Burns, the last great colonialist and apologist for colonialism.

Burns, a Catholic, was “practically born into the colonial civil service”, beginning his career in St Kitts in 1903 and eventually getting to Nigeria and Gold Coast-Ghana, where the most interesting bits of his life took place.

He did not have a formal university training, and rightly disliked the eventual mandatory “degree” requirements, warning it would “produce young officers ‘full of zeal and theory’ lacking what he considered the two essentials: ‘unlimited patience and a real sympathy for the people'”. His correct judgement, our painful experience shows, now applies everywhere.

Indeed, this cold war between Theory and Reality would define the end of British colonialism. It’s no spoiler to tell you up front the academics won.

Nowhere was this battle better seen than in the following event. Africans in and before the 1940 who populated the Gold Coast had a culturally enriching practice performed after the death of a local king. In 1943, king Atta I died, and the practice went into effect.

A young priest, a “favorite of Atta I, perhaps an illegitimate son”, was waiting under a tree for the official second funeral of Atta. Then this happened:

Suddenly eight men—all descendants of former chiefs—rushed into the courtyard and seized [the young priest]. They thrust a ceremonial dagger through his cheeks and cut off his tongue to prevent him from uttering an oath that would dispel the magical power of his blood. As his mouth flooded red, a bowl was thrust under his chin to catch the precious liquid. “For hours on end the murderers’ cold dagger gagged him alive while his innocent blood gushed profusely on that wretched stool [part of the macabre ceremony],” recalled his relatives later. At the end of his agony, he was beheaded, and more blood was gathered.

This became known as the Ju-Ju murders.

A colonial investigation was launched and evidence gathered. A formality, since the culprits were no secret. A trial was held, guilt was pronounced. The sentence of death followed.

The hanging of the murderers would have proceeded as expected, except for the academics mentioned above. They and the Caring Brigade, now well known to us, took up the punishment of the murderers as a cèlébre. Perhaps you will recognize what happened next.

Burns knew of and despised, and the ordinary Africans knew of and despised, the cannibalism, torture, slavery (as in slavery), human sacrifice, the burning of widows, and “tyrannies of the worst sort” that were part of the local culture. But the Caring Brigade and academics engaged in a “conspiracy of silence” about these practices, and instead focused attention on the racism of hanging non-white men.

The “man in the street hated ritual murder, [but] the educated classes seemed more obsessed with ‘persecution by the Europeans’ and thus saw many of those convicted in court as ‘martyrs rather than a [sic] criminals’.” Burns in his prosecution of the case, and in his efforts at carrying out the sentences, was “undermined by shifty, lying lawyers both in Ghana and especially in London,” said another historian of the event.

The case dragged on and on. It landed in British Parliament, where in one instance Winston Churchill climbed out of his bottle to ingratiate himself with the Caring Brigade and become, he obviously hoped, relevant once more.

“The new culturally relative Left and the old culturally disdainful Right would unite against cultural universalists like Alan and declare that Britain had no business carrying out justice against ju-ju.” Even though the Ghanians wanted this justice.

I won’t ruin the ending for you. Except to say some of the men were strung up, at intervals, and some skated. The academics and Caring Brigade signaled to themselves how awesome and compassionate they were, both for this and for ending colonialism as a practice, ignoring how their caring allowed Africans to kill each other in large number, and allowed corruption to become the leading form of replacement government.

Not to be missed is the film Africa Addio, which lays out the end of colonialism in living, and dead, color.

The widespread killing didn’t begin only after colonialism’s end, but was there before it, too. Burns said, “It is probable that fewer of the indigenous people were killed in all the colonial territories during the establishment of the British regime than were killed in a single year in tribal warfare and slave raids in the preceding period.”

Just like in America with the Emancipation Proclamation and the fate of former slaves, there was no thought given to what might happen to people after colonialism ended. The bien pensant had debates which were ostensibly about ending colonialism, which even Burns was for as long as it was done in a slow and careful fashion, but they were about who was more virtuous.

The end came swiftly. After the Brits and Italians left Somalia in a double-quick hurry, for instance, “it was plagued by border wars, famine, and a new Soviet air base.” We won’t have to remind you what it’s like there now. Burma, “once the rice basket of Asia, would become a failed state.”

So on and so forth. It was a mess, and continues to be.

It’s worse than it sounds because the academics and Caring Brigade have never been against colonialism. They were for it then, and are for it still.

You can prove this easily. Say to one of these virtuous folk, “I think states like Florida and Texas, or citizens far from Detroit in Michigan, ought, just like Africans, to be allowed to secede and form their own nations, in which their people can practice their own religion, abide by their own beliefs, and enforce their own cultural traditions.”

You already know what reply you would get.

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  1. Kenan Meyer

    I’d say at least 75% of the African continent is a chinese colony now. They are way smarter than old style colonialists as they are going about this. Can you hear the deafening silence of the “Caring Brigade”?

  2. Shecky R

    apparently though, no mention of how many children Burns diddled or abused along the way, not that experts in history need concern themselves with such trivialities…

  3. Briggs

    0, Shecky.

    There. It’s mentioned.

  4. Sheri

    PhDs have lots of matches and love to use them. Indiscriminately.

    Since I never bothered to look up the definition of “colonialism” I see how well it fits in with the hatred and evil of the elitism we are now subject to. I learned something today.

    China would be elitists taking over Africa, correct?

    The Caring Brigade is actually the Hate Brigade and very evil, correct?

    Can we really secede??? I hope so. Oh, we have to destroy the Caring Brigade first?????

    Shecky: So sad your life is so empty you live in an internet troll community. I pity you.

  5. Johnno

    Colonialism has achieved a lot of good. Was there lots of exploitation too? Yes, of course. But that exploitation was preferable to the locals versus what their own kind and cultural riches were already up to. Catholic priests looking to spread the Gospel had to work alongside those in it for strictly business reasons. Sometimes these interests clashed. Sometimes the businessmen and big gov won out, being the ones with the weapons and coercion. This is what leads to such stunning embarassing examples as forced native schools and coronadoom participation as we are witnessing now.

    The lobbies are all about preserving foreign cultures, except when it clashes with their sex alphabet and greenery doctrines. Then you couldn’t colonize the darkies fast enough! So paradoxical are the woke. Shecky would diddle and burn a hundred of the colonized to spare the feelings of a trans.

  6. MB

    Did colonialism in Africa really end? I think it’s still owned by oligarchs. Now it’s even simpler to bribe local governors and exploit local population.

  7. Dennis

    Good to see the film “Africa Addio” get a mention. First thing I thought of when I saw the headline. Great film that displays all the anarchy, horrors, and stupidities attendant upon de-colonization (For those looking on US streaming services, it may show up under the title “Africa Blood and Guts” instead).

  8. Stephen J.

    This question will sound like a “gotcha” but it’s genuinely not meant that way: if “ordinary Africans”, by which I assume is meant the majority of the populace of neither exceptional wealth nor status, “knew of and despised” all these practices, how can they fairly be said to be “part of the local culture”? Isn’t a “culture”, by definition, the set of values the majority of a place’s inhabitants agree on upholding?

    I’m open to the idea of colonialism being more of a positive good than it’s credited, but if a more civilized culture truly can’t enable a more barbaric one to leapfrog forward permanently (rather than serving as no more than a temporary crutch whose advances disappear the moment the source is withdrawn), then it may be that whatever good it does still isn’t usually enough to outweigh the concomitant evils

  9. Stephen J., I would consider that a coordination problem. No one person, and no small set of people, can repudiate a cultural practice where the punishment for repudiation is death/dismemberment/disaster/etc., even when everyone hates the practice. *Everyone* has to coordinate the repudiation *simultaneously* to escape punishment. Such coordination is so difficult as to be impossible, without some outside influence that will suppress the punishment for repudiation.

    For an extended treatment, see Slate Star Codex here …

    and search for this exchange:

    > Malaclypse: “But nobody wants it! Everybody hates it!”
    > Goddess: “Oh. Well, then stop.”

  10. john b()

    Stephen J raises a good point

    I’m sure there are many that believe Joe is “helping” ALL of us with his mandates and that we should be happier and better protected with them than without

  11. Joy

    Re Professor Gilley, hear what Mark Steyn had to say about the episode
    See old comment appears at the top (me)
    Three years? (feels longer) on, the Prime Minister has announced during the Conservative party conference speech, that our history will no longer be warped and told according to the cancel cultists or anybody else.

    Like Churchill, Boris is a historian, so are some key MP’s.
    If ever there were a time to have a Prime minister who is wise about man’s history it is now.
    Things are looking up
    Thanks to the work and bravery of Mark Steyn and the others in the vanguard of freedom of speech around the internet and media sphere. Tackling issues of free speech are very much on the table for debate and legislation in parliament.
    See David Davis, too, on GB news for recent commentary on covid 19 freedoms

  12. spaceranger

    If one had to be colonized, it was probably better to be a British colony. They would set up a civil service (possibly a way to bypass the caste system and also offering a path upward for the citizens) then retire to the club. The French would try to make Frenchmen out of everyone.
    The Spanish would intermarry and inveigle themselves into the local culture, changing it forever.
    The Belgians- well, nobody wants to be a slave.

    I live in a house on land that I own. Somewhere in the past, my government, or my ancestors, or somebody’s ancestors or government, took it from someone who took it from someone else. Someday someone is going to take it from me.

  13. Joy

    “The Spanish would intermarry and inveigle themselves into the local culture, changing it forever.”
    Also why the British chose not to be Spanish, or governed by Rome. ..Wise

  14. Hagfish Bagpipe

    Briggs, why don’t you start a colony there in the North Woods? The Briggs Institute of Expert Statistical Statisticaliciousness. Buy that classic old fishing camp — Hemingway stayed there — in the Michigan lake country — Northwoods Lake and Lodge. In addition to the standard courses in statistics and Thomist logistics there could be workshops on fly tying, building your own custom fly fishing rod, refurbishing classic outboard motor engines, that sort of thing. And how to properly fillet a walleye, sharpening a chainsaw, building a birchbark canoe, knapping flint arrowheads, you get the idea. A civilizing influence serving an untapped market. Picturing you in a pith helmet out on the veranda with a gin and tonic. Making colonies great again. I’ll be there.

  15. Hagfish Bagpipe

    How to fell a huge white pine with a double-bit axe — useful skills for the modern colonialist.

  16. C-Marie

    And the point of this sharing is …??.
    And the remark about Churchill, (who was not an alcoholic), the reference proof of the Churhill remark is where …???? Looked lots online and could find no reference to Churchill and the juju murders.
    And people have been taking over other peoples’ lands and properties since forever … yet the presentation seems to present this as something unusual …??
    And demonic practices are as those described, which with little variation were practiced among the Aztecs and others …..
    And widow burnings were carried on in India ….
    And secession of states from the United States could perhaps be done but where is genuine love of neighbor there…?
    And while we are at it …
    the United States is far more brutally murderous in the ripping apart of yet to be born babies and their brains and bodies …. Don’t you think????
    God bless, C-Marie

  17. Dennis

    “Rhodesia ‘was better than Mugabe’s govt’, says senior Zim war vet”:

    NYT liberal from central-casting, Nicholas Kristof, was appalled “Over and over, I cringed…”) a decade ago that many blacks he spoke to in Zimbabwe preferred former Rhodesian government to Mugabe’s (

    “In a week of surreptitious reporting here (committing journalism can be a criminal offense in Zimbabwe), ordinary people said time and again that life had been better under the old, racist, white regime of what was then called Rhodesia.

    ‘When the country changed from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe, we were very excited,’ one man, Kizita, told me in a village of mud-walled huts near this town in western Zimbabwe. ‘But we didn’t realize the ones we chased away were better and the ones we put in power would oppress us.’ ‘It would have been better if whites had continued to rule because the money would have continued to come,’ added a neighbor, a 58-year-old farmer named Isaac. ‘It was better under Rhodesia. Then we could get jobs. Things were cheaper in stores. Now we have no money, no food.’

    Over and over, I cringed as I heard Africans wax nostalgic about a nasty, oppressive regime run by a tiny white elite. Black Zimbabweans responded that at least that regime was more competent than today’s nasty, oppressive regime run by the tiny black elite that surrounds Mr. Mugabe.”

  18. Hagfish Bagpipe

    How to can tomatoes and apples, and how to dry spices. Along with the usual courses in reifying heuristical semiotics.

  19. Dennis

    “Churchill was not an alcoholic – no alcoholic could drink that much” – Prof. Warren Kimball

    “When I was younger I made it a rule never to take strong drink before lunch. It is now my rule never to do so before breakfast.” – Winston Churchill (Perhaps he didn’t count his famous “whiskey mouthwash”).

    If he was an alcoholic, and there are enough anecdotes about his daily drink regimen (morning “whiskey mouthwash,” a full bottle of champagne for lunch everyday day, etc. When he visited the White House, FDR said it took him 3 days to get over a night of “Winston Hours”) to make that conclusion, he was certainly a high functioning one.

    Supposedly Churchill said Europeans liked a leader who could hold his drink. Perhaps so. People in general back then, especially political leaders (Stalin too; AH being a notable exception as a teetotaler), seemed to drink more than they do now (or at least more publicly and on a daily basis, and at hours during the day – 3 martini lunches, even business lunches, etc – that many would frown upon today and see as clear signs of alcoholism).

  20. Hagfish Bagpipe

    My favorite is Churchill conducting the business of war from his long nightly bath, typewriter on a board, tumblers of whisky, cigars, an orderly fetching dispatches. Like how Briggs does this blog.

  21. One mention of Brit colonial practices vs. the Spanish. A rich source of untapped anthropological/sociological information is there: Comparative Colonialism.

    And we have a nearly perfect laboratory, where experiments were held: Southeast Asia. A population was subjected to three separate cultural treatments. What were the results of those treatments?

    From the 1400’s to the 1900’s, various areas of SE Asia were held as colonies by a rotating cast of European powers. The Malay peninsula, the islands that today make up Indonesia and the Philippines were a very similar native culture.

    From the 1800s to WW2, the colonial powers split up the (relatively) monolithic native culture into these (relatively) stable colonial entities: the Philippines (Spain, later USA); Malaya (UK); Indonesia (Holland).

    Fast forward past the post-WW2 independence struggles, Cold War, etc, and let’s examine the results of the treatments:

    1. Malaysia and Singapore: a first world tiny Chinese-dominated nation, and a rapidly developing modernized nation that balances multi-racial and other challenges well. High GDP, and standard of living.
    2. Philippines: more Latin American than Asian, a culture with high corruption, lawlessness, never-ending warfare. Developing, but hobbled by corruption and lawlessness (even with a massive legal structure). Ethnic and tribal/regional battles continue.
    3. Indonesia: Third world poverty and lack of development laid over unbelievable natural wealth. Byzantine legal, political, and social structures retard development. Ethnic divisions rule.

    Analyzing results of the experiment shows that the British colonial treatment was far superior to the Spanish or Dutch. Of course, that’s a simplified version, but still holds true.

    The experiment upholds the hypothesis that colonialism did some good.

  22. Russell Haley

    @Shecky R

    Provide data and sources or don’t bother. Left wing Wikipedia hasn’t even dared to try that slant.

  23. Joy

    C, Marie,
    You’re absolutely right, he was not an alcoholic.
    He was a heavy drinker and made no apologies for it. Americans don’t understand the relationship some UK inmates have with alcohol. Americans only drink when they’re ‘hurting”. (very American psychobabble understanding of the situation. )

    Looked lots online and could find no reference to Churchill and the juju murders.
    And people have been taking over other peoples’ lands and properties since forever … yet the presentation seems to present this as something unusual …??

    Briggs never lets that get in the way of “creative writing ”
    That might be okay in political commentary but when it comes to history accuracy is, by definition, vital.

    It’s an opinion piece C Marie, not historically accurate.
    Dot to dot paint by dates the like of which would make Mel Gibson proud.

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